Monday, December 31, 2007

A Theme Song For 2008

I hope everyone reading has a very safe and happy New Years Eve. I am electing the song below as my theme for 2008. Recorded over three decades ago it still retains all of the power, emotion and absolute relevance it did when Pete Townshend wrote it all those years ago. This is my particular favorite version of it.
I'm not much for new years resolutions but I know that 2008 will be a pivotal year for me, so I think the one I will make is to not sell myself short and to quote another Pete Townshend song, 'keep on working'.
Have a fun and most importantly safe night. 2008 is just a matter of hours away.

Artist and Muse #33


Director Fernando di Leo stands in between his two stars, Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati, on the set of the extremely strange and brutal TO BE TWENTY (AVERE VENT’ANNI).
This very odd 1978 film by di Leo is available from Xploited in a striking two disc special edition, which includes two versions of the film and a documentary on the making of it.
I'll be honest and admit that I am not sure what I think of the film, but I love its two stars and admire its director very much. Those who haven't seen it should give the film a look and this set is the best way to go right now.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Commedia Sexy All'Italiana (This Weeks Poll)


This weeks poll, focusing on actresses who populated Italian Sex Comedies from the seventies, is the smallest one I have hosted so far in regards to the number of choices. There are frankly many talented actresses that I left out but I decided to just go with five favorites who all seemed to define the genre. I will do one in the future focusing on the many great male comedians of the period, and perhaps even a volume two focusing on more actresses including the ones I left out who were more involved in comedies from the sixties. This was after all a very fruitful genre for several decades.
So vote away for your favorites between the five actresses I have selected. They all have strong fan bases and they all of course worked more than in just comedic roles, but when they did they always proved to be incredibly sexy, charming and most importantly of all funny. Beauty and Laughter seemed a great way to start off the new year so look for upcoming related posts all throughout the week.

Joe Dante Film Poll Results


Thanks to everyone who voted on last weeks poll focusing on the films of Joe Dante. This actually turned out to be my most successful poll so far, which surprised me since it was Christmas week. Here are the results for the poll, and a couple of shots featuring Candice Rialson from one of Dante's best, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD.

1. THE HOWLING (38)
2. GREMLINS (32)
3. PIRANHA (26)
4. GREMLINS 2 (26)
5. THE HOMECOMING (23)
6. HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (20)
7. INNERSPACE (18)
8. SMALL SOLDIERS (16)
9. MATINEE (11)
10. EXPLORERS (7)
11. THE BURBS (5)
12. LOONEY TUNES (4)

Thanks again to everyone who participated and thanks to Joe Dante for giving us so many consistently inventive and brilliant films. It is to his credit that one of his more recent films, THE HOMECOMING, ranked so high. Here's to many more years of great filmmaking.

This weeks new poll will be posted later today. Also, my look at Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS should be appearing at The Amplifier soon, which is why I am not posting it here this weekend.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spaak, Catherine Spaak


I don't really have any reason for posting these shots of Catherine Spaak, that appeared on eBay recently, other than I just thought they were great to see. It does kind of tie in though with the upcoming week here at Moon In The Gutter though. I feel like I have been posting too much on mainstream American cinema lately so this first week of the new year will be bringing in some more European delights.
So as I am preparing that, enjoy these two shots of Catherine. Also the Joe Dante poll, which has proved the most popular I have ever done, will be coming to an end soon so vote if you haven't already. Next weeks poll will be posted tomorrow, and it will have a more...Italian theme to it. Thanks to everyone who has been visiting. Moon In The Gutter has gotten more hits in the past few weeks than ever before.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Celebrating The Crazed Chaos Of Gremlins


One of the main things I love about the films of Joe Dante is how much they love cinema. Dante’s best films are positively drunk on the idea of cinema, and it is this addiction to film that makes his work so damn timeless and so infectiously fun.
GREMLINS is a celebration of cinema and chaos, or perhaps more appropriately a celebration of chaos in cinema. For all of the potent sweetness of the first half of the film, GREMLINS really becomes transcendent in that second part where an incredibly potent anarchy takes over as Dante gleefully watches over his little creations as they tear the building down.
GREMLINS was co-produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, two filmmakers who have tailor made many productions into custom made marketing schemes. For a while GREMLINS falls into this with its cute and cuddly Gizmo and ideal Americana aura, but Dante performs an interesting trick in the film and by the end of it, during a final Hammer Horror inspired climax, the young Turks have once again overtaken the corporate palace.

Dante shot GREMLINS just after completing his work on the Spielberg produced TWILIGHT ZONE film. The two seemed an odd combination; as it was Dante who after all had shot one of the most successful JAWS take offs, PIRANHA, just about six years before. GREMLINS would turn out to be a fruitful and incredibly successful venture for the two of them but thankfully Dante didn’t allow his film to become as neutered by the Spielberg touch as some other notable directors had. There might be some Steven Spielberg touches in GREMLINS but by the time the credits role, we know for sure we have watched a Joe Dante film.
Chris Columbus was a relative unknown at this time; with his only credit being the Daryl Hannah film RECKLESS in 1983. GREMLINS was a few years before he would turn to directing himself with such monumentally boring but financially successful films like the HOME ALONE series. His recent work on the HARRY POTTER films have thankfully served as a reminder of some of his talents, after all this is the guy who lensed the delightful Elisabeth Shue comedy ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.
I quite like Columbus’ script for GREMLINS with its strong odes to everything from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE WIZARD OF OZ and even old CHARLIE CHAN serials. Still, it is Dante’s direction, the beautiful photography of John Hora, the wonderful special effects and the talented cast that really makes GREMLINS special. Add on a spirited score by the great Jerry Goldsmith as a cherry on top and GREMLINS is one of the most alive and inventive films of the eighties.
It is remarkable that GREMLINS was really only the forth full-length feature Dante had directed as he handles the material like a seasoned old pro. The film is a perfectly constructed piece that never slips. Any other director might have faltered halfway through when the most idealistic of all towns is suddenly taken over by the most gleefully destructive monsters in film history, but just like he had in PIRANHA and THE HOWLING, Dante intermingles the comedy with the horror perfectly. It is an assured and confident piece of filmmaking by a very talented artist.
The amazing number of references Dante fills GREMLINS with could have easily dismantled the film but they never interfere with the story, which is in itself a major accomplishment. Being a film geek, spotting all the references can be incredibly fun, but the film is good enough to not lose its identity in them. It finally even becomes a better film than some of the more acclaimed ones it is paying tribute to, a feat Dante has managed several times in his career.
As previously mentioned, Goldsmith’s score is a charmer and the main theme is among his most memorable. The photography of Hora is really gorgeous and, even at its most artifical looking, the film still manages to maintain a level of realism thanks to his inventive lighting during the many nighttime scenes.
The cast is very well chosen with special note going to legendary Dick Miller who gives one of his most memorable and funniest performances as the paranoid Murray Futterman. Also extraordinary is Phoebe Cates who provides one of my favorite movie monologues ever in which she vividly details why she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Hell, she is so good in the scene that it almost makes me believe there isn’t a Santa Claus.

The film’s second half in which the Gremlins hatch and take over the town is filled with some of the most delightfully crazed and over the top scenes Dante ever shot. He isn’t afraid to be ridiculous and it is that ridiculous nature that become positively transcending late in the film when a theater full of Gremlins suddenly start singing along to SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES. It’s like a narcotic filled late night joyride that you might not believe in the morning if you manage to get to it.
GREMLINS was a fairly shocking film back in 1984. It was hugely popular but it probably single handedly gave birth to the PG-13 rating. The Gremlins themselves are joyously nasty little creatures and nearly a quarter of a century later I still think the special effects in this film hold up.
The film inspired a really fine and equally subversive sequel that came maybe a few years too late. My favorite moment in that one has the Gremlins actually charging into the projection room and destroying the film as you are watching it…genius. Still, I prefer the original as it works for me as a sweet and nostalgic Christmas film in the first half and a crazed monster movie in the second. THE HOWLING is probably the film I would name as Joe Dante’s best, but GREMLINS might be my favorite.

My look at another one of my favorite Dante films, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, can be found here for anyone interested. GREMLINS and its sequel are both available on terrific special edition DVDS that serve both their anarchistic tendencies incredibly well.

006530/103000


I was thrilled to return home from Christmas to find my BLADE RUNNER five DVD briefcase waiting for me. I panicked for a moment as the box it was shipped in had popped open but thankfully nothing had been damaged or tampered with.
I got number 6,530 out of the limited 103,000 run. The packaging is beautiful (the case even has a handle!) and I am frankly blown away by how many hours of extras there are. So far I have just had time to watch Ridley's Final Cut which is breathtaking and I have just started diving into the documentaries.
I have so much to watch now thanks to Christmas gifts including the complete SEINFELD collection, Criterion's new BREATHLESS set and the TWIN PEAKS Gold Box that I am a bit overwhelmed. For the next couple of days though it is definitely this magnificent BLADE RUNNER collection. I am still amazed that it is actually out after so many years of waiting.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Look At The 5th Dimension's The Magic Garden Selected By Rare Albums Site


I am thrilled that my article on The 5th Dimension's mighty album THE MAGIC GARDEN has been selected by rare-albums.com for inclusion at their fine site. This Jimmy Webb written and produced masterpiece was way ahead of its time and has always sounded to me like a clear precedent for bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush. The album is becoming harder and harder to get, so I am glad to see my article on it reappearing.
This is the direct link to my article on the album and I hope everyone might stop over there and give it a look. Thanks to Martin at rare-albums.com for selecting it.

The Mod Squad Episode #3 (My What A Pretty Bus)

The third episode of THE MOD SQUAD, entitled MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS, wisely adapts the more cinematic style of the pilot and corrects many of the stylistic and scripting mistakes the second one made.
Directed with flair by Gene Nelson from an entertaining script by the team of Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov, MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is firmly rooted in 1968 but is executed well enough to not be overly dated or campy.
The storyline this time has our squad infiltrating a counterfeiting gang headed by a sneaky old con named Herbert Milne (Mills) and his rather sinister silent partner. After befriending him the episode becomes a labyrinth of heists, double crosses and intrigue as our gang attempts to not blow their cover and bring Mills down.
The biggest mistake that the second episode, BAD MAN ON CAMPUS, made was separating Julie, Linc and Pete too much. Thankfully MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS doesn’t repeat that and the episode thrives on the chemistry between the three, especially Julie and Linc who share some really nice moments together.
Guest star Henry Jones is excellent as the backstabbing aging con Mills. Jones had an astonishing career in television and film that lasted well over four decades until his death at the age of 86 in 1999. His film credits include everything from VERTIGO (1958) to DICK TRACY (1990) and television fans will surely recognize him from guest roles in BEWICHED and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. His role here in MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is really large and he is great as the crafty old thief who always seems to have another trick up his sleeve.
The episode also features noted character actor and stunt man Bud Elkins and stunt man Dick Ziker in a delightful cameo as a biker who helps Linc and Julie towards the end of the episode.
This would be the first of several notable MOD SQUAD episodes that director Gene Nelson would helm. The Golden Globe winning director had worked in both film and television with some of his major projects including a couple of Elvis Presley films and popular shows like I DREAM OF JEANNIE and STAR TREK. His work here is very nice and quite imaginative for a sixties hour-long television drama. Nelson was also an acclaimed singer, actor and dancer who worked in front of the cameras many time through his three decade long career.
The WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLE scriptwriting team of Bagni and Dubov would later also collaborate on THE MOD SQUAD’S 1970 episode JUST RING THE BELL ONCE and their script for MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is a nice mixture of sixties slang and slightly clich├ęd crime melodrama.
This episode is mostly noteworthy for the final scene where the three embrace. Both Peggy Lipton and Michael Cole recall on the DVD supplements that the moment was very controversial but creator Aaron Spelling bravely refused to buckle in his vision of the show as a celebration of friendship between different sexes and races.
Finally also noteworthy is the trippy sitar soaked score, and possibly it marked one of the first times that LSD was mentioned in a casual non-judgmental way on a network television show. All in all, MY WHAT A PRETTY BUS is a major winner.

For more on this episode, please visit here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx


More than any other decade in American film history, the 1970’s are filled with colorful, offbeat and quirky character studies. None fit that order more than one of the inaugural films of the decade, 1970’s QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX. While this odd and touching little film did in fact garner much praise upon its initial release, it is typically left out of discussions involving the more interesting works of the period.
QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX was the first screenplay credited to actor Gabriel Walsh, best known for some television work in the sixties and seventies. Walsh sold his strangely moving little script, concerning a lonely young Dublin man who helps support his family by picking up horse dung off the street and selling it as fertilizer, to the independent Scotia-Barber productions in 1968. The wheels were quickly set in motion to make Walsh’s touching little script a reality and director Waris Hussein signed on to helm the low budget project in late 1969.
Hussein was born in 1938 and had begun directing television productions in the early part of the sixties. After helming his debut theatrical feature, 1969’s A TOUCH OF LOVE, Hussein quickly began prep work on QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX in 1969. Key to the film’s success and resonance was the casting of the title role in the film, a part that would demand someone not only talented but also an actor with just the right amount of eccentricity to sell such an odd role.

The complex role of Quackser instantaneously fascinated legendary comedian Gene Wilder when he got the script in 1969, and he signed on to play the part immediately despite the film’s budgetary restrictions. The Milwaukee born Wilder had been on a role since his small role in BONNIE AND CLYDE three years earlier and films like THE PRODUCERS (1968) and START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1969) had cemented his status as one of the brightest and best young American actors in the world. He would give arguably his best and most moving performance in QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX, although he has never gotten his full due for it.
Cast opposite Wilder in the important role of Zazel, the pretty American college student who steals and breaks Quackser’s heart, was a charming young actress who had only appeared in one theatrical film before being given the part. Margot Kidder was just twenty-one when she stepped on the set to work opposite Gene Wilder, but her relative inexperience was unnoticeable as she matched him every step of the way. She gives a moving and multi-layered performance as a young girl still trying to figure out who exactly she is and it remains among the most finely crafted roles of her distinguished career.
With his cast in place, Hussein took the filming to Ireland and shot nearly all of it on location in and around Dublin. There were reports of problems mostly centering around budgetary issues and personality clashes, but none of that affected the film. QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX is one of the oddest and most oddly moving films of the seventies, and its virtually anonymity since is most unfortunate.
What makes Hussein’s film so incredible good, outside of the inspired casting of Wilder and Kidder, is that it is simply a story we have not seen before. There is something so lovably tragic about this poor small town man who travels the streets each day with a shovel and a wagon, literally collecting something that is by its very nature, waste. Wilder is astonishing in the film, and he injects the role with so much humanity and tenderness that it is impossible to think of another actor who could have played it. Kidder is equally rewarding, and the young beauty manages the near impossible task of creating a character simultaneously overwhelmingly inconsiderate and yet still loving towards our poor hero.
The supporting cast is splendid, and is made up of a cross section of American actors and Irish locals, with special note going to Mary Ollis and Seamus Forde for their performances as Quackser’s parents. The film’s strikingly dingy look is courtesy of famed Roman Polanski cinematographer, Gilbert Taylor, and his low-key approach fits the films tragi-comic atmosphere perfectly.
In the director’s chair, Hussein fills the role very nicely. None other than Jean Renoir was approached at one point to helm the film, so Hussein had some fairly large shoes to fill. It remains, sadly, one of the only notable films the clearly talented Hussein ever helmed, as he would return mostly to television after.
QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX opened in the summer of 1970 to so-so business but a strong critical backing. Walsh would receive a Writer’s Guild nomination for his lovely and original script but would end up not taking the coveted prize home.

Distribution problems plagued the film immediately and these continued up into the mid seventies when it gradually made its way across Europe, under the title FUN LOVING. It was released on VHS in the early eighties and then fell off the map completely before VCI issued a solid widescreen DVD of it in 2003. It is thankfully still available and can usually be found for under ten dollars.
While rarely mentioned among the best American films of the seventies, QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX is without a doubt one of the most original. Both Margot Kidder and the much missed Gene Wilder would go onto many more popular and well known roles in their long careers, but QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX remains one of the definitive works by both of them. It is one of the great under seen American films of the period, and a reappraisal is due.

***This is a slightly revamped version of my article that appeared in The Amplifier a while back. The original version can be viewed here. This particular article will always be special to me as it is the first one that ever appeared in actual print. I hope it proves enjoyable for Moon In The Gutter readers who haven't read it already.***

Passing Notes In Fifth Period History Class With Phoebe Cates


I knew a girl in high school named Allyson. We became friends in my senior year, and we would pass notes back in forth in a mind numbingly boring fifth period history class. Allyson played a relatively small role in my life but even now, well over fifteen years since I last saw her, there isn’t a month that goes by where I don’t stop for an instant and think about her and remember those funny little words that passed between us or the way she brightened up that fifth period class on a daily basis.
The film career of Phoebe Cates is a bit like that friendship I had back in high school. It is a relatively minor one, with a small number of films and only a couple of bona fide classics. She never won any awards and has all but completely retired now but something special still remains and, like Allyson, a small secret smile comes across my face when I think of her.

I don’t know a lot about her. I know she is from New York and she is just shy of a decade older than I am. Typically I crave to know the minute details of my favorite film figures but some I just prefer to keep on the screen. Phoebe has always been in that latter category, although of course her reputation as one of Hollywood’s best moms should be mentioned.
After some early commercial and modeling work she made her big screen debut before her twentieth birthday in 1982’s PARADISE. This rather weak little film is made memorable by the breathtaking young sun scorched Cates, and a DVD release would be most welcome.
She would quickly become one of the early eighties most interesting young stars with just her second film, Amy Heckerling’s legendary FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (also from 1982). This Cameron Crowe scripted work remains one of the best high school themed films ever shot and it introduced many film lovers to not only Cates but also Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz,, and Forest Whitaker among others. Cates is delightfully moving in the picture and her scene arising out of the swimming pool in Reinhold’s fantasy is a moment frozen in many film lovers’ dreams. It’s an iconic moment that ranks, for people who grew up with it, with Marlon Brando stripping off his shirt in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE or Marilyn Monroe’s dress blowing up in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH.

Had FAST TIMES RIDGEMONT HIGH done better on its initial release Phoebe Cates could have probably become a huge star, but for two years after she was stuck in mostly youth oriented roles that were a major step backwards from Heckerling’s film. Noel Black’s PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) certainly has its charms but it hardly broke any new ground for the talented Cates (or its impressive cast which included Betsy Russell, Matthew Modine and Sylvia Kristel), while the less said about her television films like LACE the better.
Phoebe got probably her greatest role though in 1984 with her charming turn as Kate in Joe Dante’s GREMLINS. She oozes charisma and a sexy wholesomeness that hadn’t been seen in American cinema since the early sixties in this role, and I still don’t think I have gotten over seeing her for the first time in this film back when I was eleven during its first release. Her reading of the film’s most controversial scene, where she admits why she hates Christmas, is one of the funniest and most moving sequences from the eighties and is for me the absolute highlight of the film.

Like after FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, the film career of Phoebe Cates should have took off following GREMLINS. She has never been what one would call prolific though and her roles since have been sporadic. She’s added spark to some disappointing films like DATE WITH AN ANGEL (1987) and BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY (1988) and appeared in some good ones like the irresistible SHAG (1989) opposite Bridget Fonda and Dante’s own GREMLINS sequel in this period but she never regained the momentum she had in 1984.

After 1991’s irritating DROP DEAD FRED Phoebe Cates virtually vanished from the screen. Her slight returns have been especially sweet though. 1993’s BODIES, REST AND MOTION is one of the great forgotten films of the nineties, and her work with Bridget Fonda in the film shows her as an actress capable of a lot more depth than probably even her biggest fans had previously recognized. 1994’s PRINCESS CARABOO might not be overwhelmingly noteworthy but Cates is stunning in the film to watch and the fact that it is her last starring role makes it almost haunting.
Phoebe Cates retired from the screen after starring in PRINCESS CARABOO just past the age of thirty to raise her children. She has appeared just once since in a film, 2001’s THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY for her old friend and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH survivor Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nearing forty in the film, Cates is still breathtaking and for people who grew up with her and Leigh it is something special to see them together again. THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY is a fitting farewell to Cates, it’s a strong and personal film from first time director Leigh and Phoebe delivers a nice low key performance for her.
Occasionally I will do a search for Phoebe Cates to see what she is looking like these days, and pictures of her at Premiere’s with her husband Kevin Kline show her to appear seemingly ageless. Now in her mid forties, she still contains more style, sweetness and natural beauty than most actresses half her age could ever hope to. Whether or not she ever returns to the screen remains to be seen but the small legacy she left us is an endearing and potent one. Much like many of us might never recover from a secret crush or a lost friendship from high school, the film career of Phoebe Cates is not likely to fade anytime soon for people who grew up loving her.

For more on Phoebe please visit this rather wonderful fan site.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Spend The Holidays With Juno


I have finally given MICHAEL CLAYTON a little company in my five star films for 2007 section with the remarkable JUNO. This really special and insightful film is one of the best films of the year, and is probably the best acted. Since no one else seems to be giving her much attention, I'd like to nominate Jennifer Garner as best supporting actress for her beautifully nuanced and touching supporting role in this film.
JUNO is a great film and I highly recommend it (It also has one of the best Dario Argento nods I have seen in a film since MAY, which made it all the better).
I also saw the surprisingly strong I AM LEGEND today which despite faltering a bit in the last act was a terrific film with a great lead turn by Will Smith.
My tradition of going to the movies on Christmas day was very rewarding this year.

My posts here will start picking up in the next day or so as I return home from visiting family. Hope everyone is continuing to have a great Christmas. Thanks for all the comments, email and MySpace messages. Excuse my delay in getting back to everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas From Moon In The Gutter

Thanks to everyone who has been so kind this year and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day and a great rest of the holiday season. I hope you all keep enjoying Moon In The Gutter in the upcoming year. Merry Christmas and my best to all of you and your families.

Yvonne Craig, sometime in the mid sixties.

Soul Still On Top


Tomorrow of course brings a lot to remember and celebrate. Stop for a moment if you will and think upon the soul of James Brown...one of our great artists whom we lost one year ago. I know I won't let the day slip by without pulling out one of the man's records, and remembering an artist who always gave everything he had to give...
I was stunned when I heard The Godfather had been called home, and a year later the thought still gets me...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Celebrating Belinda Balaski


One of my favorite ingredients to some of Joe Dante’s best films comes in his continuous casting of the wonderfully warm character actor Belinda Balaski. Whether it was in just one memorable scene in GREMLINS or in a much larger role in PIRANHA, Balaski always brought such a genuine feel to her roles that it is surprising she didn’t become more of a major feature in eighties and nineties cinema.
Balaski was born in California in the late part of 1947 and acted throughout her childhood in variety of local stage productions. She maintained her passion for acting through her teenage years and early twenties and finally began her career in front of the camera with a series of early seventies television series like THE COWBOYS, BARETTA and SWAT.
Balaski’s first feature film was the underrated and stylish Fred Williamson vehicle BLACK EYE (1974). Balaski is featured in a small but noticeable role in Jack Arnold’s surprising modern noir and the role would lead her to even more work including the Television films FORCE FIVE and DEATH SCREAM (both 1975).
Her first major role came with the Linda Carter film, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1975) which quickly became a fan favorite and it garnered Belinda some good notices.
Belinda next appeared in the rather unforgettable American International Production THE FOOD OF THE GODS for director Bert I Gordon. This giant killer animals gone amuck movie alternates between awful and hilarious but it is undeniably fun, and Balaski is one of the best parts of it. In a scene stealing smaller role, she is already demonstrating much of the warmth and charisma that would define her performances with Dante that were just around the corner.
A few more television roles followed before Belinda landed one of her best roles, as Maryann in Paul Bartel’s extremely entertaining 1976 production CANNONBALL. Balaski is great in this David Carradine rampaging and exciting road race film from the much missed director of classics ranging from DATH RACE 2000 (1975) to EATING RAOUL (1982).
Quickly emerging as one of AIP’s most promising actors, Belinda met young editor and aspiring filmmaker Dante around this period and she would feature in almost all of his feature films from that point on.

After a memorable role in a solid episode of CHARLIE’S ANGELS Belinda appeared in one of Dante’s great films, the John Sayles scripted PIRANHA (1978). This film has aged so incredibly well and Dante’s sparkling direction combined with Sayle’s sharp dialogue is an unbeatable combination. Balaski is lovely in the film and every one of her scenes is spiked with a real spark. PIRANHA is a blueprint on how to make an essential and great monster film. Fun, funny, alive and potent, PIRANHA is a real favorite.
The few years after PIRANHA brought more television and stage work for the undeniably talented Balaski and Joe Dante didn’t forget the young woman who gave so much to one of his first major directorial assignments. His next film would prove even more successful than PIRANHA, and would give the 35 year old Balaski one of her greatest roles.

THE HOWLING (1981) is one of the great American horror films of the eighties, and one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Working again from a clever self referential John Sayles script, Dante’s THE HOWLING is a major work. Balaski is one of the film’s major highlights and her death scene is terrifying and unforgettable. She is also very funny and charming in the film, and her scenes are among some of the best in Dante’s canon. One scene in particular where she gets a werewolf tutorial from legendary Dick Miller is particularly memorable.
THE HOWLING should have made Belinda Balaski’s career. Unfortunately the tragic tradition of undervaluing great performances in genre films has dogged many wonderful actors, and it continues to happen to this day. Balaski began doing more and more television work after THE HOWLING, and she also never lost touch with the stage that she loved so much. She would have a very memorable one scene walk on in Dante’s GREMLINS (1984), and the great filmmaker thankfully never forgot her in his later career. Her voice appears in his EXPLORERS (1985), and she acts in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987), GREMLINS 2 (1990), MATINEE (1993) and her last big screen appearance is in his 1998 film SMALL SOLDIERS.

Outside of her work for Joe Dante, Belinda Balaski has appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, and stage productions. While she never got the film roles that she deserved, award winning Balaski has had a really wonderful and prolific career that has given fans many great performances and films. Her IMDB biography also reveals her as a teacher, painter and photographer. Horror fans will of course always remember her for her very memorable work in PIRANHA and THE HOWLING, but Belinda Balaski is much more than just one of our great overlooked scream queens. Her relatively small big screen legacy deserves celebrating.

Her official website can be found here.

Joe Dante Film Poll


This week's film poll is focused on the career of Joe Dante, one of my favorite American directors who came out of the late seventies. The poll includes most of, but not all, of his major works from HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD to his first MASTERS OF HORROR episode THE HOMECOMING. Vote for all your favorites to honor one of our most original creative minds.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Spiked Egg Nog, A Body In The Attic and Gremlins...Lots Of Damn Gremlins


Christmas week is upon us so I figured I needed to celebrate some of my favorite Christmas themed films here. Instead of posting on recognized classics ranging from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET to IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, I thought instead I would focus on a few that aren't often included among people's holiday favorites. So this week look for posts on Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and Joe Dante's GREMLINS (1984) among a few others like ABOUT A BOY (2002).
We lost Bob Clark tragically early this year and I would like to dedicate the upcoming week at Moon In The Gutter to his memory, and my warmest wishes go out to his surviving family in what must be a difficult time of the year for them.

Also this week's icon is one of the stars of GREMLINS, and a woman I have no problem admitting that I have been in love with now for over twenty years. I don't know any guy my age who didn't have a crush on Phoebe Cates at one point or another, so Christmas week seemed like a good time to celebrate it.
So sit back by your fireplace curled up with your laptop and eggnog (or just straight scotch) and celebrate Christmas with Moon In The Gutter this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Jackie Brown


I have decided to not attempt any major review on JACKIE BROWN for a few reasons. The main reason being that so much as already been written on the film, by writers much more eloquent than I am, that I am not sure of what I could add. I typically try to focus on films that haven’t been written on enough, and that certainly isn’t the case with JACKIE BROWN.
The other two reasons have to do with Tarantino himself. I figure fans of his already have a clear favorite and they are unwavering in their dedication towards it. Secondly, that people who don’t care for his work won’t be swayed by anything I can write…
So instead of a review I am going to offer two things to the table. The first is a simple list of things I believe about the film. Some you might agree with and some you might not. I offer no evidence for any of these, but I believe them all nonetheless and am not likely to change my mind anytime soon.
The second thing I will offer is a personal story about the first time I saw the film, what it meant and what it continues to mean to me. You may or may not want to skip over this, as it is really just my way of paying a personal tribute to a film that has come to mean a lot to me.

First up is the list:

1. The slow pacing that many people have complained about is deliberate, and is among the cleverest things Quentin Tarantino has ever accomplished. The slightly off pacing fits in perfectly thematically with the characters in the film.

2. This film is among the greatest works dealing with that particular time in a person’s life when they have just slipped past their prime. That weird moment when you are not old, but youth is no longer in the cards for you either.

3. This is the last great performance that Robert De Niro gave us, and what Samuel L. Jackson says to him after he shoots him foreshadows what many of his fans would like to say to him today.

4. There have been few characters as truly terrifying as Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell and Jackson has never been better in a role.

5. The opening shot of Pam Grier is one of the perfectly designed and realized entrances in film history.

6. The first time Robert Forster lays his eyes on Pam Grier is one of the most romantic shots in modern film.

7. Robert Forster is the most underrated film actor alive.

8. It is tragic that more directors weren’t smart enough to give the extremely talented Bridget Fonda more parts of this substance.

9. Bridget Fonda’s line delivery of her thoughts on ambition might be the funniest in any Tarantino film.

10. This is one of the only films made since the seventies that actually looks like it could have been made in that decade.

11. Pam Grier’s “Long Time Woman” is one of the great-lost soul tracks of the seventies.

12. Enough attention hasn’t been paid to the fact that Tarantino used a song from a Jess Franco work during one of the films key moments.

13. Sid Haig’s cameo is the perfect bit part as it is long enough to be substantial but not short enough to be just distracting.

14. The film’s soundtrack is one of the best examples of a score being used as a series of interior monologues ever.

15. The Delfonic’s “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” is one of the five greatest love songs ever written.

16. Tarantino’s film finally helped give legitimacy to one of the most undervalued, misunderstood and underestimated genres in film history.

17. The final shots of Robert Forster and Pam Grier in this film are among the most moving in all of modern film.

18. Pam Grier was robbed when she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.

19. The true heart and soul of Quentin Tarantino can be found in this film.

20. JACKIE BROWN is the best film Quentin Tarantino has ever made.

MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIE:


I first saw JACKIE BROWN on Christmas night in 1997 in Lexington, Kentucky. I was 24 years old and I was frankly at a very low point in my life. I had recently dropped out of college to take care of my sick father, had broken up with my girlfriend of two years and was dealing with some serious problems of an emotional and chemical nature.
Seeing JACKIE BROWN that Christmas night, as a rare light snow fell in Lexington, was a special moment that gave me a rare healthy escape from the things happening in my life. I clicked with the film immediately and it gave me comfort for months after when things really began to hit a real low point for me.
The months leading up to JACKIE BROWN for me were interesting. I had liked RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION but unlike my best friend David (who I saw JACKIE BROWN with) they weren’t two of my favorites. Tarantino didn’t become really one of 'my guys' until JACKIE BROWN, and it is because of this film that I really count him among my favorites. I have loved and admired all of his work so far but JACKIE BROWN is the one that really hits me emotionally.

I remember that Christmas day clearly. The morning was spent with my mom and dad outside of Louisville, and then I had to go and open the video store that I managed in Lexington. Christmas days in video stores are interesting, as the first half is totally dead and the second is slammed. I can still picture the way that empty parking lot looked to my chemically induced glazed stare as the Jack Lemmon picture SAVE THE TIGER playing behind me refelected on the store windows.
I worked until the early evening and while the snow didn’t amount to much of anything it was lovely to watch falling. Shortly before I left work one of my favorite customers came in, a beautiful woman named Elizabeth whom I would always give free films to. I promised I would tell her how the new Tarantino film was but ironically I can’t remember now if I ever did.
I picked my friend David up at his house and we were off. The theater was fairly packed with mostly excited guys my age, and some couples. The hallway to the theater was lined with various poster designs for the film, and I remember stopping and admiring the shot of Bridget Fonda for a couple of minutes.

It is odd the things you remember. I can remember where we sat and that the floors were still sticky from the previous show. I remember there was a girl I knew named Whitney, who resembled Sherilyn Fenn, sitting a few rows up, and I reminding myself to try and speak to her on the way out...although I can’t remember if I did.
Like I said the film and I clicked perfectly. I actually felt like it was screening just for me as the disappointment that most of the audience was feeling was palatable. I responded to the characters, the slow pacing, the photography, the music and the vision it presented of the human spirit just passed its prime.
I had the same reaction the two other times I saw it in a theater. Thinking back on it now, I wish I would have seen it a dozen times but the three were it.
Thinking on the film and listening to its soundtrack helped keep me afloat for months after until I crashed landed completely. It is odd how my best memories are usually small good things that happened during my worst possible periods, but that is the way it has always gone for me.

So it has been ten years since JACKIE BROWN. I am in a much better place now but damn I am not 24 anymore, and the fact that I won’t be 34 anymore in ten years pretty much guarantees that the film will grow even more special to me.
The theater where I saw JACKIE BROWN closed down a few years ago, and I don’t remember having more than a flurry on Christmas day since. I haven’t seen my father, my friend David, Elizabeth or even that girl Whitney who looked like Sherilyn Fenn in years and I don’t expect I ever will again. JACKIE BROWN remains for me though and I find myself gravitating towards it each Christmas. Surprisingly this violent and sun baked essay on regret and disappointment has become my favorite Christmas film.
These days I feel a lot like Max Cherry at the end of this film...standing, frozen...not unhappy but frustrated in his inability to hold onto what is slipping away and lamenting his inability to move forward.