Bad Cinema: Cleopatra (Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963)

a

Cleopatra is a film so steeped in legend, so famous for other reasons, that many people probably feel they have seen it when they haven’t: Cleopatra, the film that nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox when it’s budget ballooned from 2 to roughly 44 million dollars (the equivalent of almost 320 million today); Cleopatra, the film that made Elizabeth Taylor the first actor to earn a million dollar payday; Cleopatra, the film that replaced its director during filming, forcing a frazzled Mankiewicz to do rewrites at night after shooting all day, using rounds of different barbiturates to sleep and stay awake; Cleopatra, the film that was shut down for months when Liz Taylor had to have an emergency tracheotomy as well as other sporadic periods when her pneumonia and depression got the better of her; and most (in)famously, Cleopatra, the film that created Le Scandale, when the married Taylor and the married Richard Burton fell in love and became “Liz and Dick,” the papally denounced couple that shook the world.

a

Liz and Dick’s love affair has been called the Marriage of the Century, as “important” as the union of the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor. Dick was married to longtime wife, Sybil; Liz was then married to Eddie Fisher (breaking up the marriage of America’s Sweetheart Debbie Reynolds along the way; read Carrie Fisher’s hilarious Shockaholic for all the juicy details) – the only modern equivalent would be Angelina Jolie “stealing” Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston (incidentally, a remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Darren Aronofsky starring Brangelina is the best idea not happening in Hollywood…). Producer Walter Wanger feared their affair would hurt the film, dubbing Liz a Social Pariah who had broken up not one but two marriages, and tried to keep it under wraps. Mankiewicz, in his signature wit, even quipped that Taylor was merely a beard for his own affair with Burton. But the lovers, try as they did (or didn’t, appearing in public, canoodling, as Ted Casablanca would say) were unable to keep their love hidden from the constant prying of the paparazzi. In fact, it was that very love affair that excited moviegoers to turn out in droves, making Cleopatra the biggest box office draw of the year.

But their love was fraught also with drama, not least of which Burton’s refusal to ever divorce Sybil, sending Liz into tailspins of depression and at least one suicide attempt. (Sybil eventually acquiesced and Burton and Taylor were married soon after; twice, in fact…) Liz and Dick were also both chronic alcoholics who could drink each other under the table and loved to fight in front of others – was Virginia Woolf? so touching and brilliant because it was autobiographical? But their folie a deux came with its perks: Liz served as a ticket to movie stardom for Burton; Dick’s theatrical training brought out the best work she ever did.

But what of Cleopatra itself? Can the film be seen past the fog of its scandal for its own merits? Does it have any merits? Is it possible to be objective about something so steeped in the collective conscious as a “flop”? What if the film is actually a misunderstood masterpiece, mired by its own legend? I had to know. This was my task.

Usually when I choose films for Bad Cinema, they are films I know will be terrible because I have seen them already (Myra Breckinridge) or films that can only be terrible (Battleship). But with the inclusion of my newest column, Good Cinema, I was fully prepared for Cleopatra to go either way. I was going into this with an open mind, secretly hoping to declare the haters wrong. I wish I hadn’t needed to sit through four hours of crap to figure out they were right.

Part of the problem with Cleopatra for the modern viewer is that, thanks to The Burtons, we are expecting this to be a love story. In actuality, it is a war film peppered with traces of romance. But neither the love stories or the battles are particularly engaging or fleshed out. If it all weren’t so mind-numbingly dull and so slowly paced, I would sign up for the six hour Director’s Cut if and when the footage is found; Mankiewicz implored for the film to be released in two three hour installments: Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra. Instead Darryl F. Zanuck, the new head of Fox, took the film away from him and cut it to one four hour film with an intermission.

a

But with two hours cut, naturally this leaves character development and some story lines drastically underdeveloped or non-existent (or maybe, writing under intense duress, Mankiewicz was just not able to see the big picture). For example, is it a fallacy in the editing/writing that we never believe the love between Rex Harrison and Liz Taylor or a misstep in their performances? The same could be said for the instant romance of Antony and Cleopatra. In Part I, Antony is essentially a side kick to Caesar, he and Cleo barely having an interaction; by Part II, Antony has always been pining for the Queen while she still holds a torch for Caesar by wearing a necklace of his coins to bed. THEN almost on a dime, they fall madly in love, both claiming adoration for the other, Cleo even going so far as to say she has loved him since she was 12. This scene, while reading false in the film, is ironically one of its most believable pieces of acting because it mirrors Burton and Taylor’s love-at-first-sight affair; we feel we have intruded on their pillow talk. Legend as it that Liz and Dick continued to make love on set well after Mankiewicz called cut, completely lost in their own romance.

a

The war scenes and story lines are hard to follow and feel belabored. Due to the massive amounts of story that needed to be eradicated, Mankiewicz and Co. had to actually come back and shoot MORE footage, 39 pages in fact, to tie up loose ends. The first scene in the film is one such segment. Martin Landau tells us on the commentary track that since their original DP Leon Shamroy had moved on to shooting The Cardinal with Otto Preminger, Claude Renoir (son of the director, grandson of the artist) was brought in to finish the needed footage. This meant that there was a French camera crew, German special effects team, Spanish extras, Italian wardrobe and make up artists, and English speaking actors, necessitating orders to be given in numerous languages and using bombs as a universal communication – one of the many things that slowed down production.

Yet, while the romances and wars seem underdeveloped, what is most obvious to an objective viewer is the amount of footage that is unnecessary. Not scenes per se, but shots: Caesar walking across the room here, Cleopatra glancing there, an endless parade of angles capturing gratuitous dance numbers and processions; probably 30 minutes of the film could be trimmed just by tightening up the scenes (or a different 30 minutes of footage, footage that actually contributed to the action, could have supplanted it). Sometimes more is just more. (Which makes me wonder if we really need to see the 9.5 hour version of Greed. Would it be “better”? Or just longer? Judging from even the 2.5 hour version of Foolish Wives, Erich von Stroheim could have learned a thing or two about cutting for rhythm…) 

a

Strangely, the thing that suffers (and shines) most through the truncation are the performances. Richard Burton, one of the greatest of all actors, goes from 0-120 in a matter of moments, using his large Shakespearean voice for even the gods to hear. Is this a product of his adjustment from theatre to film? Or a product of having the necessary scenes in which to build up an eruption cut? (If the film version of August: Osage County has a downfall, it is Lett’s decision to trim the valleys and keep all of the peaks…).

a

Rex Harrison is all Henry Higgins smug and keeps an intellectual distance from the woman he supposedly loves; one of, if not the most beautiful woman the cinema has ever known. He reads dispassionate, appearing uncomfortably in his brief moments of physical connection, but then again so does Burton even though we know he and Liz were fucking like rabbits off camera. Maybe everyone was just too burnt out, confused, or drunk to give a damn.

But Liz. Oh, Liz.

a

Liz was a great star, perhaps the greatest. The fact that in the last 20 years of her life she appeared in only two films, yet lost none of her Hollywood glamour and legend, even though she had become an over weight tabloid parody of herself that seemed to be on her death bed at every moment, palling around with the likes of Wacko Jacko and Eccentric Liza, she was still regarded as cinema royalty. And of course she was. That is the magic of film. It captures us at our finest hours, our most beautiful, our most radiant, and our most talented. And Elizabeth had it all, in addition to being one of the most philanthropic, kindest, well liked celebrities around; a woman who prided herself more on being a good wife, mother, and friend than a movie star. Yet her cinematic charisma was, and still is, undeniable. No matter the film, no matter the role, you simply cannot take your eyes off of Elizabeth Taylor. Yes, she is beautiful, yes those violet eyes are unique and transcendent, yes her real life dramas make their way into our experiences, but there is something more, something intangible, an incandescent glow that can’t be properly described. Marilyn had it. Garbo. Dietrich. There is a fire behind their eyes that always know more than they admit, a passion, a secret that can only be shared with us, those wonderful people out there in the dark. Cleopatra dies when she is not on screen. We simply do not care about anyone else. The film is called Cleopatra for a reason. No one else could have played her at the time; she knocks Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert, and Vivien Leigh off the map; and no one, except maybe Angelina Jolie, could play her now (Catherine Zeta-Jones, my foot, Soderbergh…). Cleopatra IS Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor, the spoiled, beautiful Queen who brought men to their knees was Cleopatra.

However, this doesn’t mean that she was a great actress. Nor does this mean that she was just a pretty face. Elizabeth Taylor is somewhat maddening in her inconsistency. She will carry a movie like Giant against the dreadfully droll Rock Hudson, but utterly fail as Maggie the Cat; perhaps she just couldn’t relate to a woman who was unable to bed a man. She will turn in one of the cinema’s greatest performances in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (truly, her and Burton’s work is so exquisite it is practically unmatched) and then sleepwalk through something like The Mirror Crack’d. She will have great moments of fragility in something like Suddenly, Last Summer or stentorian dominance in Cleopatra and then begin yelling at the top of her lungs, almost completely disconnected from the words, as if someone once told her that loudness equates passion. In her best and worst work, Liz seems to fluctuate between whispers and shouts like a singer unable to effectively use their mix (I’m talking to you, Aguilera…).

***

Miraculously, and perhaps as a testament to its making, a pat on the back for just finishing the damn thing, Cleopatra was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture! (But from an organization that chose Around the World in 80 Days – incidentally produced by Mike Todd, Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband just six years earlier as the best of the best in a year that included The Ten Commandments, The King & I, Anastasia, The Searchers, The Killers, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this seems par for the course…) In 1996, the American Film Institute nominated Cleopatra as one of the 400 Greatest American Films Ever Made, yet took it off their list in 2007. Today it is remembered for the only things it should be: How Not to Make a Movie and the Taylor/Burton romance. If you don’t want to sit through four hours of bloated tripe to learn about these two things, just watch the abysmal Lifetime film, Liz and Dick. Or better yet, just read Furious Love.

Is Cleopatra a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
***COLONOSCOPY***

What are your thoughts on Cleopatra? Epics? Elizabeth Taylor?

*FURTHER READING: The Cleopatra Papers by Jack Brodsky and Nathan Weiss

Marnie and Friends: A Journey Through Cinema’s Forgotten Gems

imagesAs a compliment to its sister column Bad Cinema, Good Cinema (original, I know) is dedicated to great films (Great Cinema just didn’t have the same ring) that have for one reason or another been forgotten. Films by legendary directors that get lost in the shuffle of their illustrious careers (The Misfits, Another Woman), films that had all the elements for acclaim yet missed the Awards circuit (Dolores Claiborne, Inland Empire), and films that have been completely discarded and deserve to be revived (I am a Fugitive From a Chain GangEunice). Saia is bringing it all to the forefront. Brace yourself.

Enjoy and discuss.

Check out my reviews below:

Marnie (1964)

Death and the Maiden (1994)

THX 1138 (1971)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Eunice (1982)

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Birth (2004)

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

Quills (2000)

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987)

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Rufus Jones for President (1933)

Outrageous Fortune (1987)

Then She Found Me (2007)

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Carrie (2013)

Lost Horizon (1937)

The Paperboy (2012)

And God Created Woman (1956)

Saturday Night at the Baths (1975)

Margin Call (2011)

The Housemaid (1960)

Bernie (2012)

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012)

Kevorkian (2012)

Dumplings (2004)

Seconds (1966)

Strait-Jacket (1964)

I Think We’re Alone Now (2008)

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

Margot at the Wedding  (2007)

All is Lost (2013)

Cruising (1980)

Damien: Omen II (1976)

 High Anxiety (1977)

Dogville (2003)

Black Christmas (1974)

The Strained Melody of Nothingness (2015)

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

It’s a Gift (1934)

 The Raven (1935)

Bad Cinema: Glen or Glenda? (Dir: Edward D. Wood, Jr. 1953)

“The story….MUST…BE TOLD!”

ed

There are Bad movies and there are Ed Wood movies; movies so awful, so void of redemption, so lacking in any kind of skill whatsoever that you must assume everyone was stone cold drunk and high when they were being written, shot, edited, and released (which depending who you believe, was probably true…).

ed

Ed Wood was and remains a polarizing figure. There are people like Dolores Fuller, one of his ex-girlfriends and an eventual songwriter for Elvis, who called him “the Orson Welles of Z pictures”; and there are people like Bela Lugosi, Jr. who called him a “user and abuser.” His films were derided and discarded in their time, lambasted and lampooned in our own, yet his cult is larger than ever; and thanks to late night television and Tim Burton’s sentimental portrait of a misunderstood artist in turmoil, more people have probably seen and laughed at Plan 9 from Outer Space than have seen King Vidor’s The Crowd (a criminal injustice).

Choosing just one of his movies for this column was a near impossibility; they are all terrible, practically unwatchable – not even camp worthy. Just fucking miserable wastes of time, energy, money, and passion. I am embarrassed for all of the participants in all of these movies, particularly Bela Lugosi, at that point a sad shell of a man working way beneath what his legend could have afforded him to feed his morphine addiction; and Ed Wood himself who actually believed his stock footage/piecemeal/rush job/bullshit “work” was great and important.

ed1

I could have chosen his most infamous work, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1956), a dreadful sci-fi meets zombie film that is often touted as the “worst film ever made” about aliens who revive corpses from the dead to kill the human race before Earth destroys the rest of the universe. I could have chosen its “sequel” Night of the Ghouls (1958), a film so disengaging that you need your eyes pinned open A Clockwork Orange style to even stand a chance. I could have chosen Jail Bait (1954), a gangster film featuring body builder Steve Reeves void of any kind of stakes or suspense that includes a horribly offensive minstrel number about half way through that has nothing to do with the plot and was presumably added to fill run time. I could have chosen The Sinister Urge (1960), a proselytizing tract about the evils of pornography – or one of the porns with which he ended his career, Necromania and The Young Marrieds (both 1971). I could have chosen one of his two films that actually doesn’t make you want to call Conrad Murray, Bride of the Monster (1955), a film starring Bela Lugosi in full on Dr. Loomis mania as a mad scientist hell bent on creating a master race of atomic supermen.

But instead I have chosen the one film of his I would actually recommend; not because it is good in any traditional sense, but because its novelty and gay sensibility perfectly encapsulates Wood’s life and career: Glen or Glenda?

ed

Glen or Glenda?, alternately titled He or She?, Transvestite, and I Changed My Sex!, was greenlit to capitalize on the Christine Jorgenson craze; the first widely publicized case of an American getting a sex change (Years ago, I saw a wonderful Off-Broadway show called Christine Jorgenson Presents, in which drag performer Bradford Louryk lip-synched her famous hour long interview with Nipsey Russell from 1958 in its entirety).

But Ed Wood decided to make a more personal tale; the story of a transvestite and his struggle to tell his girlfriend about his proclivities, casting himself (cowardly under a pseudonym) and girlfriend Dolores Fuller in the leads. Ed Wood had always worn women’s clothes and had an infamous fetish for angora. According to Dolores Fuller, “when he was a little boy, his aunt, or his mother, somebody put him into a snowsuit with rabbit fur in it. Or angora fur. And he said it felt so wonderful against his skin.” He would wear her sweater while working at his typewriter and would go on dates with women just to score their angora, harboring a trunk full of them in his apartment. According to Kathy Wood, his last wife, Ed had performed as a female impersonator when he was with Dolores and during his time with her, they would go to Hollywood transvestite parties: “Vincent [Price] was so pretty.” Evelyn Wood, co-star on Glen or Glenda? remembers, “We all treated it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Ed would just smile and say, ‘That’s the real me.'”

But Ed was no homosexual. Glen or Glenda? was his call for sympathy, the cinematic defense of his unorthodox behavior. And one of the most progressive, oddest, worst movies ever made.

***

a

Bela Lugosi, as the narrator/scientist/creepy old man intones in his best Christopher Walken: “Man’s constant groping of things unknown…drawing from the endless ridges of time…brings to light…MANY STARTLING things. Startling? Because they seem new. SUDDEN. But most are not new….in the science of the ages.”

Stock footage of lighting strikes, footage that is subsequently used in the next three Wood films. Lugosi toddles around with a beaker and some chemicals in his make shift laboratory/drawing room/library and cackles ominously.  Stock footage of people walking up and down a busy city street is superimposed under Lugosi’s scowls. We are reminded of the scene in Ed Wood when Landau as Lugosi tells Depp as Wood that he has no idea what the hell he is talking about. We see the proof on the screen.

Untitled

An ambulance rushes to collect the corpse of a transvestite who has recently killed himself via asphyxiation. He has been arrested numerous times for wearing women’s clothes and since he cannot stop wearing them knows that it is only a matter of time before he will be arrested again; Patrick/Patricia is a pre-op transsexual, unable to make the transition for one reason or another. Today this may seem passe or even camp, but imagine an audience in 1953 asked to sympathize with a cross-dressing man who longs for sexual reassignment surgery at a time when gay men were being lobotomized, cross-dressing was illegal and carried a jail term, and homosexuality was still seen as a mental disorder. From the very beginning, we are begged to reconsider the “normalcy” of sexual “deviation.”

The detective on the case goes to his psychologist friend to learn the ropes on what it means to be a transvestite, the first time the word is used in a film, pre-dating Psycho by seven years. The film then becomes less of a “film” and more of an apologetic, a PSA for accepting cross-dressing. Through two separate stories, we see two very different versions of non-traditional gender identification.

a

Glen/Glenda is a heterosexual male who enjoys wearing women’s clothing, particularly angora sweaters. He can be seen admiring his fiance Barbara’s outfits and is visually tortured by the beautiful dresses he passes in the store front windows.

The film cuts away to a narrated montage, explaining the different comfort levels in each sex’s clothing: “At home, what does modern man have to look forward to for his body comfort? A wool or flannel robe. His feet encased in the same tight fitting leather his shoes are made of. And men’s hats are so tight they cut off the blood flow to the head, thus cutting off the growth of hair. 7 out of 10 men wear a hat; 7 out of 10 men are bald! But what about the ladies? When modern woman’s day of work is done, that which is designed for comfort IS comfortable. Hats that give no obstruction to the blood flow.” He goes on to remind us that in aboriginal culture it is the men who are adorned in fancy headdresses and things. Why can this not be brought into the modern world? Why is it illegal for a man to walk the street in comfort? Can a man not really be a man if he enjoys the dainty caress of chiffon? The narrator is very clear to enunciate that Glen is NOT a woman, nor does he want to be a woman, nor is he gay; Glen and Glenda are one in the same, both equally at home in the same body with its male form and gate. Maybe your milkman is wearing ladies panties, your electrician, your judge. Why, it is just as normal as apple pie.

But how can Glen tell Barbara that he is also Glenda? They discuss Christine Jorgenson. She seems receptive and understanding. He strokes her angora sweater. He’s afraid he’ll lose her. She persists. Cut to Bela Lugosi superimposed over a running stampede of buffalo, screaming, “Pull the strings!” Construction workers sympathize with transsexuals. “Maybe society should try and see them as human beings.” Glen shares his fears with his friend Johnny. Should he tell Barbara or not? Johnny tells him that lying about his own cross-dressing ended his marriage. He must tell her. And tell her now.

But…

“Bevare…Bevare…Bevare of the big green dragon dat seets on your doorstep! He eats little boys. Puppy dog tails and big…fat…snails. Bevare! Take care! BEVARE!”

Then there is a…dream ballet, I guess you would call it. Barbara is distraught over the news of her fiance in drag, emoting like Anna Magnani. She becomes pinned down under a large tree in their living room (somehow) and Glen as Glenda is too weak to save his beloved; only as Glen is he mighty enough to lift that oak. A wedding follows that is officiated by a priest, yet witnessed by a grinning devil. Glen, in a shot David Lynch must have stolen for the poster of Eraserhead, tremors in a state of confusion and panic.

a

A woman is whipped on the couch. Another stripteases. Another is tied to a stake. Another grinds on the couch, seductively, then is hogtied. Bela and Ed are intercut within these shots to try and give them some meaning (in truth, they were not a part of Ed’s vision, but were pulled from a different film all together when distributor/producer George Weiss needed to fill the run time; most theatres would only book films that ran over an hour). Barbara and the Mob point and laugh at Glen as he transforms into Glenda. The devil cackles in the background. “Beware…Beware…Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep…” Glen is now more terrified and embarrassed than ever to tell Barbara. But knows he must.

a

Glen sits Barbara down. She is distraught. But loves Glen more than anything. Glen goes to Bela for…guidance? He waves him away. Barbara speaks:

“Glen. I don’t fully understand this. But maybe together we can work it out.”

And then, as in the poster for Ed Wood, Barbara stands and hands her angora sweater to Glen.

a

Cut back to the psychiatrist and the detective. He tells him that transvestism can be willed away by therapy and can be explained by some sort of trauma as a child, invented as “a love object, to take the place of the love that he never received in his early youth and the lack of it from his parents. The character was created and dressed and lives the life the author has designed for him to live. And dies only when the author wants him to.” Barbara and Glen sit down with the therapist and discuss that in order to “kill” Glenda – who was created when as a child Glen learned in order to earn his mother’s love, he needed to be more like his sister because Glen’s mother hated her own father; therefore, was reminded of her father by her son – that all he need do is transfer the qualities of Glenda that make him feel whole and loved to Barbara. “It’s up to you, Barbara. You must take the place, give the love, and accept the facts that Glenda has always accepted. If you love each other as you now believe you do, it will be a hard job, but one you enjoy doing.” “Supposing Glen never stops wearing women’s clothes?” “Would it matter to you much?” “I love Glen. I’ll do everything I can to make him happy.” Barbara’s love conquers all and Glenda disappears forever. (In real life, however, Dolores Fuller never married Ed because she couldn’t handle his cross-dressing; he wore women’s clothes and went by the nickname Shirley until the day he died).

If Ed had had his druthers, this would have been the only story told in Glen or Glenda? But since the film was sold on the promise of being a version of the Christine Jorgenson story, George Weiss demanded that he insert a story of a real transsexual: Anne, a pseudo-hermaphrodite who not only wants to wear women’s clothes, but IS a woman trapped in a man’s body. Alan becomes Anne and lives happily ever after. This story is also told with compassion, understanding, and love.

***

Ed Wood’s latter years were just as strange and sad as his films. He turned out dozens of pulp erotic novels (most famously Orgy of the Dead) and nudie screenplays, charging 200 bucks a head, acting in anything he could, relishing in the fiction that he was “somebody,” showing his films to anyone who would sit long enough. He and his wife Kathy were extremely poor, but refused to go on welfare because of his pride. He would hide his poverty by buying all the neighborhood kids ice cream whenever the Good Humor man came around and always wanted to host when it came time to drink. Ed and Kathy were full time alcoholics, drinking Imperial whiskey straight with water chasers, sometimes going on benders for weeks at a time. Close friend John Andrews recants, “When they would move to a new house, they would go to the liquor store to establish credit. Kathy would say, ‘I wonder if you have any of my husband’s books.’ She would con her way into credit…It was just this constant rip-off. Not paying rent. Not paying tabs.” On at least one occasion, Ed wrote a screenplay for his landlady in exchange for rent. They would hock his typewriter for booze. Frequently, they lived in squalor like the Beales. One apartment they were in, a drag queen was beaten to death in the hall and an upstairs neighbor rented out her five year old daughter to pornographers. Ed and Kathy’s drunken fueled fights were common knowledge, friends and onlookers alike wondering who would kill the other first. They were finally evicted and of the few possessions Ed took with him, one was an angora sweater; the other was the screenplay for I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, which was finally produced in 1998 with Christina Ricci, Tippi Hedren, and Billy Zane. He and Kathy moved into a friend’s house and he died days later of a heart attack.

To hear Ed’s co-workers, friends, and lovers talk about him in Rudolph Grey’s Nightmare of Ecstasy or see Johnny Depp’s brilliant, sympathetic performance, you can’t help but feel for the man’s passion and drive, however inept. All he ever wanted to do was make movies. Watching Glen or Glenda? again, there is a beauty in its heartfelt, very personal nature; a beauty even in its naive skill; a beauty that ironically as his first feature makes this his best work. It is filled with so much optimism and passion. Which is why I think Ed Wood lives on. Yes, we “enjoy” Ed Wood’s films and life for its schaudenfreude effect, but also because Ed Wood stands in for all of us who dream big. We are all Ed Wood, clawing for fame, reaching for immortality; and like Ed Wood, most of us will only remain peripheral players in the Hollywood game. Ed may be known for being “the worst director of all time,” but at least his films are seen and his name is remembered. I think Ed would like that.

Is Glen or Glenda? a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
***BERKLEY***

What are your thoughts on Glen or Glenda? Camp? Ed Wood?

**For Further Viewing see Different from the Others (1919), one of the first films to deal openly and sympathetically with homosexuality.

Oops! I Did It Again

a

Breaking hearts while he convalesced
Thought it’d be fun, turned out a mess
Why can’t these boys just understand
I don’t need them! I gotta man!
So you got a big dick – you think I’ll tear up the town?
My man wins every race – he’s got the triple crown!
He’s rough, and he’s tough, and he’ll blow your house down
His ocean is deep – but I never drown
You were nothing more than ego elation
An evening ending in masturbation
Go find someone who wants your drama
I’m not your bitch, your shrink, or mama

I’m sorry I’m sorry there I said it I’m sorry

How many times do I have to tell you?
We can only be friends – I’m not your boo!
I do have feelings, but you won’t feel them
Mine are reserved for The Lost Boy and Him
Spin the wheel, dude and pick another
We are a dime a dozen, just momentary lovers
You seem sweet, if somewhat naive
Finding your way, learning to grieve
I wish you well, but I won’t be there
Analyze this apathy, and please, take care

I’m sorry I’m sorry there I said it I’m sorry

Bad Cinema: Halloween 6 – The Curse of Michael Myers (Dir: Joe Chappelle, 1995)

“This force, this thing that lived inside of him came from a source too VIOLENT, too DEADLY for you to imagine. It grew inside him, contaminating his soul. It was…pure. evil.”

No other genre of film has its integrity suffer more in the quest for cash than horror. Look at the sad, slow decline of franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, Jaws, Child’s Play, Friday the 13th, The Omen, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, not to mention the incredible embarrassment that is Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Fortunately, some tired series have rogue moments of interest to keep fans going (Saw VI, Final Destination 3, Red Dragon) and there is the occasional series that is nearly perfect (Scream and Alien come to mind), but chances are, if there is a number in the title, the movie is going to suck big time (for non-sequels, see The Number 23…or better yet, don’t).

But if there is one horror franchise that is the worst, one franchise that fell so far from the heights the original scaled, it is Halloween.

a

I must admit a bias here. No other film connects me to my grandmother like Halloween. We would watch it every year while we passed out candy to spoiled kids and ate our own footlong 5th Aves. We would play Yahtzee or Scrabble or sometimes a rousing game of Canasta, complete with our own rules that we kept notes of in that blue double pocket tupperware that housed the four decks of cards. Halloween was our day and no one else’s.

I have watched the film every year on or around Halloween for the past 15 years without fail. The need is so great that one year, after losing my copy at a Barnes & Noble signing with Jamie Lee Curtis, I wandered the New York streets on Halloween night looking for any store that had a copy; I bought it for $30 dollars and fell asleep before Laurie and Tommy even started walking to school. It didn’t matter though. The tradition had not been broken. Life could continue.

This past Friday, Julian and I snuggled in to watch the magic after a long exhausting week and a late Thursday night of twerking.

a

Much to my disbelief, this was to be Julian’s first viewing. How anyone had made it to 30 and not seen, relished, fawned, obsessed over Halloween was anathema to the senses and temporarily made me reconsider this whole marriage thing. Understandably, Julian, a man who falls asleep to Lockup, was apathetic and bored while I was relishing in the precision and perfection of Dean Cundey’s cinematography (Seriously. Watch it again. His work is just extraordinary).

The Halloween franchise doesn’t immediately dip off into camp like Elm St or Friday the 13th Part 2. Halloween 2 picks up immediately where its predecessor leaves off, shuttling Laurie to the hospital after her violent attack. Michael follows her there and again, Loomis comes to save the day, even blowing himself up in the hopes of killing The Evil once and for all. This is also the film we learn that Michael and Laurie are brother and sister; a convenient, yet clever plot twist, designed to explain why he continues to stalk her specifically (this is brought to ridiculous levels of pedagogy a few sequels later…). She is adopted by the Strode clan after Michael slaughters her sister, but when examined, this makes no sense. The killing of Judith takes place in 1963; the original Halloween takes place contemporaneously with the times and is set in 1978. If Judith dies at 15 and Laurie is 17 at the start of Halloween that means Laurie was 2 when the murder occurred. So…after losing two of their children, the Myers would just give away the only kid they had left? And where was she that night? Wouldn’t Judith have been babysitting her? If you go by Halloween H20, Judith was 17 when she died. Which means Laurie would have been a newborn or not born at all not when Judith died. So….the Myers had her and immediately gave her up for adoption? AND then the Strodes took her to go see her crazy brother in the mental institution? Why?

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the much reviled, grossly underrated film of the series. It has nothing to do with Michael Myers or Dr. Loomis or Laurie Strode. Carpenter and Hill had planned to end their stories with Part II and create an anthology of films connected by the holiday and nothing more. Season of the Witch, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, the original film’s editor and character namesake, is about a factory that makes Halloween masks that kill children. The pacing and style are wonderful, the story original, and the ending ominous and finite. Halloween III is like an excellent feature length episode of The Twilight Zone.

But the film tanked and Moustapha Akkad (that shameless shyster who has financed the entire series, laughing all the way to the bank) decided to shift the series back to the original story. This time, Laurie Strode’s daughter (named Jamie Lloyd…subtle), adopted by another family after her “death,” is haunted by a clairvoyant connection to her Uncle Michael. Parts 4 and 5 milk this bullshit to death, even making little Jamie Lloyd’s venture into the family’s dark side a real plausibility. You see, the Myers’ clan are cursed.

a2

Part 6 picks up with a pregnant Jamie Lloyd kidnapped by a Satanic cult who want her baby so Michael can kill it (more on that in a moment). The film opens with some kind of Rosemary’s Baby dream sequence knock off, strapped to a table, pushing for her life as if the baby’s thorns were destroying her labia. Somehow she escapes long enough to hide her son in a bathroom cabinet. Michael finds her and impales his niece onto an electric pitchfork. “You can’t have the baby, Michael!” Like she can really stop him with her entrails on the floor.

But magically the baby stays quiet long enough for Tommy Doyle to have some kind of vision and save him. Yes, Tommy Doyle, the little boy from the first one, is back! He has been obsessed with and felt a deep connection to Michael all these years. (#whatever; if you are going to bring someone back, why not make it Lindsay Wallace and continue the female led series?). Anyway, Tommy (Paul Rudd in his debut) teams up with the woman who lives in the Myers’ house (Laurie’s cousin through adoption….gawd!) and Loomis to stop Michael from enacting The Curse of Thorn.

You see, Michael has been inflicted with a Celtic curse that dictates one child from every village must kill their entire family on the night of Samhein in order to ward off the demon Thorn that brought pestilence, saving the rest of the village from destruction. This Celtic symbol also comes in the shape of a constellation; “when it appears, he appears.” And when does it occur? Why the occasional Halloween night, of course! (This explains why he doesn’t appear EVERY Halloween. Only when the films are being released, apparently…)

Hence why the cult needs the baby: it is Michael’s last remaining blood line, completing the cycle and saving us all from damnation. But this doesn’t make any sense. If one child from EACH village must be chosen to kill their family, then the people who are trying to coordinate the murder of this baby must ALSO be from Michael’s village to save themselves, which means…what? They are all from Haddonfield? Quite a large village. And if Haddonfield was the “village” in question, why did it take until 1963, a time WAY PAST the fear of curses from Druid gods, for Michael to kill his sister? This is a pathetic attempt at explaining the unexplainable. Michael Myers went crazy one night as a kid and stabbed his sister to death. Period. There was no curse. No reason. And honestly why do we need the Strode Family to be involved at all? We’ve got this terrible dad who abuses his wife and their adult daughter (who is played by an actress who is probably old enough to be their sister) and her son, who like Jamie Lloyd (and Jamie Lee) sees Michael at every turn. Why not just keep it the story of Tommy Doyle and Dr. Loomis fighting Michael once again? It is Tommy who finds the baby! (Following a trail of blood at the bus station into the bathroom cabinet…evidently it was the maid’s morning off…) And if we need the “feminine” energy, bring back Lindsay Wallace! Imagine the three of them bringing it full circle. You are going to introduce new main characters, no matter how peripherally related to Laurie, in Part 6? AND expect us to give a shit? #no.

AND we learn that the house they are living in is…the Myers’ house. Yes, that’s right. Laurie’s father, the real estate agent, could never sell the house so moved his brother’s family in there. Even after Michael Myers tried to kill his daughter twice. Presumably, this whole conceit is designed to get Michael to return to the house, like a ship to the lighthouse, and kill the people living there as if they were his family. Now. If you were a man cursed to murder your family for the preservation of some archaic idea of village, a man who cannot die until all of his family is dead (figure that one out…), don’t you think you would know who you had to kill? The people living there are not related to you at all, Michael. But then this conflicts with the idea of the rising body count of the sequel. Logic is secondary. As is, sadly, the role of Dr. Loomis.

a4

Poor Donald Pleasence. Visibly dying in the film, overacting to the hilt in his final performance, reaching levels of camp embarrassment, Dr. Loomis merely comes in to save the day when necessary, completely shuttling the franchise’s only consistent, most compelling character to the fringes of immateriality. When the film was rushed back into production after disastrous test screenings, Pleasence had already died, leaving the ending as slapdash and head scratching as van Helsing’s “There’s something I must do” ascent at the end of Dracula. Off-screen, we hear Loomis scream, presumably murdered by the still immortal Michael. This tack on ending leaves the franchise open for another payday.

The following two sequels constitute some of the best and worst of the series. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, completely forgetting Parts 3-6, finds Laurie Strode alive and well hiding out as the dean of a preppy college, once again fighting off her maniacal brother. Jamie Lee Curtis is back and bitching as ever and beheads her brother in an orgasmic climax, “ending” the series beautifully.

a1

But where there is money to be made, there are ideas to be conceived. Halloween: Resurrection posits that Laurie actually killed some other guy in a mask – another guy dressed as Michael Myers who had been stalking her throughout the night – and was put in a mental institution because of it. Curtis agreed to appear in the film only if they would kill her off. Michael throws her out a window in an epic kiss off and we are left to watch Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks attempt to entertain us when they move into the Myers’ house for some reality TV nonsense. This was without question the worst filmgoing experience of my life.

I have boycotted the Rob Zombie films out of principle. Although I have sat through both Vamp and Battleship so figure that one out.

Is Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
***COLONOSCOPY***