Greil Marcus on The Desperation of Road Movies (1989)

“We’re all familiar with road movies: not Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two For the Road, but two men on the lam from this or that, lots of chase scenes. The geography of the country is always a good setup, good visuals, you can fill an hour and a half without trouble. The fact is, I can’t remember the title of the last road movie I saw, the one with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, the one where all the money runs out but in the end the rich guy pulls a few hundred thousand out of his secret money belt and gives it to the poor guy. That isn’t what road movies were like in the 30s. As the road song was being invented, the ‘road’ in road movies went nowhere, as in The Grapes of Wrath or Wild Boys of The Road, a Warner Brothers film about scared teenagers looking for comradeship when they had no reason to expect anything but death. That’s why the road songs of the prewar period always carry a sense of going down – not exactly of failure, because success is not even a possibility, but of disaster, or surrender, an acceptance of the fact that you can’t do whatever it is that you want to do, that you can’t be whatever you want to be. You can’t even begin to imagine what you’d really like to be, where you’d really like to go. On that road, with no money, no family, no one to meet, every place is just like the last place, and the last place is just like the place you’ll be next.”

(Excerpted from Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings, 1968-2010)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Moving On: 42 Out-of-Context Comments Regarding My Binge-Drinking That Regularly Come Back to Haunt Me

  1. otis“As of this morning, your missing card’s run up a little over $3,300 in new charges, leaving you with an available balance of negative 36.”
  2. “Do you ever think you’ll go back to drinking?”
  3. “Do you remember telling my sister to go fuck herself last night?”
  4. “I don’t get you. You claim you’ve quit drinking because you don’t like who you’ve become, and yet you’re really not that interesting, otherwise.”
  5. “I don’t understand why you pay tuition to do this.”
  6. “I don’t want to be with you this weekend.”
  7. “I guess I’ll just go kill myself.”
  8. “I just don’t think I want to be with a clown for the rest of my life.”
  9. “I just don’t understand what was going on inside your head.”
  10. “I think the two of us are fucking each other up.”
  11. “I’m not a woman.”
  12. “I’m not used to seeing you when you don’t reek like a puddle of piss.”
  13. “I’m pregnant.”
  14. “I’m sorry. I can’t think of someone who would break into my house, then steal my last six-pack as a person who I’d want to call my friend.”
  15. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out. Could you please refrain from calling me? It’s really disrupting.”
  16. “It’s possible you still behave like a child because you’ve never felt accepted for any of your choices as an adult. It’s also possible you’ve never taken accountability for any of those choices.”
  17. “Maybe Santa’ll bring you a new tooth this year.”
  18. “Mike said he found you stark naked, ass-up, lying on the bathroom tiles earlier this morning.”
  19. “Mr. Hill, is it is my opinion after hearing the officer’s account and witnessing your behavior in this courtroom that you may have potential for a problem.”
  20. “No offense, but you’re really not wanted around here anymore.”
  21. “OK. But we’re only gonna be friends, alright?”
  22. “Please delete this number. Not kidding.”
  23. “She had a miscarriage.”
  24. “Somebody told me you were dead.”
  25. “Ten pounds worth of potatoes inside a five-pound sack.”
  26. “To sum up – and I’m going to be blunt here – you are an ass and your excuses are lame.”
  27. “The system won’t allow me to charge any more drinks using this card. It’s saying that you’re overdrawn.”
  28. “We don’t care that you peed yourself. We care that you did it on our sofa.”
  29. “We don’t serve you … ever.”
  30. “Well, there’s fun drunk and then there’s Bob-Hill drunk. Nobody wants to be the latter.”
  31. “When you’re in a relationship, nothing good happens in a bar after 1 AM.”
  32. “Who are you and what are you doing naked in my apartment?”
  33. “Will you be OK if we end up hanging out in a bar?”
  34. “Yeah, well, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and this isn’t the first time you’ve shown up drunk, knocking on my door.”
  35. “Y’know, everybody wants to make fun of the spics. But the spics show up for work on time. Otherwise, what do I got? I got asshole kids like you who call out sick then wander up here drunk three hours later. And you wonder why I fired you.”
  36. “You try to run, I’ll shoot you.”
  37. “You’re a loser. You’ll always be a loser.”
  38. “You’re a rebel without a clue.”
  39. “You’re going to jail.”
  40. “You’re just a punk. That’s all you’ll ever be is a punk.”
  41. “You’re not in Virginia. You’re at my parents’ house in Long Island.”
  42. “You’re under arrest.”

Day 958

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

The Top 10 Things ‘4 Minute Mile’ Gets Absolutely Wrong About Running

4 Minute Mile
is a silly movie, despite the benefit of some worthwhile acting. Richard Jenkins is fantastic (I mean, when he is not?) and (male lead) Kelly Blatz has got some Christian-Bale thing going on. Yet, alas, these two are playing on a largely hobbled squad. 4 Minute Mile wants to be Karate Kid, only its aging mentor behaves more like an old buzzard. It labors to be Rocky, despite not having the guts or inspiration. 4 Minute Mile struggles to overcome poor writing, if not the white-trash-house-marm legacy of Kim Bassinger. In the end what it amounts to is frustration, the majority of which is driven by an utter lack of charm. As if to demonstrate, here are the top 10 things 4 Minute Mile gets absolutely wrong in terms of running, the primary thrust behind its story:

  1. No runner cranks out 5-minute miles back-to-back-to-back-to-back while wearing a full duffle bag, loose shirt, thermal hoodie, wool cap and cotton sweatpants.
  2. No coach – stable or otherwise – would initiate training by encouraging a minor from a broken home to completely water-log his only pair of sneakers.
  3. Forcing an athlete to high-step back and forth across a woody creek is more likely to produce a broken ankle than it is the proper form.
  4. There is NO way a high school senior who struggles to run a 67-second quarter is going to train for a few months, then stitch together a four-minute mile.
  5. As a coach, you do not achieve stellar results by consistently mind-fucking star athletes.
  6. No public indoor facility is going to allow a manically-depressed, aging alcoholic to dump a radial tire into its swimming pool for the sole purpose of having a minor carry it back and forth across the bottom 20 times (without a break).
  7. No regional high school meet in history has ever produced 10 or more athletes who can complete the 1600 in under 4:19.
  8. The goal of resistance training is not to sprint until you spontaneously lose consciousness on the street.
  9. No high school athlete has ever run a 3:57 mile in a pair of knee-length polyester basketball shorts.
  10. A 4-minute mile does not look like this. A 4-minute mile looks like this.

(4 Minute Mile opens in limited release this Friday.)

Galleria: ‘Metamorphosis, Meat Packing District’ by Brian Rose @ Dillon Gallery

ws034_1985Is there any street name in Manhattan more intimate-sounding than Little West 12th? I would venture to say that there is not. And yet, Little West 12th Street has been up to some mighty corporate things lately – part of a thriving vicinity where green grocers have been gobbled up by Hugo Boss, corner stores by no-name nightclubs. This particular stretch of Lower West once ran mild with nostalgia, one of the few remaining pockets where one could go for peace and quiet. Slow-walking frame-by-frame through Brian Rose’s Metamorphosis, it’s difficult not to long for the romanticism of that period. Brick warehouses, rotting fence posts, white box trucks where the gays would get it on for fear of beatings. To look at how and why it’s changed, well, it hurts so much you ache for more.

Brian Rose has done the same for the Lower West Side with Metamorphosis that he and Edward Fausty previously did for the Lower East via Time & Space. Both exhibits ooze sweet melancholia, reminiscent of a scene from Season One of Mad Men during which department store heiress Rachel Menken explains: “Utopia – the Greeks had two meanings for it: eu-topos, meaning ‘the good place,’ and ou-topos, meaning ‘the place that cannot be.’” Time and again, Brian Rose has done an exemplary job of negotiating a 30-year difference between the two.

(Metamorphosis continues at the Dillon Gallery through August 15th, Free, 555 West 25th Street.)

Five More For The Offing:

6 Pop-Horror Phenomenons That Made Their Bank on ‘Less Is More’

psycho-pic-2Twenty minutes into Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 classic The Bad & The Beautiful, Kirk Douglas – portraying a budding Hollywood producer – poses the question, “What scares the human race more than any other single thing?” While the real answer is the unknown, Douglas presupposes the answer to be darkness. And he’s right, at least as it pertains to cinema. To deprive people of what they’ve been conditioned to expect is to prey upon their insecurity. To do so in a pitch-black theater is to induce a certain level of hysteria.

That said, it takes a master manipulator to transform all of that fear into a story. In the majority of cases – at least the well-documented ones – any production’s reliance on ancillary effects to create the illusion of unspeakable evil is a matter of necessity. Forced into a corner, the crew pushes creativity to its limit, using visual devices and cues to conjure what cannot be shown. Be it a matter of sheer cunning or happenstance, these six horror classics changed the genre for the better, proving in the process that there is no threat more potent than the one inside our heads:

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999). At the time The Blair Witch Project was released, found-footage wasn’t even a sub-genre. And that worked to the movie’s advantage. America hadn’t fully immersed itself inside the digital culture, which meant an independent movie that marketed itself as “a true story” could fly under the radar long enough to sprout wings. Could it be real? This grainy footage of three film students unfolding up on-screen? A tight-knit trio, lost in the woods, hunting down some urban legend that was closing in around them? Blair Witch‘s no-frills production all but begged the question: If it wasn’t real, why shoot a motion picture like this? The answer, of course, resided in a major lack of financing (the initial budget was set just under $600,000). Blair Witch would go on to gross $250 million worldwide, inspiring a grassroots revolution in the process. CloverdaleV/H/S and Paranormal Activity (among others) … all built off of a similar formula. Draw the audience in, funnel through some rising beats, then lower the boom with 30 seconds
left to go.

2. Friday the 13th (1980). Friday the 13th somehow managed to turn a one-off cheesy slasher film into a multi-decade franchise, this despite an original screenplay which barely featured any draw. Director Sean S. Cunningham cashed in on the idea that you never knew when or where the tension would heighten. Will it happen when she steps outside? When she dips her toes into the water? The original Friday the 13th, inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and produced on a $550,000 budget, was much more about the sudden gasp than it was about some serial killer. As a matter of fact, you almost never saw any killer throughout the original. It wasn’t until a year later, when that hockey mask appeared, worn by a second-generation pyscho who was apparently undead, that the franchise made its turn toward one character. Having reached the point of reboot (along with several features on this list), perhaps it’s time to put that Voorhees kid to sleep.

3. Halloween (1978). Halloween has been discussed via this website before – the ingenuity, the $2 mask, the bare-bones crew, the terrifying silence. In the early days, the only thing Halloween had going for it was John Carpenter, a man who built the story, rigged the set, wrote the music, and hired Jamie-Lee Curtis. What Carpenter lacked was sufficient funding (Halloween‘s initial budget was only $300,000). As a result, Carpenter hired Tony Moran, an old college buddy, to play Michael Myers at a cost of $25 per day. Halloween would go on to inspire an entire decade’s worth of slasher films, proving – yet again – that great movies could be made on miniscule budgets. Nearly 40 long years later, Halloween is still the only movie in demand throughout October. This is welcome news for Carpenter, who signed a back-end deal worth 10%.

4. Jaws (1975). Most people are familiar with the legend: faced with a malfunctioning mechanical shark, Steven Spielberg and his unit were forced to develop an impromptu system for suggesting that the shark was there.They did this by employing a variety of techniques, chief among them a visual cue involving floating yellow barrels, accompanied by the two most memorable piano notes in cinematic history. Those notes – the brainchild of John Williams – were played at varying speeds to identify how near or far the shark was from its prey. Under no circumstances were they used to bamboozle the audience. That is to say, if the music wasn’t playing, the shark could not be there (notice the eery silence throughout the “cardboard fin” scene). For the first full hour of the movie, Spielberg seems consumed with story, all the while reinforcing the presence of some evil out at sea. By the time that grisly beast appears, Spielberg’s audience is fully vested. As a result, viewers wind up rooting for The Orca all the more.

5. Psycho (1960). The shower scene, the use of chocolate as a surrogate for blood, killing off your main character, keeping the identity of your killer a guarded secret … the back story of Psycho is so shrouded in mystique as to rival Coppola’s Godfather, or even Spielberg’s Jaws. Initially rejected by Paramount, Alfred Hitchcock took the reins, agreeing to shoot the film in black and white, hire a television production crew, finance it himself and bypass his director’s fee (in lieu of a back-end deal). Hitchcock was coming off a rough patch, his genius reconsidered, and the only thing that would restore the studio’s faith was a major coup de grace. And so Hitchcock obliged, working off a back-lot set inspired by Edward Hopper’s House By The RailroadPsycho‘s initial budget: $800,000. Its box-office take: $60 million. Despite middling reviews, Hitchcock’s movie was also nominated for four Academy Awards, none of which it won.

6. The War of the Worlds (1938).At the time that you were giving this role, were you aware that terror was going on throughout the nation?” So said a reporter to Orson Welles less than 24 hours after his original CBS broadcast of War of The Worlds. Much like Jaws, Psycho and Friday the 13th, Welles was working off of someone else’s source material. Unlike those others, Welles nearly caused an interplanetary incident. Radio bulletins describing an alien invasion, each of them relayed during a period when there was no easy way of confirming. People were fleeing their houses, flocking to churches, sucked in by a ruse that couldn’t have existed on TV. War of The Worlds required one minor troupe, an intimate studio, zero visuals and a captive audience. Given the fallout, Welles’ broadcast remains a primary example of how to manipulate the fold.

Martin Scorsese on Spirituality In the Cinema (1995)

“When we talk about personal expression I’m often reminded of [Elia] Kazan’s film America America - the story of his uncle’s journey from Anitolia to America; the story of so many immigrants who came to this country from a very, very foreign land. I kind of identified with it and was very moved by it. Actually, I later saw myself making this same journey, but not from Anitolia. Rather from my own neighborhood in New York, which was in a sense a very foreign land. I made the journey from that land to movie-making, which was something unimaginable. Actually, when I was a little younger, there was another journey I wanted to make. It was a religious one. I wanted to be a priest. However, I soon realized that my real vocation – my real calling – was the movies. I didn’t really see a conflict between the church and the movies, the sacred and the profane. Obviously, there are major differences. But I could also see great similarities between a church and a movie house. Both are places for people to come together and share a common experience, and I believe there is a spirituality in films, even if it’s not one that can supplant faith. I find that over the years many films address themselves to the spiritual side of man’s nature, from Griffith’s film Intolerance to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath to Hitchcock’s Vertigo to Kubrick’s 2001 and so many more. It’s as if movies answer an ancient quest for the common unconscious; they fulfill a spiritual need that people have – to share a common memory.”

(Excerpted from A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Ranking Spike Lee’s Top 5 Summer Movies

Spike-Lee-Do-the-Right-Thing-Book-2Spike Lee is a New York City director known for writing and directing several of the greatest summer movies of all-time – lyrics poems that ooze of place and culture. The setting: One or all of New York City’s big-five boroughs. The time: either now or a period in the not-so-distant past.

Spike Lee’s movies are consumed with racial tension, predominately as it exists from an African-American perspective. Most of his screenplays operate like a springboard, immersing central characters into conflicts rife with faith, ethnicity, ideology and derision. The five Spike Lee “Joints” that are listed below – set during the summers of 1977, 1989, 1994, 2005 and 2011 – represent some of the richest social commentary ever put on film, both highly entertaining and emotionally charged. They symbolize a high-end fraction of what Mr. Lee has had to offer, being, as they are, his top five summer movies of all-time:

5. Red Hook Summer (2012). In May of 1977 Spike Lee traveled north from Morehouse College in Atlanta to spend the summer in New York. For lack of any ongoing employment, Lee borrowed a video camera from a friend, then spent the bulk of his vacation filming everything around him. That footage would provide the foundation for Spike Lee’s first student picture, Last Hustle In BrooklynIt would also provide the impetus for what would eventually become Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam.

And so here we find Mr. Lee, 35 years down the line, filming a coming-of-age tale set in Brooklyn, during Summer, the central character a boy named Flik who’s up from Atlanta, documenting his experience via iPad. This is Spike Lee riffing on himself, in what turns out to be a vibrant-looking motion picture. Having said that, Red Hook Summer also demonstrates just how far Spike Lee has fallen from the tree. Lee is revisiting the stomping grounds of Do The Right Thing here, but he’s doing so in a time and era that no longer belongs to him. Despite a miniscule budget and a slew of substandard acting, Red Hook Summer still manages to feel honest, but not about anything particularly enthralling. As a director, Spike Lee winds up looking like an elder-statesman – an acclaimed auteur pushing 60 who no longer resembles us so much as them (and I am speaking here in terms of generation).

Notable Members of The Ensemble: Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Jackson Lee, Spike Lee, Clarke Peters, James Ransone.

4. Clockers (1995). Spike Lee is adapting original material written by Richard Price here, and it proves to be one of this movie’s many limitations. There are plot holes, particularly toward the end, and some questionable casting choices (It’s worth noting that Mekhi Phifer, who cut his teeth as the lead character in Clockers, never appeared in a Spike Lee movie again), but there are also several Spike Lee staples, including: Jesus (pronounced Hay-Zeus), Brooklyn, life in the projects, a black man chiding a white man for using racial epitaphs, John Turturro, the double-dolly and the sudden cut.

Best-selling novelist Richard Price went on to become a writer for HBO’s The Wire, and more than half the actors from the Clockers‘ housing crew went on to portray key members of the Barksdale organization on that show. There are early hints of The Wire throughout Clockers, particularly regarding the way crack is sold inside the ghetto. Spike Lee nails that aspect, while failing to account for several foregone realities as the story lingers on.

Notable Members of The Ensemble: Michael Badalucco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Keith David, Michael Imperioli, Hassan Johnson, Harvey Keitel, Spike Lee, Delroy Lindo, Arthur Nascarella, Mekhi Phifer, Fredro Starr, Mike Starr, John Turturro, Isaiah Washington.

3. Inside Man (2006). What’s that you say? Inside Man is not a summer movie. Well, on that count, my friend, I beg to differ. Inside Man was filmed during the summer, set during the summer, and it opens on a panoramic shot of Coney Island after dawn.The costumes feature short sleeves, pastels and cream, suit jackets carelessly slung over shoulders. Viewers can feel the August daylight breaking hard against stone walls. Twilight shadows drift to orange and the cast members are sweating. Not exactly a summer movie upon the order of, say, The Wackness, but a summer movie, all the same.

Inside Man was not written by Spike Lee, but it most certainly retains his imprint. The majority of Caucasians are white-collar criminals, the two hero detectives are black, and the “Inside Man” is a masked vigilante with a Herculean axe to grind. Lee sneaks in references to some of the all-time New York crime thrillers along the way, including (but not limited to): SerpicoDog Day Afternoon, The Godfather and Kojak. He even throws a bone to Dirty Harry, a west coast hero who made an impact way back east.

Inside Man features a slew of unexpected twists and turns, a brilliant screenplay (“Respect is the ultimate currency.”) written by Russell Gewirtz, and a traditional dramatic score provided by perennial Spike Lee collab, Terence Blanchard. It all adds up to one engaging two-hour heist film, the likes of which we’ve never known.

Notable Members of The Ensemble: Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jodie Foster, Peter Gerety, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, James Ransone, Denzel Washington.

2. Summer of Sam (1999).
Mr. Lee is toiling in his wheelhouse here, exploring an epoch of New York’s history so steeped in controversy the ripples would be felt for decades. The punk scene, the fag scene, the disco scene and Son of Sam, all of them converging and then filtering out in unison. Toss in record heat and rising tensions, rolling blackouts marred by riots, and you find Spike Lee’s approach to New York City throughout Summer of Sam laid the groundwork for David Fincher’s approach to San Francisco throughout Zodiac. Both films provide a classic treatise in the butterfly effect, the various ways in which a single person or event can reverberate throughout a community, refracting back in shades of chaos.

The Zodiac and Son of Sam shared a similar pathology. The primary difference – at least in terms of cinema – being one was never caught and the other came and went in less than a year. That minor concentration makes Summer of Sam feel like a powder keg, perennially waiting to explode. By the time the opening notes of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” hit, it’s already too late. The Bronx is not only burning, it’s smouldering out of control.

Notable Members of The Ensemble: Michael Badalucco, Jimmy Breslin, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Ben Gazzara, Evander Holyfield, Michael Imperioli, Anthony LaPaglia, Spike Lee, John Leguizamo, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Rispoli, Michael Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, Mike Starr, John Turturro.

1. Do The Right Thing (1989). 1989, A number, another summer. One block, one day, one hood in Brooklyn. A hot day. A scorcher, a snow-cone day (no, Mister Softee), a day for buckets and cold beer, a day for beach umbrellas and unplugged hydrants, midday showers and Love Daddy; a day for Buggin’ Out and Mother Sister, Da Mayor and his doctors, M-M-Mookie, Booboo the Fool, Radio Raheem and Night of the Hunter, Famous Sal and Sweet Dick Willie, Alberta Hunter, Dexter Gordon, Oliver Nelson, Dana Dane, Marley Marl, Marcus Miller, Terry Lewis, Jimmy Jam, McCoy Tyner, Fred Wesley, Wayne Shorter, Roland Kirk, Monk and Ellington, Armstrong and Basie, Wynton and Branford, Mahalia and Janet, Whitney and Dionne, Miles Davis and Coltrane; Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha and Pendergrass; Al Jarreau, Little Richard, Sam Cooke and James Brown; Keith Sweat, Big Daddy, Rob Base, Salt-n-Pepa, Sugar Bear, Biz Markie, Kool Moe Dee, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Public Enemy, Bobby Bland, The Isley Brothers, Tracy Chapman, Bobby McFerrin, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, Bob Marley, George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Prince, Anita and Sade; Quincy Jones and Vic Damone, Frank and Dean, Bruce Springsteen; Perry Como, Pavarotti, Al Pacino, Bobby D., Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta; Bird and Magic, Tyson/Ali, Cain and Abel, Kunta Kinte, Tawana Brawley, Eleanor Bumpurs, Jesus Christ and Pope John Paul, Louis Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad, Jesse Jackson and Mandela, Malcolm X and MLK; Donald Trump and Mayor Koch, Bull Connor and the Reverend Moon. Just another day in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, here today and gone too soon.

Notable Members of The Ensemble: Danny Aiello, Rick Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Frankie Faison, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, Rosie Perez, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Turturro, Frank Vincent.

Cus D’Amato on the Importance of Maintaining a Prevailing Sense of Calm (1983)

“That’s what you’ve to tell yourself, to completely relax, able to see everything that’s going on, your sense of anticipation is sharp. That can’t happen unless you relax. A man who’s worrying about getting hit is not going to have a good sense of anticipation. He will, in fact, get hit. And, most important, when you get hit, you get excited … when you get hit, that’s when you’ve got to be calmest. A professional fighter has got to learn how to hit and not get hit, and at the same time be exciting. That’s what professional boxing is about. You’ve got to be clever, you’ve got to be smart, and not get hit.
When you’re able to do this, you’re a fighter.” 

(Excerpted from Watch Me Now)