Previous month:
March 2021
Next month:
May 2021

film fatales #112: town bloody hall (chris hegedus & d.a. pennebaker, 1979)

Town Bloody Hall had an interesting trip from inception to release. D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, Monterey Pop) and a small team filmed a panel debate in 1971 featuring four prominent feminists and writer Norman Mailer. Nothing came of the footage, for unknown reasons. Later, Chris Hegedus began working with Pennebaker (they eventually married, a relationship that lasted until his death). Apparently, Hegedus discovered the old footage, the two of them edited it into a workable piece, and Town Bloody Hall was finally released in 1979.

It's hard to evaluate Town Bloody Hall as a movie because you want to take sides among the participants in the debate, and to the extent Pennebaker/Hegedus don't pick sides in an obvious way, they become recorders of the event more than they are film artists. But this is always the case with cinéma vérité (or "direct cinema" or whatever you or the film makers think is going on here ... I tend to use the terms interchangeably, but that's admittedly reductive). It looks like we're getting an unfiltered documentary view, but decisions are being made throughout the process. The film is just under 90 minutes, but more than that was filmed ... how did they decide what to include and what to leave out? I wanted to know about those missing parts. For that matter, the event itself is constructed to leave out certain parts, because several more radical feminists refused to be on the panel. The panel ended up being more middle-of-the-road than was good, although it could be argued that in 1971, even mainstream feminism was seen as radical by many. The balance is tilted towards the radicals, though, because the two most engaging women on the panel (Germaine Greer and Jill Johnston) were also the most radical.

Of course, one problem with anything that includes Norman Mailer is that it always ends up being about Norman Mailer, because that's just how he is. (In The Fight, his book about the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle", he makes sure to include a scene where he does some road work with Ali ... Norman is where the story is, after all.) Mailer is his usual combative self, which makes for decent theater but which isn't really about the issues. On the other hand, the women participants were also very aware of the performative aspects of the event, especially Johnston, who during her time at the podium is joined by two women ... all three begin to physically demonstrate their attractions, after which Johnston and the others walk off the stage, never to return.

There is another annoying thing about Mailer in this movie. He regularly accuses others of not understanding what he meant when he wrote X or Y or Z. One time, even two times, you can sympathize with his distress. But at some point, you want Mailer to accept that when no one understands what you are writing, perhaps the fault is with the writer.

Town Bloody Hall is a snapshot of a moment, an historical artifact, just plain interesting 50 years later. How much all of that matters to you will explain whether you find Town Bloody Hall interesting or something much more than that.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies]


guilty guilty guilty

I didn't think it would happen. I'm so glad that the jury came through.

But I don't buy into this "the system works, the American Dream is still possible" crap. If the system worked, George Floyd would be alive. If the system worked, police wouldn't be killing citizens. If the system worked, systemic racism would be part of the past.

Not denying the pleasure those guilty verdicts provide. But it'll take a few hundred more such verdicts before the surface has been even barely scratched.


african-american directors series/the tomorrow man (noble jones, 2019)

On the one hand, you have two fine, venerable actors in John Lithgow and Blythe Danner. If you are fan of Danner, as I am, you might wonder why she so rarely appears in movies you'd like to see. I probably enjoyed her most in the TV series Huff. Point is, I'm glad to see her name in the credits for The Tomorrow Man, but I don't get my hopes up.

Next, you have writer/director/cinematographer Noble Jones (what a great name!), who makes his directorial debut after working mainly on music videos. He has worked (been mentored) by David Fincher ... he's not a novice. And he seems to have inspired his veteran cast. If had to summarize, I'd say Jones looks to be an intriguing director and cinematographer, but the story didn't do much for me, and the ending simultaneously came out of nowhere and yet was highly predictable. The Tomorrow Man is ultimately harmless, and I'm not sure that's what Jones was hoping for.

So my wife and I, both in our late-60s, were clearly supposed to identify with the geezers on the screen, but they didn't resemble any actual people I know. (One exception: Blythe Danner's character's house is as messy as ours.) Jones got The Tomorrow Man made, and that's no small accomplishment. But he hasn't yet made his first masterpiece.


wag the dog (barry levinson, 1997)

This is the thirtieth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 30 is called "'Playwrights Turned Screenwriters: Mamet Week".

Our main challenge is an examination of writers switching mediums, with their filmographies including adaptations and original screenplays. You can see how well their writing transfers over from stage to screen.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film written by David Mamet.

Not sure how this slipped by me over the years ... I was always intrigued by the premise, wherein a presidential adviser cooks up a phony war to distract attention away from an affair the president has had just before election day. I run hot and cold with Mamet. I liked The Untouchables, for which he wrote the script, but that movie has Brian De Palma all over it, so I wouldn't say Mamet was the guiding force. The only movie I've seen that he directed was House of Games, which I liked but can't recall. In short, while I watched this because Mamet wrote it, my response to the movie wasn't really affected by Mamet one way or the other.

It was fun watching Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman play off of each other, and they were clearly having fun, as well. Anne Heche wasn't handled as well ... she brings quirkiness to her roles, but here, quirky was all they gave her. They (Mamet? Levinson?) let her down. I can't stand Denis Leary, so I was surprised that his role was fairly small and not as obnoxious as usual.

As for the plot, it was clearly meant to feel real in that way satire does by exaggerating the possibilities we live in. But I thought too often the point was the gullibility and stupidity of the people, who are shown as being willing to fall for anything if the people doing the trickery are smart enough. I've never liked that kind of angle, and I didn't like it here.

So for me, Wag the Dog had some enjoyable acting, but didn't deserve the feel of self-satisfaction it exuded.


music friday: tom petty, guided by voices

Two shows that featured a variety of performers.

Tom Petty, Shoreline Amphitheater, October 13, 1986. No Heartbreakers, just Petty solo. This was the first annual Bridge School Benefit, which ran from 1986 to 2016. I admit at the time, we thought Petty was drunk, but watching the video now, it seems we were blinded by the fact that we were waiting for Bruce Springsteen.

Guided by Voices, Greek Theater, 7-2-99. It was called "This Is Not a Festival", and was headlined by Sonic Youth. I was there to see Sleater-Kinney. Guided by Voices had (and have) a substantial cult following, and they are extremely prolific ... by the time we saw them in 1999, they were about to release their 12th album, and they'd also already released 11 EPs and a bunch of singles. I don't have much to say about them, positive or negative. Here's "Teenage FBI":


geezer cinema: concrete cowboy (ricky staub, 2020)

Concrete Cowboy is a paint-by-numbers coming of age story about a boy and his father. With one exception, there is nothing you haven't seen before, resulting in that oddity, an R-rated family movie. (The "R" comes from "language throughout, drug use and some violence", but come on.) It's that one exception that makes Concrete Cowboy a bit more than just another story: it's about a community called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Wikipedia explains:

Part of a century-long tradition of black urban cowboys and horsemanship in Philadelphia, local horsemen maintain and care for horses and teach neighborhood youth to do so. They encourage academic excellence and provide positive ways for local youth to spend their leisure time outdoors.

It's not just the presence of horses on the streets of Philadelphia that make a difference, it's the focus on black cowboys in the 21st century. It's not a story you see every day, and so even though it is presented in a fundamentally conservative way, fitting snugly into its genre, it's still intriguing. Granted, while I was watching, I was thinking mainly that I'd seen it before, but afterwards, realizing that I hadn't actually seen urban black cowboys made the movie stick in my mind.

It's the first feature for director/writer Ricky Staub, and he shows a good understanding for what makes a movie worth seeing. It is entirely possible he will make better movies than Concrete Cowboy. In the meantime, you've got Idris Elba, which makes up for a lot, Caleb McLaughlin as the son, and some nice support from Lorraine Toussaint and Method Man, among others. Concrete Cowboy is a nice enough way to spend two hours.


my life in a medical report

Over the years, Kaiser (and I assume most health plans) have moved a lot of things online, in a good way. I can see information about myself that wasn't easily accessible in the past (i.e., I had to ask the doctor). When I check my medical record on their website, I can see notes on doctor visits, which is especially useful for someone like me, who doesn't always pay enough attention to what I'm being told.

But there is something ... not exactly ominous, but unsettling, about seeing that information on the "page" (screen) in front of me. It's one thing to know something about yourself ... somehow, seeing it written out makes it more official, more final.

I remember many years ago when I decided I wanted to go on meds for my emotional problems. I visited a doctor, she made a prescription for a couple of drugs, and it turned out I was one of the lucky ones where we hit on the right combination from the start, and I have benefitted from the medicine. When I got to her office, we chatted for a few minutes about this and that ... she was from Spain, I remember. Then I explained my symptoms as I experienced them, she asked a few questions to narrow it down, and then said something to the effect of, I don't like using labels, they are limited and don't tell the whole story. But basically, what I was telling her sounded like what they call bipolar 2. (Hey, I didn't know there was a sequel to the original bipolar.)

Sometime later, I was assigned the first of many personal pharmacists (Kaiser does this for people like me who take a lot of meds, they keep a close, learned eye on what I'm on.) At the first visit, we went over my various medicines while she looked at my record. At some point, I said I noticed that the psych meds didn't seem to be in my official record. She explained that in the name of privacy, psych stuff was kept in a separate place from the regular records, so she couldn't access that information. I thought this was funny ... I noted that she could see what meds I took, and as a pharmacist she knew what those meds were for, so there clearly wasn't any big secret about my use.

Nowadays, as I explained above, I can access my records whenever I want. This has been true for a few years. One day, out of curiosity, I looked, and found the names for things I have (like my stuffy nose is "allergic rhinitis", and yes, I do have a history of MRSA). But what made me stop was this item on the list of my ongoing health conditions: "bipolar".

OK, first, I wanted to know where the "2" went. But I was mostly just taken aback by seeing it on the screen. I knew what my diagnosis had been all those years ago, even if they didn't like labels. But it was seeing that word in my file ... "bipolar" ... something about reading it made me feel like I was really sick. Part of me was like, "hey you guys, I told you I had problems!" But the other part of me realized this was something I live with. And I recalled that first doctor who, when prescribing the medicine, said, "You know you might have to be on this the rest of your life".

Which brings me up to date. I have a few things backed up because I postponed everything I could during the virus, but now that I'm vaccinated, I'm ready to roll. I had a video appointment with my doctor (it was actually kind of cool), and when I explained my lifelong sinus problems by pointing my finger at the spot that gets stuffy, she made me an appointment with the ear/nose/throat department. They looked up my nose ... now I'm scheduled for a CT Scan next week (polyps is the early prediction). I went to the website to see the notes that had been left after my appointment and saw this first sentence: "Steven P Rubio is a 67 Y male who ...".

It's not like I don't know how old I am. But just like when I first saw the word "bipolar" in my record, there was a finality to the number "67".

It's one thing to know how old you are. It's one thing to answer "67" when asked how old I am. But for some reason, it is an entirely different matter when I see the number "67" in my record.

I know this is nonsense ... my birthdate has always been there, my 8-year-old grandson knows enough math to calculate my age if given the year of my birth. But apparently none of that matters. Before I looked at that summary, I was a guy who was older than he used to be. Now, I'm a 67-Y-male.

Damn, I'm old.


another round (thomas vinterberg, 2020)

The only other film from Thomas Vinterberg that I have seen is The Hunt, which also starred Mads Mikkelsen. It was a good movie, in large part because Mikkelsen was so interesting in it. Another Round is more of an ensemble piece than was The Hunt ... Mikkelsen stands out, but he's not the entire focus of the film. The story, of four high-school teachers who come up with the idea of trying to maximize their job performance (and their lives) by getting just drunk enough to bring out their best, is different at least.

I can't speak of the veracity of the image Another Round paints of a place where half the country, including the high-school kids, are drunk. (The Danish title is Druk, which means drinking.) Things get interesting when the teachers first find their abilities enhanced. It feels like Vinterberg wants us to believe the idea that drinking makes us better people. But things get carried away, as you know they must. They base their experiment on a theory that apparently is actually espoused by someone, that people need to raise their blood alcohol level to 0.05 to achieve peak performance. Once the four are successful (at least in their eyes), they wonder why they should stop at 0.05. Wouldn't things improve even more if they got drunker? Which they do.

The blend of comedy and drama isn't always smooth ... perhaps it isn't meant to be. There are plenty of fun (not necessarily funny) moments, and of course, there are moments of great drama, especially around the crumbling marriage of Mikkelsen's Martin and his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie). I was never sure just how tragic this was supposed to be. We never really see Martin and Anika when they are happy, so we don't have much at stake with their relationship. Overall, Another Round is about the four male teachers; it is sneakily a guy movie.

Everything changes in the final scene. Mikkelsen breaks into a drunken but still stylish dance, and for a couple of minutes, I couldn't keep the smile off of my face. For a brief period, I was unconcerned with what Vinterberg was trying to say. It's a lovely moment.

Another Round is nominated for two Oscars, Best International Feature and Best Director, which is unusual. I've seen all five pictures in the directing category, and Vinterberg doesn't stand a chance of winning. I haven't seen the other "international" movies, so I can't hazard a guess about that category.


where have all the people gone? (john llewellyn moxey, 1974)

This is the twenty-ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 29 is called "'70s Sci-Fi Week".

Science fiction films of the late 1960s lit the fuse for the boom that was '70s science fiction. Maybe people were sobering up from the drugs and ready to express themselves. Maybe the political landscape of the time was the inspiration, or perhaps some just wanted to tell cool stories. However they came to be, they are apart of a huge wave of sci-fi that would go on to shape the future of the genre forever.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen science fiction film made in the 1970s.

I admit in advance that I didn't realize I'd chosen a TV movie. Where Have All the People Gone? was part of the NBC World Premiere Movie, which featured movies made for television. As such, it was more representative of made-for-TV films than it was the kind of movie that made up "the boom that was '70s science fiction". We're not talking Westworld or Soylent Green.

The movie begins with an inexplicable solar flash. Oh, it gets explained by the teenager/scientist who has a year of college, but it made no sense to me. Part of a nuclear family (dad, son, daughter ... mom left earlier) are all that is left. They head back to home (Malibu) and meet a few other survivors along the way, including one played by Verna Bloom, who later played Dean Wormer's horny wife in Animal House. Eventually we find out that after the solar flare a virus broke out that killed most of humanity. (Yes, this hit close to home.) The end finds our plucky survivors headed to Northern California, full of the inspiration that apparently comes from surviving. It's an open-ended finale that was a bit anti-climactic, but apparently there was hope it would become a series (it didn't).

I was reminded of other movies that, if not better, were at least more interesting. My beloved cheapie Robot Monster also featured a handful of people in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and while that one gets my vote as the worst movie of all time, it's still endlessly watchable, which can't be said for Where Have All the People Gone? Closer was Panic in Year Zero!, a low-budget "classic" that featured Frankie Avalon as the young man. At least that movie had Les Baxter's intrusive music.

There was some talent involved. Peter Graves, who had been making this junk for 20 years, and who had just finished Mission Impossible, played Dad. Future Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan played Daughter. Lewis John Carlino, another future Oscar nominee, was the co-writer. John Llewellyn Moxey, who has his fans and who directed a billion TV episodes, was in charge. Despite all of this, Where Have All the People Gone? is pretty bad. And it didn't help that the Amazon Prime print was crappy, with bad color and lots of scratches. At one point, Son/Scientist uses a Polaroid camera to test for radiation, saying if the air is radioactive, a Polaroid photo will show spots. I guess his experiment was a success ... it was hard to tell, since the entire scene was filled with spots on the print.


music friday: paul butterfield, bob dylan, shannon wright

Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Fillmore West, 1968. I think these were the first shows Bill Graham produced after moving from the Fillmore to the Carousel Ballroom and renaming it Fillmore West. I want to say I remember this as a great show, but ... Mike Bloomfield had left the band, and the other acts on the bill (Ten Years After and Fleetwood Mac) featured a lot of showy guitar work that impressed my 15-year-old self, so I didn't appreciate the Butterfield Band as much as I might if I could go back in time. Here's an Elvin Bishop showcase from that time ... he, too, left the band by the end of the year.

Bob Dylan, Oakland Coliseum, Concord Pavilion, 1974, 1978, 1998. If I remember correctly, the 1974 show was the first concert my wife and I attended together (we'd been married about 9 months). This was the tour with The Band, and it was easily the best of the three times I've seen him. 1978 was the Street Legal tour where Dylan seemed to channel Neil Diamond, and 1998 was a fine triple bill with Van Morrison and Lucinda Williams where for my money Dylan came out third.

Here is a decent-sounding bootleg of the 1974 show:

Here is one of the more memorable songs from Street Legal:

And here is an audience video of Bob and Van from the 1998 tour:

Shannon Wright, Fillmore, 9-23-02. She opened for Sleater-Kinney, and I recall her as being very energetic on stage. Can't remember any of her songs all these years later, but at the time, she made an impression. Here she is in 2002 ... not sure this does her justice: