Saturday, October 30, 2010

31 Days of Horror

Been watching a couple of my favorite horror movies this month...
1- Pieces
2- The Vanishing (1988)
3- Cat People (1942)
4- Carrie & Audition
5- The Blair Witch Project
6- Bram Stoker's Dracula
7- Halloween

8- Fright Night & Frankenstein (31)
9- Night of the Demons & Killer Klowns From Outer Space

10- Videodrome
11- Re-Animator
12- Zombi 2
13- The Haunting
14- Rosemary's Baby

15- The Monster Squad & The Descent
16- Nosferatu
17- The Changeling

18- Creepshow
19- Jacob's Ladder
20- none
21- Trick R' Treat


22- A Nightmare On Elm Street 1 & 2
23- Dawn of the Dead
24- Evil Dead 2
25- Dead Alive
26- The Devils Rejects
27- Alien
28- none

29- An American Werewolf In London
30- Night of the Living Dead

The Thing
The Shining
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Exorcist

Friday, October 29, 2010

Corpses, rejects and masked mayhem

After a recent re-viewing of The Devils Rejects, I have to say that it may be one of the most effective horror films of the past ten years. It has as much in common with Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs as it does with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You feel dirty afterward. & beyond the effective documentary like style Zombie employs, it's the bizarre characters that inhabit the ugly world of the film. While using 70's & 80's horror icons like Ken Foree, P.J. Soles & Michael Berryman could come off as gimmicky, here it does kinda work. This is casting done right.

The concept of Rejects is one of true horror. As It'll Be Dark Soon already pointed out, what if we ended up following Leatherface & his family for that whole film instead of having the usual 'good guys' to watch & get chased. It is this concept that allows for a truly love it or loathe it factor. The problem people have with it is that there is no moral center. The protagonists are serial killers. I really have to question the criticisms: If the film makes you feel unsafe or dirty isn't it accomplishing what so many other recent horror films have tried to make the audience feel & failed miserably at? The difference with the Saw & Hostel franchises and even the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that they all came off as sanitized horror. I felt no horror whatsoever throughout the duration of Hostel. But when watching the hotel scene in Rejects, there was a feeling of sheer unpredictability. Anything could happen at any moment.

Now the bad thing with this particular director & his catalog is, for the most part inconsistency. The problems I have with Zombie stems from stylistic choices. House of 100 Corpses saw the director stuck in the music video phase. It came off as a singer/music video artist wanting to be a filmmaker. Granted, the characters were quirky (though unrealistic) enough. Rejects saw him cut the rope that bound him to that style and allowed him to make his one truly great film.

Then, something went a little wrong. The remake of Halloween tried to have it's cake and eat it too. It attempted to give Michael a backstory (& a much too large one at that) while at the same time cramming in the obligatory 'remade' scenes of the original. As an overall storyteller, I think it would have been best if someone else did the writing and then have Zombie shoot that script. I mean the the film has some good qualities, but just not enough of them for me to love the movie. If Halloween was a director taking a slightly wrong turn, then Halloween II is not even being in the right town. Stylistically, it's all over the place. I understand he's a fan of Lynch & Kubrick, but dragging those influences into a slasher film can seriously fuck with the way you are telling a story. It doesn't help either when the script is weak. Sometimes making a film different from the pack works (see: Nightmare On Elm Street 2). Sometimes it falls flat on its ass (see: Friday the 13th Pt. V). This was the latter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THROWDOWN 001: The Goonies Vs. The Monster Squad

First up, we have two squads of heroes: The Goonies & The Monster Squad. One a kids based film with adventure genre elements, the other with horror elements.

Let's look at The Goonies first. They are a band of misfits hailing from the neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon. They hope to save their homes from demolition and use that as a means to go out on adventure to find the buried treasure of One-Eyed Willie.

With some help from wikipedia, here's a quick run through of each member's profile:

The leader: Michael "Mikey" Walsh
The one who leads the adventure to find One Eyed Willie.

Clark "Mouth" Devroux
An obnoxious, smart-mouthed Goonie who loves to talk and tends to be a bit of a trickster. While he is often treated as an annoyance, Mouth is a boy of many talents, including being fluent in Spanish.

Lawrence "Chunk" Cohen
An extremely intelligent and inventive Goonie, who idolizes James Bond and has many inventive gadgets.

Brandon "Brand" Walsh
The leader's older brother.

Andrea "Andy" Carmichael
A cheerleader who begins a romantic relationship with Brandon Walsh.

Stephanie "Stef" Steinbrenner
Both smart mouthed and skeptical. Her attributes match up nicely to Mouth's which, later on in the film lead to affections between the two.

They also have Sloth on their side. His hulking, yet loving demeanor gives them the much needed card in their backpocket.

This brings us to our next merry band of misfits...

A group of pre-teens that idolizes classic monsters and monster movies. While the Goonies have Mikey's house, these guys have a clubhouse. Not the best living conditions, but hey, nothing beats the view out the window...

Leader: Sean Crenshaw- anyone who wears a 'Stephen King rules shirt knows what's going on.

Patrick- the 2nd in command

Horace- the "Chunk" of the group. Don't mess with him or he may just remind you of his real name.

Rudy- The supposed badass of the Squad. Helpful when supplies are needed.

Eugene- "Mummy came in my house."

Likewise with how the Goonies have Sloth, the Squad has ole' Frankenstein. & that is not 'bogus' by any means.


While both bring their own brand of adventure to the table, it's difficult to decide just who will come out as victorious.

So let's switch scenarios. If the Goonies were to face the classic Universal monsters, just how could they defeat them? Would they regain their bearings and break out more suitable weaponry than just Data's gadgets? The one thing that would come into their favor would have to be the 'candles'.

If the Squad were to go up against the Fratellis, they would be more than capable of getting the job done. Having just defeated Wolfman, Gill Man and the other monsters, what can humans possibly do to them?

The one tough call would be the battle between Sloth & Frankenstein. Both good hearted and well natured. I can see the rest of the Squad beating the Goonies but I can't see Frankie beating Sloth.

25 years into the future!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ongoing Quests: The Little Monsters Soundtrack

Recently, I have been on a quest to find all the songs from Little Monsters. The one song that has eluded me and for the most part, every other Little Monsters fan out there is Billie Hughes' Magic of the Night. The song is a rarity because well, it was NEVER RELEASED. Along with some other songs. Beyond that song, LM has proved to have one of the more memorable collection of songs from the 80's.

Billie Hughes- I Wanna Yell
Nick Lowe- I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass

Paladeins- Let's Go
Bobby Day- Little Bitty Pretty One

Talking Heads- Road to Nowhere

The soundtrack that is on Amazon consists of David Newman's (relation to Thomas Newman???) score.

Well after months of searching, the closest I got was a downloadable file on a Little Monsters related forum. The sound is MPEG 3 Audio and it contains most of the tracks. Magic of the Night is there, but with the sound effects from the movie still in. I guess this is the closest I ever will get unless someone finds a way to extrapulate the film sounds from that track. If there's anyone out there looking for it I'll be happy to direct them to this site where I found the file.

GREAT POSTER ART 004: Halloween Blow Out!

This one is interesting. A Polish version of the the Rosemary's Baby poster. It's not quite as memorable as the original poster, but it does carry a bizarre vibe to it.

Well, it meets the requirements. So it qualifies. What makes this poster stand out is how, upon closer observation, it's more than meets the eye.

This poster is one of the most recognizable posters out there and for good reason -- effectiveness.

We are entering top 10 territory in terms of posters right here. The expression 'less is more' was never more apt when it came to the Alien marketing campaign. First up you had the trailer. Didn't even show what the Alien looks like. Second, there's the infamous poster. It fits all the requirements. Memorable Font? Check. Does it make you want to see the film? Yes. And of course, there's the tagline 'In space, no one can hear you scream.' I bet it was pretty damn hard to walk by this poster back in '79 and not want to buy a ticket. If anything, alot of horror films could learn something from this film's marketing campaign...& unfortunately, have not.

Oh you're so cool Brewster!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Momentum II: Hard Eight

we're back. ready for Round 2.

During the 90's, the independent cinema saw its burgeoning talents create debut films on small budgets. Clerks & Reservoir Dogs gained cult followings amongst fervent film fans. Hard Eight was a film that had flew below the 'cult radar'. Anderson doesn't start off his film with people talking aAdd Imagebout Like A Virgin. Nor does it start off with a 15 minute opening without dialogue....or a long tracking shot into a club...or an anthology of short stories. No. PT kicks his first film off with John C. Reilly sitting with his back against a restaurant exterior and Philip Baker Hall offering him cigarettes and coffee.

The script for Hard Eight was originally titled Sydney and was written within the span of 2 weeks. The whole notion behind the idea of Sydney was "What if James Cagney hadn't died in White Heat? What if he had something to pay for down the line?" This theme of redemption will come into play several more times in Paul's work but Hard Eight acts as a blueprint for it. The notion of family and the need for belonging is also prevalent in Hard Eight and would be fully fleshed out in the multi storied Boogie Nights.

The inspiration for the film stems from Jean Pierre Melville's sublime noir Bob La Flambeur. Like Melville's film, it is key that we know who these people are in this seedy underbelly of Reno, Nevada. But what's more, how are we going to create the look of Reno. Cinematographer Robert Elswit plays a key role in PTA's films. The gambling casinos in Hard Eight have more in common with what you would expect in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas than Ocean's Eleven. Now putting faces to the inhabitants of this seedy underworld...that's the tricky part. Tasked with that, it's important to find the right actors who are willing to play out these roles.

Anderson uncovered a lost treasure in Philip Baker Hall's acting. Hall is best known for his role in Robert Altman's one man (!) show Secret Honor as Richard Nixon, a role he had played in the theater several times. Hall has stated that when working with Paul the work is done for you. This allows the actor to bring their A game to the set. Anderson first met Hall at the age of 16. He got a job on a PBS movie about an English professor who was accused of racism. Hall would later land a role in the short Cigarettes and Coffee and get a lead role in Hard Eight.

Another actor in the director's stable is John C. Reilly who makes his first major role in this film. Gwyneth Paltrow plays cocktail waitress Clementine and Sam Jackson playing Jimmy rounds out the cast. His character of Jimmy provides a backbone to the the character arc of Philip Baker Hall and allows for the slowly brewing pot of suspense to simmer. Jackson, being the only bankable actor in terms of marketing, helped obtain the film's financing. PT would go onto state that he had a horrendous time financing the film being that the financier's roots were in television.

The interplay between John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall comes off natural and never forced. Even the role of Clementine played by Paltrow called for the actress to shed her habits and inhabit the part. One actor who makes a brief but memorable cameo is Philip Seymour Hoffman. Having caught the director's eye with his role in Scent of A Woman, Hoffman brought a considerable amount of improv to his role. It's a trademark PT character that's in the background of his films, like Henry Gibson's Thurston Howell in Magnolia. The scene is pivotal because it is the first time we see a crack in Sydney's armor. It's when the movie starts becoming a real movie.

From there, the film takes us to a hotel room scene between the three actors Hall, Reilly and Paltrow. This is another key scene of the movie. It's the game changing scene in a sense that each character is allowed for an emotional outburst. PTA wisely holds off on showing what went down in the hotel just long enough. He stated on the DVD commentary that it's fun to watch an audience member go "Show me! Show me!". It's the rules of suspense and in the hands of another director, this whole scene would have flown apart at the seams.

The original cut of the film came in at 2 1/2 hours. One of the scenes that didn't make the cut was the 'Clementine turd story'. From the interviews I have read, PT said that the footage got lost. At a brisk 101 minutes, I'm glad it got the trimming. Pacing wise, the scenes play out in a mostly ecomonical and unsentimental fashion. Where some scenes could be trimmed because of their length, others, I felt had an appropriate beat to them. In particular the exchange of dialogue between John & Sydney in the car. Jon Brion, another frequent collaborator, scored his first composing gig on the film. Parts of his score for this film would turn up in Boogie Nights.

Hard Eight is a film intent on focusing on interactions between characters, the sudden gestures and the mishaps. Anderson is not so much interested in the crimes taking place but in how the people interact with each other. There's the unease of tension in the scene between Sam Jackson and Philip Baker Hall in the car. Or even focusing on people handing each other money. His knack for capturing people's interesting behavior is on full display here. Of course, we'll see Anderson go "balls in" with an ensemble narrative in his next film, but you can already see the building blocks in place. The script is smart. The acting is great. Robert Elswit's cinematography certainly helps craft a particular vibe, and Jon Brion's score helps cement it. His debut feature shows he has a patience with how things play out naturally. It's the most subtle of his works and as a result, leads to it being the one that is overlooked. In a filmography filled with grand character moments and sweeping narratives, Hard Eight is the calm before the storm.

I'm wondering, what was the first PTA film you saw? What struck you the most about his style? And finally, what are YOUR impressions of Hard Eight?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We're all gonna die out here

Bashing on Blair Witch has become a hip thing to do amongst people. The one thing they seem to forget is just how successful it was both in terms of concept and marketing back in 1999. But beyond even that, how it still is able to create what it set out to do in the first place: a sense of dread.

Two scenes left a memorable impression upon first viewing: 1. when they find Josh's tongue in the bag and 2. The ending. One could see this film only once and still have images from the ending imprinted upon their mind for months. There are only a handful of movies where I was legitimately creeped out. This was one of them. & this is not taking into account the "shaky cam" aspect of the film at all. It was how it played on sounds & what we don't see.

What struck me about it was its innovation with the found footage concept. Trying to blur the line between documentary and horror film. Keep in mind, this was before I discovered (& had my mind warped by) Cannibal Holocaust. Blair Witch is now known as one of the most profitable horror films as well as one that embraced its marketing strategy. Going to a theater thinking that you are about to witness the deaths of people on screen? I mean how could it not be profitable?

Having avidly watched the Sci-Fi Channel at the time, one of the docs that appeared on the channel to market the film was The Curse of the Blair Witch. A documentary that stressed the legitimacy of the found footage. The whole legend of Rustin Parr, a hermit who lived in the woods that kidnapped and murdered 7 children would have an impact on impressionable minds.

Immediately following the release of Blair Witch, came an onslaught of parodies and pale imitations. While it proved to be successful with Blair Witch, the found footage concept is one that has caused too many "cash-ins". The Fourth Kind being the worst offender of the bunch. I will still contend that Blair Witch is a succesful and unnerving movie.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shapes of Fear: John Carpenter

From '76 thru '88, John Carpenter was on a creative roll few (if any) genre directors have matched. He is an A filmmaker that specializes in B content. While he was more of a 'director for hire' on Christine & Starman, the latter's weaknesses were somewhat counterbalanced by admirable qualities. The former being the only minor weak spot in that run. Beyond that, it's been hit & miss from 1992up until 1998, with the one true hit being In the Mouth of Madness. Curiously enough, the final film in his Apocalypse trilogy. But it wasn't until Vampires that he lost it. And if there were any doubts in people's minds as to whether or not he still had it in him -- Ghosts of Mars was the film that sealed it.

The spirit moves John Carpenter again
By Mark Olsen

John Carpenter needed a break. It was 2001, and his latest film, the outer space thriller "Ghosts of Mars," had just flopped — at the box office and with critics. Creatively stymied and just plain exhausted by Hollywood and the moviemaking process, the director decided it was time to step away from the camera.

"I'd always sworn to myself when it stopped being fun I'd stop, and it stopped," Carpenter said over a recent lunch of pasta and Winstons in Beverly Hills. "I was really burned out. And it doesn't help when your movie tanks."

Now, nearly 10 years on, Carpenter is back with a very different kind of ghost story. The 1960s set "The Ward," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness section Monday night, tells the story of Kristen ( Amber Heard), a young woman who is confined to a remote mental hospital where she and a small group of fellow patients are stalked by a dark spirit.

The project is one that is likely to be described as a "return to form," and Carpenter believes it might have something to do with his self-imposed respite from Hollywood. "It was needed time," he said. "I needed it badly."

Living under the long shadow of your own reputation can be a troubling proposition for any
filmmaker, and you might say Carpenter has spent large portions of his career haunted by his past. Though his resume is peppered with science fiction, action adventure and satiric titles, his reputation in the broader cultural consciousness has been that of a horror director, stemming back to his landmark 1978 effort " Halloween."

"I never got in this business, in cinema, to make horror movies," said Carpenter, whose filmography includes "Escape From New York," "The Thing," "Big Trouble in Little China," "Starman" and "They Live." "They arrived on my doorstep and I got typecast. Which was fine, I enjoy it, but I got into this business to make westerns. And the kind of westerns I used to see, they died. So that didn't work out."

He hadn't initially intended to direct "The Ward" either. In the middle years of this decade, Carpenter had begun to reemerge working in television, helming two episodes of the Showtime anthology series "Masters of Horror," an experience he said reminded him of the importance of having a good hotel on location and how much his feet hurt after long days on set. Although he'd turned down the movie, he nevertheless worked on developing the script with writers Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, fine-tuning the project that would mark his return to features.

"We realized John wanted to be very careful about what he did next," said Doug Mankoff, president of Echo Lake Entertainment, who produced the film along with Peter Block's company A Bigger Boat. "This is a man who has painted on some very large canvases, and I think he wanted to really own this opportunity to paint on a slightly smaller canvas, to really focus on the story and the characters."

"I thought, maybe I'll try a little movie, not a big one, but a little film," said Carpenter of what appealed to him about the project. " 'The Ward' was perfect, in the sense it was a contained film. It's basically a story about isolation anyway, with a small cast, and that was perfect for me. And it was a different kind of movie than I had done, which was fun. I didn't have to go back to the same ground again."

The film, which features a distinctive cast of such young actresses as Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker, Mamie Gummer, Laura-Leigh and Mika Boorem, shot last year in Spokane, Wash., on a relatively modest budget of around $9.5 million. Working on that smaller scale didn't restrict Carpenter's signature artistic choices, however — nobody shoots a young woman running down a hallway quite the way he does.

"Wide lenses, that's the secret," he said with a knowing laugh.

Much is riding on festival reaction to the film, which is still looking for distribution. Carpenter, who was due to be in Toronto for the movie's premiere but was required to stay in Southern California for jury duty, says he's happy either way. He's not spending too much time thinking about the future or what project he might work on next. Simply making "The Ward" turned out to be fulfilling enough, all on its own.

"I needed to be away from the movie business and rediscover what it was about cinema that I loved," the 62-year-old said. "And I found it."


The two films Carpenter fans usually have at the top of their lists are either Halloween & The Thing. While I love Halloween, the tension and mood are both one upped in The Thing along with a startling sense of viciousness. Of all the scenes in this director's career, the one that is probably the most effective in terms of pure suspense would have to be the blood test scene. By this point of the movie, we have already seen the alien creature take on a variety of shapes and forms -- courtesy of then 22 year old FX maestro Rob Bottin. The camera set up in the blood test scene itself is very economical and spare in approach. Lensed by Dean Cundey, it allows the boiling pot of paranoia to pour over. There was already a rampant sense of paranoia running throughout the film to begin with. Trying to figure out who is infected at what point in the film makes for incredible replay value. An ingredient this film delivers in spades: setup & payoff. And the payoff in the blood test is about as gruesome & nihilistic as it gets in Carpenter's ouevre.

Another key ingredient to this film's effectiveness: the unknowable. While the character of Michael Myers would be exploited through a franchise of films, the shapes that the Thing forms still invoke mystery upon the mind. The only thing we know (and is also the string that ties it to the 1951 original) is that a Norweigan research team found it in a block of ice. Along with the spaceship from whence it came. With the forthcoming prequel on its way, I have a strong feeling that, even as a prequel, the dialogue will be peppered with exposition. I had always wondered how exactly the chaos played out for the unfortunate team of Norweigans. All Carpenter shows us is aftermath. Maybe it's just best to leave it that way.

I have yet to see The Ward and am in no hurry to. As a Carpenter fan, it pains me to say that. The reviews I have seen for it don't sound too promising. The last decade hasn't treated his films well either, with remakes of Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog & Halloween. I do have a sliver of hope that he finds great new material to mine. Maybe even have the revival that another 80's director, John Hughes, never had. But as time goes on, and directors from that time period get older (Landis & Dante included) I'm afraid his legacy will remain in the late 70's & 80's.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favorite Horror Films Pt. 2

5. "You like this face?"

4. "12 cabins, 12 vacancies."

"Great party, isn't it?"

3. "I don't know what's in there. But it's weird and pissed off whatever it is."

"He's got something in his throat."

2. "Here kitty, kitty."

1. "In here, with us."

--Yep. 3 & 4 are ties. I also revised the first list I posted.

-- All of these films to me have one thing in common: they are able to create and sustain a mood throughout their duration that make most horror filmmakers today jealous.

--This was hard enough to do even with 10 (hence the ties). A top 20 would be somewhat easier. The rankings are interchangeable among the films selected. However, the films in this section of the list in particular rarely switch places with those in the other list.

Some very honorable mentions (technically making what was suppose to be a top 5, a top 20...):
An American Werewolf In London, Halloween, The Devil Rejects, Audition, The Changeling, Frankenstein, Dead Alive

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Momentum: A PT Anderson Retrospective Pt. 1

OK...first off, I was a bit hesitant in even doing a retrospective on PTA. With only 5 films, there are barely any books dedicated to the director's work, which for better or worse is the big reason why I decided to go ahead on doing this retrospective. But perhaps an even bigger obstacle was: How in the blue hell do I even begin on writing about Magnolia or There Will Be Blood. Besides, the website Cigarettes & Red Vines has already done an astonishing job collecting interviews, press junkets, articles, etc. on each film. So I decided to comb through their archives as well as the DVD commentaries and other resources to present an assembled critique/analysis of the films. Hopefully, this masterclass will serve two parties: those who have yet to discover the director's work & those who are already familiar with the films and are looking for tasty little tidbits on them.

Second -- I plan on posting Pts. 1-3 this month and Pts. 4-6 in November. That schedule is subject to change. I'll be doing another Director Retrospective in January.

And finally, I do have to rant a bit. It's bizarre seeing all the comments online calling him the next Kubrick, Altman or Scorsese. I can't help but stop and roll my eyes. His films may have the STYLE of those directors and of course invite the comparison as far as style goes. But the director has written all of his films so he is already different than those directors. If ever there was a more idiotic way to label a filmmaker, it's "THE NEXT" (Fill in the Blank). It's trying to put a familiar name on something new. It's not the way to look at art. PT Anderson is the first PT Anderson. And that's that.


Paul Thomas Anderson was born June 26 (one day before my birthday), 1970 in Studio City, California to Edwina & Ernie Anderson. His father was a late night horror movie host known as "Ghoulardi". Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he got into filmmaking at an early age. He attended a number of schools: Berkeley, John Thomas Dye School, Campbell Hall School, Crushing Academy, and Montclair Prep. He briefly attended New York University, but would drop out of it.

Anderson became apart of the VCR generation along with Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater. These independent mavericks were trained not so much in the classical way but by watching zillions of films. With currently only 5 films under his belt, Anderson has become regarded as one of the great writer/directors of his generation. The fact that he made his first feature at 25 is all the more intimidating. There's a reason why Paul Thomas Anderson has such a small body of work. You have to wait for one of his films because he takes time to craft something like There Will Be Blood. He's not a director who feels the need to put out a movie on a yearly basis (take note, Woody Allen). & I think the body of work speaks for itself. I'd much rather wait till 2011 or even 2012 for The Master or whatever it turns out to be, than for him to rush it.

His films depict suburban alienation on an intimate level. A theme tackled by Steven Spielberg in Close Encounters & E.T. as well as Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands. In a response to the question of "Do you think of yourself mainly as a writer, director or filmmaker"? Anderson responded: filmmaker. "Because I think I direct in a way that's technical and show-offy. And that's not generally said about writers that direct. With those sort of writers who direct, like Woody Allen or David Mamet, you don't usually think of them as applying alot of cinema- in the Scorsese or Oliver Stone kind of way- to their movies." Being technical and show-offy is a major criticism the director's detractors love to bring up. This director is of course not going to please everybody with his films. But you would be hard pressed to find a director who finds a better balance of subtelty and audacity in their work.

His primary influences stem from three directors: Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme. What struck me the most was when PT cited Demme as such a major influence on his work. One would not think to look for it to begin with. But what does stick out with this connection is both director's distinct use of music. Demme is known for shooting The Talking Heads 'Stop Making Sense' concert film as well as the 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs and his follow up film Philadelphia. Both films have distinct sequences in which the music underscores the mood the filmmaker is trying to create -- whether it's Q Lazarus' Goodbye Horses or Bruce Springsteen's Streets of Philadelphia.

Anderson's camera is constantly on the move in a good number of his films. Scorsese, whose been influenced himself by the moving camera of Jean Renior and Max Ophuls, is cited amongst many filmmakers of the 90's as a major influence.

In terms of ensemble narrative, both Boogie Nights and Magnolia owe a lot to the late Robert Altman. Anderson for me became a gateway drug to Altman. It's like going up to a film geek and saying "Wow, how can someone juggle 9 stories so well?" And then their response being "Oh yeah? Wanna see someone juggle 20?" Without films like Nashville and Short Cuts, we would not have a film like Magnolia. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's time to zip back in time to PT's humble beginnings.


So it's 1987 and some guy named Paul Thomas Anderson decides to pick up a camera and make a short little 32 minute film. What's so incredible about it? He's 17 years old when he writes it.

Anderson had a connection with the industry from the beginning. His father was Ernie Anderson, who did voice overs for ABC. So it makes sense that he would use an experienced actor like Robert Ridgeley in his short. PT's influence for the whole short fell into two categories. In terms of the format he was looking to do something akin to Woody Allen's Zelig and Spinal Tap -- a mockumentary of sorts. Content wise, it's about the rise and fall of a pornstar named Dirk Diggler. The original approach to Boogie Nights was to expand the mockumentary. It's a good thing his maturity as a filmmaker allowed for him to expand it in many other directions as opposed to strictly the mockumentary format.

Even looking back on the Dirk Diggler Story, it's interesting to see how many things are ported over to Boogie Nights. There's the whole "You Got the Touch" scene of Dirk Diggler massacring the song. The most striking thing is the content that Anderson is tackling as well as the advanced sense of dark humor and sarcastic wit he has at the age of 17. It's important to note -- the visual acrobatics PT's films are known for are obviously not present here.

Created at the Sundance Lab, Cigarettes & Coffee is a much more accomplished piece of filmmaking. The narrative weaves around three stories taking place. The first deals with two friends, one in trouble, the other being the wiser (played by Phil Hall); the second: a young couple on their honeymoon; the third: a shady hustler. The way Anderson spins these threads into a collective whole is still rough around the edges. His canvases would become alot more polished and expansive as his career goes on. When screening the short at the Sundance Film Festival, producer Robert Jones approached Anderson about expanding it into a feature.


Right now this artist is more or less dipping his toe in the water. Feeling out certain beats & rhythms to ideas & motifs. What works? What doesn't? He would end up diving straight in with his debut feature. But I'll save that for Pt. 2.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Favorite Horror Films Pt. 1

(a response to Speedy McFlash)

...because a top 5 just ain't cuttin' it these days. 1-5 will be posted next week.

6. "They're coming to get you Barbara."

"No more room in hell."

7. "Show me the way to go home..."

8. "I'll swallow your soul."

9. "'ll see devils tearing your life away."

10. "........"

Maybe it's in the trunk

At the age of 9, Scary Stories was a book I ended up borrowing constantly from the library & would eventually end up owning. I already had my fill of EC Comics (I'll expand later) and was looking for more short stories. Alvin Schwartz crafted some truly eerie and unnerving tales. The book was basically a compendium of tales born out of urban legends and folklore. But what left the biggest impression was Stephen Gammell's artwork. His images will creep under the skin of even the most hardened horror fan. According to wikipedia, the book is seventh most challenged 2000-2009 by the American Library Association for its religious viewpoint and violence.

While EC Comics kickstarted my love for the horror genre, Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark cemented it.