Archive for Lou Gossett

Moving House

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by dcairns

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There are good things in FINDERS KEEPERS (1984), Richard Lester’s penultimate fiction feature (there are good things in RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS too, but it’s overshadowed by tragedy on one side and its illustrious predecessors on the other). Lester has said that FK was the only movie he made as a hired gun, making it in theory even less personal than the SUPERMAN films, which he nevertheless managed to imbue with a lot of his personal style and attitude. In fact, FINDERS KEEPERS being a knockabout farce, on the surface it’s closer to classic Lester.

Michael O’Keefe and Lou Gossett play con artists, Beverley D’Angelo plays a potty-mouthed actress. The plot revolves around a coffin full of cash and there’s lots of action on trains, chases and other opportunities for the Buster Keaton influence to show itself, assisted by the flat landscapes and Lester’s planimetric, architectural framing (“That’s my thing.”)

Lester inherited the project from a friend, along with some of the cast, but he was able to drop a few friends into the proceedings — Brian Dennehy and John Schuck return from BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS and Pamela Stephenson breezes in fresh from SUPERMAN III. Ed Lauter’s bad guy is a stand-out — he’s a vengeful ex-accomplice, making his part of the film like a comic take on Peckinpah’s THE GETAWAY. Dennehy, playing a corrupt sheriff, is my other favourite — he’s a smart crooked man with a dumb family, and his seething fury at his lot in life and his chuckleheaded clan is pretty funny. His flaky daughter is played with wondrous tall awkwardness by Barbara Kermode, in her only film role. “Did you forget to take your anti-crazy pills?” asks Dennehy wearily, at her latest eccentric outpouring. This is a line you CAN use with your loved ones, I’ve found, but only if you’re sure you can get away with it. I told Lester when I met him earlier this year that I greatly enjoyed Kermode’s perf. “She was a local girl we found on location,” he said, slightly amazed. He also said that he hadn’t seen the film since making it. (It never played Edinburgh and I’ve only seen it on VHS. There’s never been a DVD.)

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Barbara Kermode, you are a STAR!

Oh, and one other cast member deserves mention. It’s his first movie, and he’s playing Lane Biddlecoff, Dennehy’s dumbest nephew. Here he is ~

The kid is good, but Barbara Kermode really ought to have had his career.

At the climax of the film, Lauter kidnaps D’Angelo and hides out in an empty house. When they awaken next day, the house is in motion — being dragged across country by a truck, like the church in DELIVERANCE. D’Angelo becomes hysterical and starts screaming and Lauter, lacking any ready-made gag, in desperation rips off his toupee and stuffs it in her mouth, a grotesque but, too me, very funny act. Lester, who went bald at 19 and found it helped him get taken seriously by older authority figures, could never resist a wig gag, and here, quite literally, is a wig gag.

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McKean and Gossett set off to rescue her and get the loot. Spoiler alert — this is the whole ending of the movie —

It displays the film’s strengths, I think — some genuinely clever visual gags, perfectly framed, and some rambunctiously stupid ones — and its weaknesses, which for me include Ken Thorne’s score. Thorne had been a regular collaborator and his Kurt Weill-influenced soundtrack for THE BED SITTING ROOM is marvelous. He got an Oscar for arranging and scoring A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (that chase scene scoring!). Here he seems out of his element. The selection of pop songs and their placement isn’t everything I’d like it to be either, suggesting that it was no longer something Lester felt completely at home with.

But the last shot — very Keaton, and specifically THE BLACKSMITH. There’s an elegiac quality which has nothing to do with the story but fits in very well with the film’s place at the twilight of the director’s career.

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The Whiteness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by dcairns

TelluridePhil

The author meets the auteur: Philip Kaufman and a dazed man in a borrowed hat.

One of the results of meeting Philip Kaufman in Telluride (above) was the realization that, despite loving a number of his films (I have literally no idea how many times I saw THE RIGHT STUFF in the eighties, at the cinema and on VHS) there were big holes in my knowledge of his career. One movie he mentioned as being a little neglected was THE WHITE DAWN (1974), which I’d heard of but never seen.

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It proves to be an excellent film, and I’m not just saying that because Mr. Kaufman was so nice (if I didn’t like this one, I’d find something else to talk about). It’s really one of the best films about intercultural failure of communication, standing comparison with MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE, which it’s arguably better than because it doesn’t have David Bowie in a school uniform. Instead it has Timothy Bottoms, Warren Oates and Louis Gossett, Jnr, a near-unbeatable trio of axioms of 1970s American cinema, acting against a genuine selection of non-professional actors gathered from a single Inuit tribe.

The story, based on James Houston’s novel in turn based on true incidents, deals with three whalers stranded in the arctic who are taken in by an Inuit tribe. The initially friendly approach of the natives ultimately takes a tragic turn as the interlopers fail to fit in, contribute, or understand the people they’ve become dependent on. While the reliably surly Oates is an obvious walking trouble-spot, Bottoms and Gossett’s response to the apparent free love offered by the community also seems likely to cause problems, with the sensitive young Bottoms becoming enamoured and possessive of one young woman (Pilitak).

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The blend of languages and acting styles works remarkably well. “The trouble with non-professionals is they’re not professional enough. And the trouble with professionals is they’re too professional.” ~ Milos Forman. “When you put a non-professional and a professional together the effect is immediately to show up the artificiality of the professional.” ~ Alexander Mackendrick. And the movie manages to create sympathy for both sides — its theme has never been more timely, and it’s regrettable that the movie isn’t easier to see (according to its director, no good 35mm print of this handsome film, shot by Michael Chapman, exists anywhere in the world).

If everyone saw it and absorbed its theme, it could actually save us.

I have THE GREAT MINNESOTA NORTHFIELD RAID lined up next.

My Kaufman essay can be bought as a bonus along with: Invasion of the Body Snatchers [Blu-ray]

White Dawn

Black Out

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by dcairns

I’d always had a bit of a resistance to blaxploitation films, maybe because of Tarantino’s aggressive cheerleading, but also because stuff like SUPERFLY seemed to genuinely be championing an insensitive, violent, misogynistic and retrograde world-view, about as far from revolutionary as you can get. Even SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASS SONG, which has real outsider art credentials and an authenticity that DOLEMITE can’t even dream of, still seemed somewhat… unpleasant. And my prevailing mental image of the genre is cherry-red stage blood dribbling down loudly patterned suits.

But something about the small cycle of black-themed 70s horror movies seemed slightly intriguing, and once I looked, I found quite a lot to enjoy. Not that BLACULA is RED DESERT or anything. It’s not even ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. But with my suitably low expectations, I found the films full of surprises, mostly pleasant.

Welcome to Supernatural Blaxploitation Week.

J.D.’s REVENGE is an odd, rather non-generic flick (arguably a better possession film than ABBY and a better split personality film than DR BLACK, MR HYDE). It gives with one hand and takes with the other. Which is to say, the interesting bits get kind of nullified at the end, but they’re still there.

The protagonists in supernatural blaxploitation films aren’t pimps and hos, or even private eyes, they cover a much wider, more representative social spread. So our hero, played by Glynn Turman (from TVs House of Lies), is a law student who drives a cab to pay his way through law school. On their one-year anniversary, his girlfriend persuades him to go out with her and some friends. They go to a strip show, which struck me as odd. But this is American International Pictures, and it is 1976. All the women, nearly, in this film, will take their clothes off. Or have them forcibly removed. I didn’t say the film was perfect.

Then, on impulse, they go to see a stage hypnotist — played by Jo Anne Meredith with such assurance I was convinced she was the real thing. As in STIR OF ECHOES, this brief encounter with hypnosis unlocks something in Turman’s mind, only here he starts getting flashbacks — not to a previous life, really, but to someone else’s life, and death. J.D. was a gangster type character in the forties, killed for someone else’s crime, and now he starts to possess our mild-mannered hero, transforming him into a boorish, strutting, raping streak of malevolence. Turman really does a great job with his second character, with sharp, spasmodic, brutal movements which suggest not only volatility, but also petulant confusion at his strange situation.

The movie isn’t interested really in the duck out of water AUSTIN POWERS possibilities of 40s-meets-70s, nor is it interested in exploring more deeply the possible metaphorical meanings of its hero’s transformation — the reason for that becomes clear-ish later. But the transformation IS interesting anyway, because the film devotes a good bit of time to charting how it affects his relationship with girlfriend Joan Pringle.

This could, for instance, be a film about alcoholism. Turman doesn’t drink too much normally, but possessed by JD he becomes a dedicated imbiber. His new sexual appetite surprises, disturbs, but also at first somewhat pleases Pringle, until he turns brutal. The changeover of personalities isn’t smooth, so much of the time Turman is playing in-between states, and only latterly does he get to go all Richard Widmark in KISS OF DEATH, a cackling, dancing, straight razor wielding maniac.

The film deals with the abusive relationship side of the story in a way that’s… well, certainly interesting. Turman sees his doctor as he’s starting to get weirded out. The doc prescribes less work, and says “Smoke a little weed.” When he beats his girlfriend up, his best friend congratulates him and says he needed to cut loose. Pringle takes him back, and it happens again, only worse. The cycle of abuse is pretty realistic for a fantasy film.

The trouble comes when the film wants to take its supernatural yarn at face value. JD wants revenge on the typically dynamic, charismatic Lou Gossett, the man who killed him, who’s now gotten religion and become a preacher (Gossett is far too young for his role, but his bald head is considered old age makeup enough). Things don’t go to plan, there are revelations, and the 40s backstory is resolved in a satisfying fashion, with some neat interweaving of time zones by editor George Folsey (later John Landis’s producer).

Fred Pinkard plays his entire role with the expression of a man inhaling a stale undershirt. Good call!

But now the film steps in to let everybody off the hook, despite the fact that all three survivors of the final bloodbath have committed murder, and the police have evidence. A preposterous happy ending is concocted, Gossett’s character is confirmed as a sincere man of God, and he gives a speech about the ever-present dangers of demonic possession. Of course, preachers are fond of the idea that bad stuff is caused by demons, because it gives them the perfect excuse when they get caught with their hands in the till or their dick in a rent boy. Nobody should ever take moral advice from anyone who thinks people do bad things for reasons other than their own bad impulses (however augmented  by drugs, drink, madness or upbringing).

So what started out like a matter-of-fact paranormal thriller than just happens to have a largely black cast (ie not really “blaxploitation” any more than AVATAR is “bluesploitation”) turns into a rather simple, superstitious homily about the ever-present menace of the forces of (spiritual) darkness. A shame.

But worth seeing for the acting, Turman and Gossett in particular, and for its slow-burn, oddball narrative.