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Since then I have written, argued, critiqued, walked out of, championed and loved from the depths of my being the gum-bottomed theater seats and movies on pay television, VHS and Beta tapes, DVD and Blu-ray Discs, and now apps on my phone and Netflix streaming. Although it should be noted that the way I’ve explored and discovered new films, I keep going back to the seminal film critic Pauline Kael who (sort of) said, “There is nothing quite like the excitement one feels when the lights go down.”
As it happens, in 1995 some moron made me the film commissioner for the state of Oklahoma. It was, in effect, like turning Orson Welles loose with the Twinkies. While I was film commissioner, I founded at technical film degree program at a local community college and recruited my friend Gray Frederickson, producer of The Godfather trilogy as well as Apocalypse Now and others, to move back to Oklahoma from Beverly Hills to teach classes. I also brought to the school a new resident to the state named Fritz Kiersch to teach as well, who had directed a little horror picture called Children of the Corn. All of this has officially given me a love of movies that dares not speak its name.
I’ve followed The Digital Bits almost since its inception and have always been especially anxious to read the new Classic Coming Attractions columns by one Barrie Maxwell. When I had the opportunity to write a similar column, on a whim decided to contact Barrie to see how it was done. He was so helpful, interested and beguiling that we made fast email friends and remained so through his sickness and untimely death last year. As my 19 year old would say, “the dude knew his stuff.”
I plan to have a lot of fun here at The Bits with my new View from the Cheap Seats column. Each new installment will feature a mix of content, including interesting stories from my many years of association with the film industry and the folks in it (Tales from the Set), thoughts on new movies currently In Theaters and even updates on select Upcoming Classics on Blu-ray and DVD. I hope you’ll all enjoy it. And if you get the urge, feel free to send me an e-mail with your thoughts or just to say hello.
(Click READ MORE >> in the About Bud Elder box on the right side of the page and you’ll find your way to an e-mail form.)
- Bud Elder
Tales from the Set
For my first Tales from the Set, here’s a hum dinger of a story, told to me personally by two-time Oscar winning producer Albert S. Ruddy. And, while he never recounted the story exactly the same way over five or six different recitations, I’ll do my best to provide an amalgamation that has somewhat of the level of truth…
Producers Ruddy and Gray Frederickson were given production duties on The Godfather after their film Little Fauss and Big Halsey had been a hit for Paramount (more later about the origins of that legendary Francis Coppola film) and Ruddy arrived on the film’s New York City set to find that union members, sanitation workers and others of their like were on strike, under direct orders from the hierarchy of the local organized crime. This mind you was a group who was, naturally, particularly sensitive to the content being filmed on the streets of Little Italy.
After a day or two of total chaos, the studio was informed by representatives of Joseph Columbo, then head of the New York crime families, that the mob would like to have a sit down with the producers so that they might come to an amiable conclusion to the stalemate.
As Ruddy recalls, he soon met with Columbo and an associate, who carried the moniker of “Butter,” in a room at the Park Central Hotel in Times Square. Both men were dressed in dark suits and hats befitting gentlemen associated with their particular calling.
“Columbo was concerned that his chosen way of life, as well as the Italian experience in America, would be stereotyped [in the film] in a very unfavorable light,” Ruddy said. “To which I countered that, much to the contrary, Italians in The Godfather were portrayed as honorable and committed to family, while it was other ethnic groups, such as the Irish, that were shown to be corrupt.”
After going back and forth with the mobsters for a while, Ruddy came up with an idea.
“I told both of them to come back the next day, when I would have scripts laying on the table for us to go through page by page to prove my point,” he said. “They agreed and a second meeting was scheduled.”
At the appointed time, the boss and his henchmen returned to the Park Central and sat in front of bound scripts. With great flourish, Columbo took a pair of small reading glasses from a case in his pocket and opened the script.
“They both stared at Scene #1 for almost ten minutes,” Ruddy said. “Then Columbo took off his glasses, gently closed the script and said ‘We will support this movie as long as the word ‘Mafia’ is not used in any form or fashion.’”
Ruddy quickly agreed, shook hands and the meeting ended. Here’s the kicker…
“I knew those bastards couldn’t read,” Ruddy said.
Discerning viewers of The Godfather will notice that at no time is the word ‘Mafia’ uttered in the film.
In 1967, author Donald E. Westlake (working under the name Richard Stark), wrote The Hunter, the first of some 24 books featuring the character simply known as “Parker” – a no nonsense, anti-heroic professional thief who lives in a violent, dark world. The (mostly) paperback originals took low crime to high art. The movies almost immediately paid attention and John Boorman’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin as an inexplicably named “Walker” soon redefined the crime film genre. Except for a smarmy remake of Point Blank called Payback, starring Mel Gibson, and The Outfit, with Robert Duvall, Parker has been strangely absent from movie screens.
Now comes Jason Statham as Parker? In a film titled Parker? Directed by Taylor Hackford? Be still my beating heart! Sadly, the result is a stink bomb. What could have been a lean and mean adaptation of one of Stark’s later efforts, Flashfire, is instead a goofy mess, the kind of genre film that only Joel Schumacher could have made worse. Look, we saw, just this year, that a 70s crime novel – in this instance George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade – could be made into a cogent, thoughtful and intelligent picture in Killing Them Softly. What they’ve done here is a travesty.
However, Parker isn’t a total dud. Michael Chiklis gives ‘em the old Vic Mackey charm as the lead villain and Statham, even if his Parker sounds more like Michael Caine than Lee Marvin, blasts a .45 with the best of them. Still, we all know to be slightly wary whenever a film get released in January… and Parker is as “January” as they get. Sigh. Maybe one day they’ll get it right.
Upcoming Classics on Blu-ray and DVD
Those of us who truly love classic films – we who still can’t get over the fact the good Lord created Turner Classic Movies – eagerly await new release day product from the Warner Archive as though it were new music from The Beatles. Whether it’s rarities from Bogart (Conflict), Cagney (Taxi) or Hannah Barbara cartoons, or more recent gems such as Wild Rovers, Mr. Ricco and The Boy Friend, Warner Archive is the king of all things MOD. Recently, Warner Archive has offered both seasons of the wonderful David Janssen cult detective series Harry O, HB’s cartoon take on Martin Short’s hilarious character Ed Grimley and the film series of fictional detective Philo Vance from the 1930s. Go to www.warnerarchive.com to check out the latest.
Perhaps the most unique purveyor of classic films on disc is Twilight Time, a company of which all classic film buffs should be intensely aware. Brian Jamieson and Nick Redman, both veterans of the motion picture and music industries, release only 3,000 units of two Blu-ray classics per month, most of which have never even be released on VHS. Titles such as The Kremiln Letter, Violent Saturday, the musical Lost Horizon, and the original Fright Night sell out almost the second they are released for pre-order. Lately, the group has put out the James Bond clone Our Man Flint, starring James Coburn, and Experiment in Terror, Blake Edwards’ thriller starring Glenn Ford. Coming soon too are Brian DePalma’s The Fury and John Carpenter’s Christine – though at this point you’ll have to try and find the latter on eBay, as it sold out within hours of going on sale. Visit www.screenarchives.com to jump on the wonderful Twilight Time band wagon.
That’s all for now. Until next time, hope to see you at the flickers!
- Bud Elder