Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vigilante (1983)

dir. William Lustig

"This is our Waterloo, baby. You want your city back? You gotta take it. Dig it? Take it."
- Nick

As much as I abhor the idea of vigilante justice, I absolutely love seeing it in the movies. I guess that's what you call a contradiction. The reasons that I abhor it in real life are the exact reasons that I enjoy it in the movies. Vigilante justice makes for a world in which the lines between the criminals and the upright citizens disappear. When people take the law into their own hands they have no one to answer to but themselves when deciding the guilt of a suspected criminal. It furthers in creating a society of fear. All that being said, it sure makes for some compelling movies. If there are movies dealing with crime in which the law works smoothly and people sit by and let the wheels of justice turn, I can guarantee you that those movies will be boring.

When crafting a truly awesome vigilante movie, you need someone at the helm with a certain je ne sais quoi. I don't know if it's a lack of subtlety or a lack of social graces, but it's certainly a lack of something. You need someone who can pound the audience over the head with a sledgehammer and then blow an air horn to remind them of what just happened. Few people were more perfect for making Vigilante than William Lustig. He just came from making the nauseating exercise in bad taste Maniac, and he would later go on to make Maniac Cop 1, 2, & 3 (I think he just wanted to make anything with the word Maniac in the title).

Vigilante starts off like most movies of this sort by creating an overly idealistic portrait of the main character, Eddie Marino's loving family (Eddie Marino is played by Robert Forster, who burst onto the seen in the magnificent Medium Cool, but struggled in forgettable movies for most of his career until his role in Jackie Brown). Life just couldn't be better for the Marino family. I sure hope nothing goes wrong for them. Unfortunately, Eddie's wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda) runs afoul of some street toughs and they follow her home where they attack her and murder her five year old son.

A distraught Eddie goes to the D.A. to bring these criminals to justice. The D.A. informs him that their best chance would be to prosecute only the leader of the gang, Rico (Willie Colon). The case goes to trial and, wouldn't you know it, Rico is defended by the sleaziest, most corrupt lawyer possible. The lawyer is played expertly by veteran character actor Joe Spinell. Spinell previously played the lead in Lustig's debut, Maniac. Although, most modern audiences are not familiar with Spinell, he appeared in some of the 70's most classic movies (Godfather I & II, Taxi Driver, and Rocky). Because of his looks and manner of speech, Spinell excelled at playing sleazy, ethnic (i.e., Italian) types.

Rico gets off with a slap on the wrist and an outraged Eddie verbally attacks the judge. The judge finds Eddie in contempt of court and sentences him to a month in prison. While in prison, two burly inmates (one of them being Rico) attempt to gang rape him. Eddie is saved when a 70 year old Woody Strode comes into the showers and beats these two men until they're unconscious. Let me repeat that: a 70 year old Woody Strode beats the shit out of two men half his age. After his time in prison, Eddie is not a happy man. He leaves seeking revenge. According to this movie, the only purpose for jail is to teach victims of crime a lesson for letting themselves get victimized.

When Eddie gets out he joins the vigilante group headed by his coworker Nick. Nick is played awesomely by Fred Williamson. Williamson was the star of such blaxploitation classics as Hammer, Black Caesar, and Hell Up in Harlem (side note: You wanna know who's gonna fuck with Fred Williamson? Nobody, that's who). Although Eddie initially had qualms about vigilante justice, he soon overcomes his doubts about this when he realizes how fun it is to kill criminals.

Vigilante was filmed in New York during a time when Manhattan was still quite dangerous. It lends the movie an authentic air of menace which would be hard to replicate today. One reason I enjoy watching this movie is that it allows me to vicariously experience the seediness of early eighties New York. Other movies I watch for this reason include: C.H.U.D., Fort Apache the Bronx, and The Exterminator. I also enjoy watching Vigilante because it reminds me of the kind of movies I saw when I was a teen and I stayed up late on Friday nights to watch "USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear" (side note: wow, I was an uncool teen).

Although the danger of New York in this period feels palpable here, this movie is far removed from reality. Vigilante is over the top in every possible way imaginable. At many times while watching this movie, I found myself thinking, 'this is ri-goddamn-diculous." Watching Vigilante again, what struck me most was the music. It is over the top and obvious in such a way that only the best/cheesiest soundtracks from 80s action movies are. I can just imagine what the music discussions must have been like this for this movie.

"Alright, this masked mugger wielding the big knife is pretty menacing, but is it obvious that he poses a threat? Put some scary music there."

The composer cues up the synthesizer score, "How does this sound?"

"Yes, it's obvious, but is it loud enough? Louder! Louder! Make it all -- pass the blow."

For me, the defining moment in terms of this movie's over the top, non-subtle ways is a scene in which some hooligans shoot up a cop car. These no-goodniks pull up in a van and corner two helpless cops in their car. They then let loose with an orgy of bullets, completely destroying the two cops and their car. The scene ends with a shot of the cop car's busted headlight as it slowly dies out, and then the scene cuts to black. Back in the thirties when the Production Code would not allow for such graphic depictions of violence, directors would use shorthands such as the light dying to signify the cops dying. Lustig probably thought that his use of this device was a nice artistic touch to symbolize the death of the cops. The only problem is that he already showed us the cops getting pumped full of more bullets than Sonny Corleone.

Another thing that really struck me when watching this movie again was the fact that every group (the criminals, the vigilantes, the law) was extremely multi-cultural. I have no doubt that this was an attempt to redress the jaw dropping racism present in many vigilante movies, most notably in Death Wish. Although I applaud Vigilante for taking a step in the right direction, it does seem kind of silly. It's almost as if they're saying, "Sure we're promoting a semi-fascist vigilante ideology, but at least we're not being racist about it."

Is Vigilante a great movie? Nah, but it is the movie that Death Wish should have been. One of the reasons that this movie works better than Death Wish is that Robert Forster is believable as a timid man. I love Charles Bronson, but it is impossible to believe him as a pacifist architect. Forster truly has an everyman quality about him. He is the kind of person who would believe in the righteousness of the judicial process and would only resort to vigilante justice after he had been pushed to the limit. Bronson, on the other hand, would probably relish the idea of killing criminals. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Bronson shot muggers in his spare time. Another reason that I am not as big a fan of Death Wish is that I feel that it holds back in terms of the violence. Maybe I'd have to rewatch it but I don't remember any of Bronson's vigilante acts as being that memorable. I say, if you're gonna make exploitative trash, why be coy about it? Go for the jugular.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wild in the Streets (1968)

dir. Barry Shear

"America's greatest contribution has been to teach the world that getting old is such a drag."
-Sally Leroy

What do Shelley Winters, Richard Pryor, Hal Holbrook, and Ed Begley all have in common? Well, in 1968 they were all hard up for cash and decided to star in an AIP (American International Pictures) produced anti-hippie exploitation movie. I am extremely grateful that they did because this movie has provided the world with countless hours of entertainment. Like most AIP productions, the cast was full of people either on their way up (Pryor and Holbrook) or on their way down (Begley and Winters. Sure, Shelley would have another hit with The Poseidon Adventure, but her glory days were behind her). The reason that AIP was frequently both a proving ground for up and comers and a dumping ground for used up talent was that both groups could be hired on the cheap. AIP did not have lots of money to throw around on lavish productions so they had to save where they could. To me, this has always been one of the biggest charms of their movies.

WITS centers around charismatic rock star Max Frost (Christopher Jones). A pre-credit sequence shows the maturation of a young Max. As one scene shows, life is hard for this free spirit. When he and his dad decide to remove the plastic coverings from their furniture, Max's square mom Daphne (Shelley Winters) slaps both of them. Max can't be held down by all these unhip rules, however. Rebelling against the stifling conformity of upper-middle class suburban life, he slashes the plastic couch coverings. Take that, bourgeois protectors from stains. Oh yeah, he also leaves home after blowing up the family car.

After the credit sequence, it is revealed that Max has somehow become an enormously successful singer in a rock band, and at the age of 22 he has become a titan of industry, owning 14 interlocking companies. This is revealed to us by an important sounding narrator, voiced by Paul Frees (Frees was one of the most prolific voice over artists in the biz, particularly in the 50s and 60s. Chances are, if you've seen enough Disney cartoons, Spaghetti Westerns or TV commercials, you've heard his voice). Max's parents don't become aware of his immense fame and status as the world's youngest entrepreneur until they happen to watch TV one night and notice Max singing with his band. Apparently, both of his parents have learning disorders.

The plot really starts off when a young Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) announces that he wants Congress to lower the voting age to eighteen. Max decides to capitalize on this and agrees to join Fergus' campaign. At a campaign show, though, Max plays a song urging the youngsters to fight to lower the voting age to fourteen. Damn kids. You give 'em an inch; they take a mile (side note: the song that Max plays uses the phrase, 'rockin' the vote.' (second side note: wow, this phrase was never cool)). Fergus' mentor, Senator Allbright (Ed Begley), doesn't like this. He doesn't like this one bit. He urges Fergus to put a kabosh on all these shenanigans. It does not matter, however, because Max has already convinced all the younguns across the nation to protest for a lowering of the voting age to fourteen. Eventually, congress gives in.

Soon, Max gets his groovy chick, Sally Leroy (Diane Varsi), to run for Congress. Once elected, she proposes a bill to lower the age at which a person can get elected to a government position to fourteen. The youth of America just can't ever be satiated. When Congress does not give in, Max gets the younguns to stage another protest (also, Max has the water supply of DC spiked with LSD). Since the folks in Congress are a bunch of pussies, they give in again. Wouldn't you know it, this makes Max eligible to run for President. Max Frost is elected President with the largest majority in the history of the country. Every state elects him except for Hawaii (damn Hawaiians, I've always said they were no good). Life under President Max Frost actually isn't that bad except for the fact that he sentences anyone over the age of 35 to concentration camps where, "in groovy surroundings we're gonna psyche 'em all out on LSD, babies".

The plot description I gave here is longer than I usually write, but this is only because I want to try my best to convey just how ridiculously awesome this movie truly is. Even this long description can't do it justice. It has to be seen to believed.

I often wonder when watching movies of this sort, whether audiences at the time could appreciate the unintentional hilarity of them (Not that there isn't plenty of intentional hilarity in this movie. A scene of a hippie clothed Shelley Winters talking about her LSD therapist has the only intention of producing laughs). The designation of something as camp generally occurs years after the fact. With that in mind, I wonder if people of the counterculture who saw this at the time were genuinely annoyed with the portrayal of their culture. WITS is so over the top and hysterical in its tone that it seems that it would be hard to take it seriously enough to get offended.

It is amazing that, even though the hippie culture is such an easy target for lampooning, there are so many things that this movie gets wrong. Counterculture leader Max Frost is actually quite clean cut, with the exception of a rat tail (I've always said that you gotta watch out for people with rat tails). The characters in this movie also seem quite methodical and calculating for a bunch of stoned hippies. This movie has the feel of the old guard coming to grips with these strange new things called hippies.

I definitely wouldn't have seen this movie as much as I have if it wasn't for the cool music. This is one thing it does get right. Max's band has a pretty poppy psychedelic garage rock sound. Not that the music is without its own cheese factor, but it is obvious that this movie took more care in recreating an authentic sound for its subject rather than a plausible story for its subject (Again, I quite love the implausibility of it all).

I know I've basically said this already, but this is, without a doubt, one of the most awesomely awesome movies ever committed to celluloid. I have a deep love for sixties rock and cheesy scare movies. Suffice it to say, I was in heaven the first time I saw WITS. It has the feel of an old Adam West "Batman" episode, coupled with some rock tunes that I quite enjoy. I would call this a perfect movie but it operates under a fatal flaw. It assumes that, given the chance, fourteen year olds would actually vote. I could believe everything else in this movie, but this is just ridiculous.

(Side note: although, I doubt most of the people reading this have seen WITS, you are most likely familiar with its anthem song, "Shape of Things To Come", as it was used in a Target commercial a few years back. I have included a clip of it in its original context below)

(What the hell, here's another clip.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All the Real Girls (2003)

dir. David Gordon Green

"If anybody smiles at me ever again, I'm gonna freak out."

Like an old love forever engraved in your memory, some movies just stick with you long after you watch them. I saw All the Real Girls for the first time when it came out four years ago, and I hadn't seen it again until a few days ago when I decided to rewatch it and write about it. It was amazing how much I remembered from this movie. In the years since I saw it, I would estimate that I saw another 1,000 movies. So many of these other movies were completely forgettable, and with my short attention span it ain't exactly hard to forget a movie. Watching ATRG again, I remembered all the scenes before they happened and I remembered a good deal of the dialogue. It's rare that a movie affects me so (that's not to say that every movie I have such a vivid memory of is one that I enjoy. Gus Van Sant's crapterpiece Gerry is permanently ingrained in my memory and I fucking hated that movie (side note: for anyone who hasn't seen Gerry, it's very easy to recreate. Step 1: Gather two friends and a camera. Step 2: travel to the desert. Step 3: film the two friends walking through the desert for an hour and a half. Step 4: masturbate to your self indulgence.)).

ATRG is David Gordon Green's second movie, coming on the heels of his masterful, if flawed, debut, George Washington. The plot of ATRG is simple enough. It concerns a group of people in a small North Carolina factory town. Tip (Shea Whigham) and Paul (Paul Schneider) are lifelong best friends. Tip's younger sister Noel (Zooey Deschanel) returns home after being away at an all girl's boarding school for much of her life. Much to Tip's dismay, Paul and Noel become romantically involved. Seeing as Paul has a reputation as the town slut, Tip has reason for concern. He doesn't want see his sister get hurt. Paul has actually developed a deep love for Noel but he can't seem to convince Tip of this. A rift develops between Paul and Tip, and Noel and Tip. From there, the movie delves even further into depictions of heartbreak.

Movie depictions of small towns generally fall into two categories: either an overly glorified praise of simple virtues or an expose on the suffocating simplemindedness of small town folk. This movie falls into neither category. The depiction of small town life here is really spot on, actually. The first time I saw this, I was still living in a small town in Maine and it really struck a chord. Obviously, this movie takes place in North Carolina, but the small town flavor is unmistakable and universal. This movie is filled with little touches designed to give you a good sense of place.

One small thing that just felt perfect to me was a scene, early on in the movie, in which four go nowhere friends (Tip and Paul among them) wander down a railroad track and talk about the butterfly effect (the theory, not the shitty Ashton Kutcher movie). Their dialogue sounds pseudo intellectual but not in such a way that we are meant to laugh derisively at the characters. This is a hard balance to achieve in dialogue writing. It sounds the way real folks talk.

The characters in this movie spend much of their time drinking in different locales (e.g., railroad tracks, by the woods, a bar). Although not exciting, they are contented with this life. The same qualities of a small town that can be constricting and monotonous also have a comforting feeling. It can be hard to see beyond its soothing womb. Now that I've lived in New York for a few years it would be damn near impossible for me to move back to a small town, but I do get nostalgic for it after watching ATRG again.

The love story is truly where this movie shines. I have rarely seen, in movies, such an honest depiction of courtship (wow, what an old fashioned term. What am I, 87) and budding romance. I was quite moved, in fact, by a scene in which Noel tells Paul of a painful memory that she had never told anyone before. She is baring herself completely to him and we can see that, probably for the first time in his life, Paul feels vulnerable. Before Noel, he had never looked at women as anything other than conquests. He is at a loss when this woman feels secure enough with him to emotionally expose herself to him. In a world of shitty romantic dramas where intimacy is usually just synonymous with fuckin' we actually see a couple who is truly intimate. They stand emotionally naked before each other. It also makes what happens later in the movie truly painful.

I would have liked to have seen more of Noel's story. This movie was written by Green and Schneider about their experiences with love. Understandably, because of this, the movie's focus is more on Paul and his group of friends. This isn't to say that Noel doesn't have a voice in the movie. It is just that we never see Noel converse with her friends about her feelings as we do with Paul. The only time we see Noel with her group is at a lake party, and her friends are in the background. We are only at this party during the time that Noel is talking on the phone with Paul. This a shame because an event happens at this party that is a turning point for the movie. We never see it. I suppose it works better, dramatically, not to show this event but I still would have liked to have seen more from her point of view.

Green's work has often been compared to Terrence Malick's. Both of their movies share a beautifully haunted quality, and both directors have a keen sense of the power of images. One key difference to me, however, is that I rarely feel an emotional connection to the characters in a Malick movie, as much as I love his work. In this movie, however, the emotions are quite raw. It is hard not to be affected. While watching ATRG, I was reminded of the way I respond to the characters in Robert Altman movies, particularly in Thieves Like Us. For lack of a better way of saying this, the characters just feel real.

This isn't the kind of movie that I could watch just anytime. It is quite emotionally draining. For people who know me, it probably seems weird that I would gush about a movie like this. I doubt I seem like much of a romantic to anyone. I'm generally kinda reserved when it comes to talking about stuff like that, but this movie is probably the best encapsulation of my feelings and ideas about love and loss (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the only other movie that I can think of that comes as close in its depiction of loss). Everything that I can't put into words is contained in this movie.

To anyone who regularly reads this blog (that's right, all two of you) it's obvious that my reviews are frequently in the first person. I write not just about the movies but how they relate to me. I think it's important for people to know where I'm coming from. Over the years, after all the many movies I've watched, I've realized that there's no such thing as a good or a bad movie. Some directors are more technically proficient, some screenwriters have a better sense of dialogue, and some actors disappear more easily into a role, but in the end a movie is a movie is a movie. Whether any of us thinks of a movie as good or bad depends on our own life experiences and histories of watching movies. While I might admire the writing and performances in a movie like The Hours, I could never think of it as good because I can't connect with it. Conversely, I would be at a loss when trying to explain to someone why I like the works of, trash-maestro, Herschell Gordon Lewis so much. One thing I will say, though, Gerry is a piece of shit.

(side note: I apologize for the relative lack of humor in this post. It won't happen again.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gun Crazy (1950)

dir. Joseph H. Lewis

"Shooting's what I'm good at. It's the only thing I like. It's what I wanna do when I grow up"
-Bart Tare

Gun Crazy is one in a long series of movies dealing with the subject of "Amour Fou" (look at me bein' all fancy n' shit, using them big French words), or as Tony Soprano would call it, "Our mofo". Ever since the days of Bonnie and Clyde, Americans have had a fascination/repulsion with the idea of the lawless couple. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the movies. If you think about it logically, it's a great way to pitch a movie to a studio. "Alright, get this: guys love violent action movies and chicks dig that romance stuff. What we're gonna do is take both of those things and stick 'em together in one movie. It's two great tastes that taste great together." Obviously, that is a flippant way of looking at this. It is quite obvious after watching many of the movies in this "lovers on the run" sub-genre, that they really capture the zeitgeist of their respective eras (now I'm throwin' German words at yo' ass).

Joseph H. Lewis made his masterpiece, Gun Crazy, soon after the end of the Second World War. Like all the films noir of the period, it was marked by a suspicion of the growing power of women in American Society. The male lead in this movie is Bart Tare, played by the underused John Dall (most people will remember him as the butch to Farley Granger's bitch in the Hitchcock movie Rope). Although he is cunning, he is led into a life of crime by an even more cunning femme fatale, Annie Laurie Starr, played by the equally underused Peggy Cummins. That is not to say that Bart is an unwilling partner in this life of crime; it's just that he thinks with his gun instead of his brain.

This movie starts off with a young Bart Tare robbing a gun store. It is revealed that he has an obsession with shooting guns. He doesn't want to harm anyone, however, he just wants to shoot his load (I promise, no more double entendres). After getting out of juvie and then the army, he meets sharpshooter Annie. The two of them hit it off and soon they're on the road together, robbin' folks.

The introduction of the character Annie Laurie Starr is simply stunning. It is quite reminiscent, actually, of John Wayne's introduction in the movie Stagecoach. In this case, however, it's much more sexualized. Bart goes to a sharpshooting show at the carnival. We see through his POV. The camera looks up at an empty stage. Eventually, Annie comes strutting out, guns blazing, and fills the frame as the camera moves up and in on her face. After looking at the camera, she points her gun at it and shoots. She is shooting blanks of course. We cut back to Bart and see that he looks like he's ready to bust a nut. As far as I'm concerned there has never been a more dangerously sexual intro to a character in American movies.

Few movies of its era were as visually daring as Gun Crazy. Part of the reason for this was Lewis' background in making cheapie B westerns. He was frustrated with the poorly written scripts that he had to work with, so he compensated by filming these stories in a visually interesting way. The camera is rarely motionless. This is most evident in the movie's set piece: a bank robbery done in a single take from the back of the getaway car. Some people might call this showboating, but it works in the context of the movie.

Although quite a skilled director, Lewis is one who never gets his props as far as I'm concerned. This is probably due to the fact that, aside from his movie The Big Combo, Lewis really only has one true masterpiece under his belt. I think his lack of true masterpieces has more to do with the fact that he was rarely given masterful scripts to work with. He obviously had the chops and could direct any story like a pro, but unfortunately, those movies aren't gonna get noticed unless the stories are worth following. Like many second tier directors of his time, he would eventually spend the rest of his career directing for TV.

As modern as this movie feels, there are certain things about it that seem downright laughable today -- chief among them being a scene in which a young Bart brings a gun to his elementary school. Although the school's principal confiscates the gun, the town sheriff has an attitude of, 'boys will be boys'. It's hard to believe anyone could be so blasé nowadays about kids bringing guns to school. 'Ain't nothin' wrong with kids bringin' guns to school. It's healthy. It's what kids do.' (side note: not an actual line of dialogue)

Another laughable scene is one that was added after Lewis actually finished the movie. The Production Code was concerned that this movie did nothing but glorify violence. They felt that the movie should make a point of stating that what these two people were doing was wrong. A clunkyly written scene was filmed after the fact and inserted late into the movie. Bart and Annie are holed up in a place on the West Coast and he starts complaining about their life of crime. This bit of dialogue is typical of the poorly written scene:

"Why do you have to murder people? Why can't you let them live?"

In case the audience hasn't learned by now, crime is bad.

Although not a huge success upon initial release, Gun Crazy has struck a nerve with viewers over the years. It's influence can be felt in the multitude of "lovers on the run" movies throughout the years: from Godard's Breathless to Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde to Terrence Malick's Badlands to Jim McBride's remake of Breathless.

There is a small group of movies that I can watch over and over again. Out of my vast collection of dvds there are very few that I have watched on multiple occasions (I used to have a huge addiction to buying dvds. I don't know how much money I've wasted over the years on these things -- so stupid). If I'm in the mood to watch a movie and can't decide on what to watch, I'll usually pop in ol' reliable Gun Crazy. Something about this movie just beckons to me. I guess I'm a bank robber at heart.

(side note: this post does not advocate the robbing of banks (second side note: unless you're as cool as these people))

Monday, October 8, 2007

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

dir. Brian De Palma

"I know drug real from real real."

There are some movies so self-assuredly insane that it is impossible to watch them without a smile on your face. The 70's was the perfect time for a coked up party of a movie like Phantom of the Paradise to get made. I was going to make a remark about it being impossible for a movie like this to get made today but a quick look at imdb reveals that a remake is, in fact, in the works and is scheduled for a release in 2010. By now it seems utterly pointless to complain about the lack of originality in Hollywood. All one can do is sit back and accept it. I actually take a kind of perverse joy in seeing which masterpieces Hollywood decides to give to the latest successful director in order to hip up for the youngsters. I'm just waiting for Paul Haggis to helm a remake of The Rules of the Game, or for Rob Marshall to splooge his artistic vision all over a reimagining of 8 1/2 (side note: I just checked imdb and this is in fact in the works (second side note: fuck)).

Honestly, any complaints about the willingness of Hollywood to rob its past would be disingenuous in a post praising a De Palma movie. De Palma has often been criticized for his apparent lack of originality; in particular, his willingness to rip off Hitchcock. I'm not going to argue against this, but I will say that I have never been bothered by De Palma's propensity for movie theft. His movies are directed with such a confident, unique style that one can not watch one without realizing it is a De Palma movie. His movies may be all style and no substance, as some might argue, but God, what style. It is telling that, in a scene which employs De Palma's famous split screen technique, he pays homage to both surf rock and Touch of Evil, while still advancing the plot in a compelling way.

POTP is a rock opera retelling of Phantom of the Opera, with a little Faust and Picture of Dorian Gray thrown in for good measure. It is significant in that this is probably the least Hitchcock influenced of De Palma's early movies. It has one scene that is an obvious Hitchcock homage to be sure, but it is not the non-stop Hitchcock-suck-a-thon that was a movie like Sisters (a movie that I thoroughly enjoy, by the way).

centers on Winslow Leach, played magnificently over the top by De Palma veteran William Finley. Leach is an overly eager musical prodigy who is in the middle of penning his masterwork: a rock opera of Faust. Leach performs one of his songs for maniacal music producer Swan, played wonderfully by the versatile Paul Williams (Williams is best known for writing the theme to "The Love Boat", playing Little Enos in the Smokey and the Bandit movies, and doing lots of blow). After being blown away by Leach's song, Swan offers to use Leach's music to open his new theater -- The Paradise. What could go wrong, you say. Nothing, aside from Swan stealing Leach's music and getting him thrown in prison after planting cocaine on him. After Leach escapes from prison, he gets caught in a series of events that get him horribly disfigured. Now spending his time terrorizing the Paradise, Leach gets convinced by Swan to stop his shenanigans and finish writing his rock opera. Why would Leach do this, you ask. Because Swan promises to use the woman that Leach has been pining for as the lead in this rock opera, Phoenix. She is played by Jessica Harper -- an actress I had a crush on after seeing Suspiria the first time (Not that I have a crush on her as she is now. I mean this more in the way of, "If I could bang her at her peak." That's what you call a time travel fuck). From there the movie just gets crazier.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the myriad of interesting characters. Aside from the ones just mentioned, there is the eccentric (i.e., flamboyantly gay) glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham). Like everyone else in this movie, he is played extremely over the top (his performance actually seems like an exaggerated Paul Lynde imitation). It's also fun to hear him singing, in typical cock strutting, Stones imitating fashion, about his sexual escapades (although his actual singing more resembles Marc Bolan's shrieked vocals in the T. Rex song, "Rip Off").

Now let's talk about the music. Aside from being an update of Phantom of the Opera, this movie is also a survey of rock history. It covers everything from doo wop to the theatrical hard rock of Alice Cooper. The songs, by the way were all composed by Paul Williams. Williams was actually quite a prolific composer. He wrote songs for The Monkees, The Carpenters, and Three Dog Night. He has a really good feeling for rock genres -- from the tragic death theme of his doo wop song to the Beach Boys inspired ode to cars song's opening line, "Carburetors man, that's what life is all about". Everything about these songs is spot on.

Watching this movie again, there are little flourishes that I hadn't noticed before. Chief among them is a beautifully shot scene, which is reminiscent of a similarly shot scene from the movie In Cold Blood. On a rainy night, Leach is looking through a window into Swan's building when he sees something that saddens him. It is shot in such a way, that the rain streaking down the window looks like tears streaming down Leach's face. The movie is full of little touches like this. It really let's you know that you're watching the work of a director who is a master visual storyteller.

I don't have the best track record when it comes to recommending movies. My tastes are so eclectic that it's hard to gauge, sometimes, what others might enjoy. Some movies that I might think easily accessible and mainstream, like Annie Hall, are met with cold indifference. When I first showed POTP to friends, it was with the warning that it would be too weird and I wouldn't be offended if they turned it off. What a surprise when everyone I recommended this movie to fell in love with it. It's deliriously entertaining in a way that only the best rock opera retellings of Phantom of the Opera can be. If you hate this movie, then you hate life.