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by Bill Gibron

14 Sep 2009

That audible gasp you heard last week was film geek society struggling to come to grips with what they just heard. After years of being marginalized as the man who produced more bad b-movie dung than any other independent maverick, after decades balancing unbelievably bad schlock with a cadre of novices who turned into industry giants, Roger Corman was getting an honorary Oscar. Yes, you heard right - the man who made the original Little Shop of Horrors, who helmed a series of spectacular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for his American International Pictures was picking up the film biz’s biggest tribute, an award that many far more famous and talented have never received.

Granted, it’s nothing more than career-retrospective recognition, and when you’ve got a list of names you helped shepherd into cinema like Corman does (just a few of the names include Coppola, Scorsese, Howard, Bogdanovich, Demme, and Cameron), such a nod was inevitable. And since the Academy of Arts and Sciences is looking for ways to remain relevant in the instant access and opinion platitudes of the Web World, giving Corman one of those coveted gold statues is a guaranteed way to get the normally jaded celluloid know-it-all to sit up and take notice. One imagines the decision had less to do with such crass commercial matters and actually stemmed from Corman’s contribution to film.

Still, it will be pretty amazing to watch the man responsible for such tacky ‘50s terrors as Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent and Teenage Cave Man get his just rewards. Heck, the video overview alone will be worth tuning in for. Corman, like the exploitation pioneers who copied his go for broke approach, rewrote the rules of post Golden Age filmmaking, tackling genre titles and favored commercial categories (the Western, the War movie) with slavish shoestring abandon. He once bragged that he could make a Roman Empire epic with “two extras and a bush”, but he was much more proficient than that. Indeed, Corman gave voice to hundreds of otherwise ignored actors, actresses, writers, directors, and production crew, using his skinflint style to minimize returns while maximizing results.

His honorary Oscar, however well deserved, does break new ground for the formerly stodgy society, introducing the possibility of having other outsider mavericks make their way up the stairs to the Kodak Theater. If SE&L may be so bold, perhaps we could champion a few choices for future ballots. After all, if the guy who gave us a plethora of pathetic horror hackdom in the ‘70s and ‘80s can win your ultimate approval, we think these five people deserve a similar statement of artform significance. Each one has given in ways that are undeniable in the annals of film and to leave them out while letting Corman in seems, well, criminal, starting with the man responsible for the continuing commercial appeal of the gross out comedy:

John Waters

For his amazing trilogy of ‘gals gone gonzo’ films - Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living - this aging Baltimore bad boy should be first up for his piece of AMPAS metal. Waters took his passion for underground moviemaking, married it to a sense of humor formed out of juvenile delinquency and proto-perverted fixations, and fashioned some of the funniest films ever to be ignored by the mainstream. By the time Hollywood embraced his pristine piece of PG nostalgia, Hairspray, it had been transformed into a boring Broadway hit. Yet the rest of his oeuvre - Cry-baby, Polyester, A Dirty Shame, Pecker, Serial Mom - confirm his status as the king of stingy suburban satire. If anyone deserves an Oscar, it’s the former (and still reigning) Prince of Puke.

Kenneth Anger

As one of the many cinematic anarchists that got Waters creative juices flowing, Anger is an artist trapped in a maniac’s moody persona. Some days, he’s a diva. On others, his affiliation with the Thelematic philosophy and Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law - Liber AL vel Legis drives his wholly insular motives. And yet the movies he’s made - Scorpio Rising, Rabbit’s Moon, Lucifer Rising, among others - are visionary works of undeniable cinematic scope. What makes this particular selection all the more spicy is that Anger is also responsible for uncovering and publishing many of Tinseltown darkest, dirtiest secrets. His infamous Hollywood Babylon books first introduced curious fans to the horrors of the Black Dahila, the truth behind the Fatty Arbuckle case, and the murder of Sharon Tate.

Alejandro Jodorowski

For El Topo and The Holy Mountain alone, this hallowed Hispanic savant should have a permanent place in the Academy’s Hall of Fame. Both movies represent the very pinnacle of revisionist reinvention, the former finding solace in the spaghetti western, the latter as a denouncement of religion and the manipulative mainstream media. Together with other exceptional works - Fando y Lis, Santa Sangre - Jodorowski remains a man married to his singular sense of art and the expressions of same. While he does dabble in mysticism and some eccentric philosophical pursuits (psychomagic?), his works continue to impress and inspire. If Oscar is indeed looking to extend its awareness of the talent triumphing in the rest of the world, this directing genius would be a great place to start.


Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe)

Come on Oscars - show you’ve got a backbone and celebrate this Brazilian horror filmmaker who challenges his countries love of religion and government oppression by outwardly mocking them in his supposed scary movies. A blasphemer as well as an iconic man of the people, Marins has turned a tired stereotype - the evil undertaker- into a macabre action hero, an immortal who confronts the hypocrisy in society by reflecting its repugnance in his own evil. His Coffin Joe films remain the most astonishing - violent, vehemently anti-Catholic, and volatile in their celebration of all things flesh. Besides, with his six inch long fingernails, it would be wonderful to see how he actually “accepts” his award. Could make for some very memorable television.

K. Gordon Murray

So what if he never really made a movie on his own. Who cares if he exported almost all of his product from behind the Iron Curtain (or from somewhere South of the Border) and redubbed it for clueless ‘60s kiddies. Murray made a mountain of moolah providing such surreal matinee fodder as Little Red Riding Hood, Santa Claus, The Magic Land of Mother Goose, Curse of the Doll People, and Jack and Beanstalk. Most of these Russian/Ukranian/East German/Spanish/Mexican productions were blessed with big budgets and impressive effects, but Murray managed to find a way to sap all the magic out of these culturally specific fairy tales.  With a major documentary on the man coming soon, it’s time Hollywood acknowledged his contribution to the crap kid vid it puts out today.

by Rodger Jacobs

13 Sep 2009

All James Patterson wants for Christmas this year is an IBM Selectric, several drums of teletype paper, and maybe an espresso machine.

The Hachette Book Group announced today that it has finalized terms with the bestselling novelist and children’s book author on a deal that will see Patterson pounding out 17 books ... in three years.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hachette reported that 11 of the titles will be aimed at the adult market and will be released by Little, Brown and Company.

Seventeen books ready for delivery between now and the end of 2012 comes down to six books a year. A colleague who delivered the news this morning summed it up best: “Patterson is just going to be giving his audiences first drafts.”

by PopMatters Staff

13 Sep 2009

Thao With the Get Down Stay Down
Know Better Learn Faster
(Kill Rock Stars)
Releasing: 13 October

Thao teams with the Get Down Stay Down on her follow-up to the critically acclaimed We Brave Bee Stings and All. Tucker Martine, producer for the Decemberists, Bill Frisell, and Spoon, mans the control mans the control booth and members of Blitzen Trapper and Horse Feathers take guest turns on the recording along with Andrew Bird and Laura Veirs.

01 The Clap
02 Cool Yourself
03 When We Swam
04 Know Better Learn Faster
05 Body
06 The Give
07 Good Bye Good Luck
08 Trouble Was For
09 Oh No
10 Fixed It!
11 Burn You Up
12 But What of the Strangers
13 Easy

Thao With the Get Down Stay Down
“Know Better Learn Faster” [MP3]

by PopMatters Staff

13 Sep 2009

Basement Jaxx
UK: (XL) US: (Ultra)
Releasing: 21 September (UK) / 22 September (US)

As usual the superb London electronic group is teaming with a batch of stellar guests on their new release. This time look for turns from Santigold, Yoko Ono, Kelis, Amp Fiddler and many more. This is one of the most anticipated records of the year in PopMatters’ quarters.

01 Scars ft. Kelis, Maleka & Chipmunk
02 Raindrops
03 She’s No Good ft. Eli “Paperboy” Reed
04 Saga ft. Santigold
05 Feelings Gone ft. Sam Sparro
06 My Turn ft. Lightspeed Champion
07 A Possibility ft. Amp Fiddler
08 Twerk ft. Yo Majesty
09 Day of the Sunflowers (We March On) ft. Yoko Ono
10 What’s a Girl Gotta Do? ft. Paloma Faith
11 Stay Close ft. Lisa Kekaula
12 D.I.S.tractionz ft. Jose Hendrix
13 Gimme Somethin’ True ft. Jose James

Basement Jaxx
“Scars ft. Kelis, Maleka & Chipmunk” [MP3]

by Bill Gibron

13 Sep 2009

Some artists work in oils, or plaster. Some use a brush or a chisel. Dalton Trumbo used words, craftily painted on standard white paper with the help of a well worn typewriter. By the time he was in high school, he was a cub reporter for his local Colorado newspaper. After college, he wrote for Vogue, published his first novel, and headed out to Hollywood. By the 1940s, he had won the National Book Award for his cautionary anti-war tome Johnny Got His Gun, and was one of the industries highest paid screenwriters, famous for such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Kitty Foyle, and A Guy Named Joe. When WWII broke out, Trumbo affiliated himself with the Communist Party because, as he would later argue, “it was the most liberal organization out there.” It was a decision that would come to redefine, destroy, and darken his life - both personally and professionally - until his death at age 70 in 1976.

It’s the stuff of legend, his story as mythical as any poetic Greek epic and twice as telling. When Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee came calling in 1947, Trumbo refused to do the “patriotic” thing and name names. Found in contempt of Congress, he served 11 months in Federal Prison and was systematically blacklisted from his chosen profession. Nearly a decade in the throws of radical national jingoism and un-employability, he escaped to Mexico, finding solace in his fellow exiles Hugo Butler and Jean Rouverol. During his time down South of the Border, he still created, crafted over 30 screenplays, using various pseudonyms and ‘fronts’ to keep his name off the credits. He eventually earned two Oscars - one for 1953’s Roman Holiday and again in 1956 for The Brave One. He was unable to accept either one. 

He also found an outlet for his ever-present muse in correspondence. Dalton Trumbo wrote thousands of letters over his lifetime, brilliantly crafted missives on any and all subjects, from love and life to freedom of speech and the risks of dissent. Combined with basic documentary material, these letters form the foundation of Trumbo, a terrific film that makes the wise decision to let this misunderstood man explain himself - in his own beautifully formed words. Read by actors like Josh Lucas, Paul Giamatti, Brian Dennehy, Joan Allen, Liam Neeson, and David Strathairn while using insights from others like Donald Sutherland, Dustin Hoffman, and Kirk Douglas who actually worked with the man, director Peter Askin uses Trumbo’s son Christopher’s stage play as the starting point for a vicious denouncement of ‘50s mob mentality, the power in playing the contrarian, and the personal toll such a stance took on everyone close to him.

While the various readings are indeed excellent, each performer capturing difference nuances and hidden treasures in Trumbo’s erudite and eloquent screeds, it’s the facts that remain the most startling. Following along as Askin outlines Trumbo’s rise, watching as he moves effortlessly through the various stages of Tinseltown power-brokering and his various commercial and critical successes tranforms the later sequences into a seething statement against blatant injustice. Balanced brilliantly with anecdotes and celebrations of his friendships, his three children and his amazing marriage to wife Cleo, we get the whole picture, a portrait painted in stellar sentences, expert paragraphs, and well rounded rebuttals. Indeed, one of the greatest joys this film has to offer is the sound of Trumbo’s masterful writing reimagined by actors who get to the very heart of what he has to say.

Still, some subjects deserve more time than others, and it has to be said that the blacklist seems like an afterthought most of the time. Clearly stifled by what Trumbo did (and did not) write about the experience, the documentary loses his all important voice during the height of the Red Scare reign of terror. It could just be a matter of pure audience greed - Trumbo is so dead on regarding other elements of the man’s amazing life (including his introduction to Hollywood and, as Barton Fink might describe it, the “life of the mind”) that when we don’t get the ballsy blow by blow the material suggests, it seems disappointing. Even odder is the rush toward the ending. Kirk Douglas makes an impassioned plea for his role in returning Trumbo to the land of working writer’s via Spartacus, but we hear nothing in the follow-up: how did Hollywood react? How did he manage? What repercussions remained?

Also absent, albeit not completely, is Trumbo’s late in life triumph - the film version of his prize winning tome Johnny Got His Gun. Sure, the movie gets a mention, and Sutherland is on hand for the necessary reminiscence, but like the blacklist section, we want more. As with any truly larger than life individual, 90 minutes of well-intentioned tribute just can’t cover all that needs to be addressed. Still, what’s here is choice, spell binding in its combination of philosophical strength and literary acumen. Make no mistake about it - Dalton Trumbo was a master of the English language. He could turn any subject into a blissful satiric dissertation. One highlight has Nathan Lane’s reading of a letter Trumbo sent to his adolescent son, referencing a book about masturbation. The hilarious (and scatological) language employed is like the lost sections of a great jazz improv.

Even with the gaps and passages that could go on longer, Trumbo is a triumph, a compelling look inside a time in our recent past that keeps threatening to bubble up and retake the present. If we think the blacklist and power hungry professional psychos like Sen. McCarthy are lessons already learned, think again. Indeed, Trumbo would tell you that whenever a society feels scared about the situation it’s in - either positively or negatively - the people always seek out a sacrificial scapegoat as a means of settling their angst. In the post-War world of a United States frightened by its role in the great arms race, the Communist was the easy pariah - and Trumbo and his family paid the ultimate price for their left leaning views. It’s hard to imagine a time when America kept political prisoners - detainees held under lock and key for no other reason than their opposing policy views. In 2009, we’re no further away from such kneejerk reactions. Think again. Like the great artist he is Trumbo’s work speaks as loudly today as it did 50 years ago. Perhaps we should all listen.

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