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by Rodger Jacobs

28 Sep 2009

Late in the evening of 24 September, while I was battling the onset of the flu and conducting online research for my next Deconstruction Zone column, I couldn’t help but notice that the news wire services were abuzz with the latest fodder for celebrity gossip; in fact, I believe the story was a trending topic at Twitter for about 20 minutes.

It seems that actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi had been arrested in the desolate West Texas town of Marfa, home of 2,100 citizens, the dusty landscape, founded as a railroad stop in 1883, of the epic motion pictures Giant and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

In the sand-blasted terrain dotted by oil fields that is Marfa, Randy and Evi were taken down by the local constables for a felony warrant issued against them by the Santa Barbara County, California, District Attorney’s Office for burglary, defrauding an innkeeper (skipping out on your hotel bill basically), and conspiracy, all to the tune of $10,000.

Talk about your Bonnie and Clyde moment: the flat dust fields of Texas, the territory of so many bleak and Godforsaken cinematic journeys, on a lonely country road with grit in their teeth, Randy and his former fashion model wife, dragged out of their vehicle after a routine stop, handcuffed, and taken into custody for their offense until the Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez could drive Quaid to a bank to post $20,000 bond to release himself and Evi.

The whole event screams of a Peter Bogdanovich scenario – Randy appeared in Bogdanovich’s classics, The Last Picture Show (1971) and What’s Up, Doc? (1972) – and the cineaste in Quaid must have enjoyed the irony.

Randy is quite the cinephile. I should know.

From late 1980 until 1986, when Quaid moved to New York City to become a cast member of Saturday Night Live, the Texas-born actor and I were close friends and working partners.

Shortly after the production of the 1980 western The Long Riders – Randy appeared in the film as Clell Miller and I was the research consultant on the picture – he hired me to write the screenplay adaptation of a William Hjortsberg novel that he had optioned, Alp (1971), an odd and quirky comedic work about a pair of Swiss brothers, Max and Felix Henkers, who own a tourist resort, and their ongoing dispute about the exploitation of their father’s frozen corpse (he was a world renowned mountain climber) clinging lifeless to a rope on the side of a treacherous, ice-covered mountain.

Randy and I worked on that screenplay for years; twice I moved into apartments on Riverside Drive and Moorpark Avenue in the L.A. suburb of North Hollywood so that work – and Randy’s film education – could continue.

The man ate, lived, and breathed cinema. He whisked me off to film festivals at all of the Los Angeles revival houses and art galleries. I endured an Abel Gance festival, learned to appreciate Sergei Eisenstein and Arthur Penn, chuckled over the self-conscious camera work in Blade Runner, ruminated over Brando’s quirky performance in The Missouri Breaks (which Quaid also appeared in) over coffee after a screening at the NuArt Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Randy wanted to be a filmmaker. He was serious about it. But then something happened in the late 80s. He divorced his first wife Ella, the mother of his daughter Amanda Marie, married a former fashion model, and became a stock player in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, Independence Day (1996), and even swooped so low as to play Cappy von Trapment in the box office bomb live-action version of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle in 2000.

The movies cited above—which the exception of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which I inserted as a personal low for such a fine actor but, hey, maybe he had bills to pay—were the titles referenced by the wire services in their write-ups of the Quaid arrest on Thursday, along with his supporting role in Brokeback Mountain—which is sort of heartbreaking, when you think about it.

Quaid is an actor who appeared in so many seminal Hollywood classics of the 1970s—Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee in 1973) and Bound for Glory, Alan Parker’s harrowing Midnight Express (1978) and the aforementioned Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc?—and then went on to a second career in television, cast in roles that he always dreamed of playing: Steinbeck’s man-child Lenny in Of Mice and Men (1981), Mitch in the TV adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and a Golden Globe-winning performance as U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson in LBJ: The Early Years (1987).

But the news wire services reference instead National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

When I interviewed Reed Martin, author of The Reel Truth, about iconoclastic ‘70s filmmaker Hal Ashby for my September Deconstruction Zone column for PopMatters, the film scholar isolated Quaid’s performance as the doomed Navy seaman Larry Meadows in Ashby’s The Last Detail – starring Jack Nicholson and the late Otis Wilson as the shore patrol officers assigned to escort a young Petty Officer to the brig for the theft of a candy bar – as a major component of what made the picture work, aside from a brilliant screenplay by Robert Towne based on the debut novel by Darryl Ponicsan, and a major influence on future generations of film actors. That text was excised for purposes of length but I present it to you here unedited as I crawl back into bed to nurse the dreaded influenza:

Ashby’s The Last Detail is worth revisiting or renting for those who haven’t seen it – because it sort of gives audiences a clear vision of what Randall Patrick MacMurphy’s life might have been like had he not fallen asleep at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He would have almost certainly gone outraging and tearing up the town as his character Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky does in The Last Detail.

In fact, the central goal of the two characters is the same: to show a young guy who is down on his luck and facing imprisonment, a good time as only a Nicholson character can. In Cuckoo’s Nest Nicholson’s character wanted to save Brad Dourif’s Billy Bibbit and in The Last Detail it’s Randy Quaid’s young seaman Larry Meadows who is heading off to prison. What kind of shocks many Gen-X and Gen-Y moviegoers is realizing that Randy Quaid was once a young man because they have probably only see him play a dozen dads and uncles in the last twenty years.

Patton Oswalt in Big Fan resembles Quaid’s performance as Larry Meadows in a lot of ways, which gives audiences today an idea of how many years of terrific performances they can expect of him in the future that he is no doubt going to inhabit so convincingly.

by Michael E. Ross

28 Sep 2009

Death, where is thy drop off the radar screen? The industry, phenomenon and force of artistry known as Michael Jackson is very much alive, if not its namesake. Columbia Pictures is readying release of Michael Jackson’s This Is It, a film of Jackson in rehearsals for the tour that will never be. The film is set for theatrical release Oct. 28, but advance tickets are available as of Sept. 27 (a smart marketing approach on Columbia’s part, one that seeks to extend the frenzy of a live Jackson show into the multiplexes for what will be nothing less than a cinematic wake).

But the Michael behind Michael, the mystery of the man behind the machine, was the subject of an often-moving segment of “Dateline”, aired on NBC Friday night. “The Michael Jackson Tapes” explores Jackson’s inner hells and private joys, all chillingly documented in his own voice. Programmes consisting largely of crawl lines of words transcribed from audiotape have rarely been this emotionally compelling. Ironically, in its reach for the mysteries of this incandescent figure, the hour-long programme only deepens those mysteries; by the show’s end we’re more familiar with the how; the why of Michael Jackson remains as elusive as ever.

The tapes belong to Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, a longtime friend and advisor Jackson met in 1999, a man who saw the singer through some of his most turbulent times, including the troubling years after his lacerating child molestation trial. Boteach got Jackson to open up, to some degree, on any number of the behaviors that made Jackson a target of opportunity for comedians, bad tabloid newspapers and, let’s be honest, all of us.

by Allison Taich

28 Sep 2009

In 1984, the Talking Heads’ release of Stop Making Sense floored critics and fans alike, securing a place in music history as one of the greatest documentaries and performances captured on film. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker described it as “a dose of happiness from beginning to end.” Now, 25 years later, the film is being re-released on Blu-ray by Palm Pictures, on October 13th.

The film was directed by Jonathan Demme, and filmed over a period of three separate performances at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, in December of 1983. As the concert progresses, the complexity of the music and presentation grows. There are few cutaways and no interviews; the audience doesn’t even appear until the end. The film is focused around the music and the eccentric talents that created it.

Its 1999 DVD release included an audio commentary with Demme and all four band members, David Byrne’s storyboards and notes, bonus songs, Byrne’s self-interview video, text notes and the film’s trailer. The Blu-ray features the same extras as the DVD, plus a never-before-seen, hour-long press conference with the full band, filmed in 1999 at the film’s theatrical re-release.

With an enhanced visual and audio experience, Stop Making Sense is sure to inspire you to throw on an over-sized suit and frantically dance about.

by Tyler Gould

28 Sep 2009

This post is about a video game, but I implore even the non-gamers among us to pay attention, because The Shivah, though it first came out in 2006, is still in a class of its own. You can see right on the cover art that it’s a “rabbinical adventure of mourning and mystery”, which you generally won’t find at your local game dealer. The Shivah is normally a scant $4.99, and is of such a high caliber that it almost feels wrong to take it for free, but Lincolns can be hard to come by these days, and the man (developer Dave Gilbert) is just giving it away.  Go here before midnight tonight and use the coupon code “FreeShivah” to obtain one of the more notable indie games of the past few years.

by PopMatters Staff

28 Sep 2009

Apricot Rail
Apricot Rail
(Hidden Shoal Recordings)
Releasing: out now

Most instrumental rock suggests the apocalypse is coming. If it is, Apricot Rail are too busy crafting beautiful lilting melodies to care. This Australian quintet have the charm, humour and songwriting nous—and a killer live show—to re-ignite anyone’s belief in music’s subtle, giddy powers.

“The album’s (and arguably the band’s) crowning achievement has to be ‘The Parachute Failure’—it’s spine-tinglingly anthemic and really leaps out at the listener. It so beautifully epitomises the band’s key strengths, as evidenced throughout this remarkable debut—powerful and emotive melodies that engage through the push and pull of delicate restraint and blissful abandon In a word: lovely.” –- Drum Media (CD of the Week).

01 A Public Space
02 If You Can’t Join Them, Beat Them
03 Trout Fishing In Australia
04 Pouring Milk Out the Window (Single)
05 Car Crash
06 Wadnama
07 Rain Falls on Your Nose, It’s Red From the Cold
08 The Parachute Failure
09 On the Trolley
10 Halfway House

Apricot Rail
“The Parachute Failure” [MP3]

Photo: Tom Cramond

Photo: Tom Cramond

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