San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Flash in the Upstairs Rear Window Apartment

I've been taking the TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock class on One of the features of the class is a Daily Dose, a short clip from one of the films under study that is used to discuss certain aspects of the film. In one of the Daily Doses, the opening of Rear Window is shown. I have seen Rear Window somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 times, and there is something I had never noticed until I watched the Daily Dose this morning. 

It occurs approximately 1:30 measured from when James Stewart's name appears in the opening credits (Stewart's name appears before the title and is the first text in the opening credits). I chose this timing because I figured that different versions of the film would have different company logos tacked onto the front of the film. Anyway, at this point the film there is a slow pan of the apartments outside Jame Stewart's Rear Window. During the pan, there is a flash in the window, diagonally above the window where the couple is sleeping on the fire escape. 

I know that the apartments on the set were furnished and had working lights. It's possible that at just that moment a light bulb burned out. Possibly this was noticed and possibly not.  Maybe it was noticed but by the time they noticed it was too late to retake the shot, but I like to think that nothing in an Alfred Hitchcock film happens by accident. So if that flash was not an accident, that means that possibly there was another photographer living in the apartment across the way from James Stewart.

Now what would a photographer running a studio out of his or her apartment in Greenwich Village in 1954 be doing as a means of support? Taking portraits of the neighborhood kiddies? Well, considering there aren't many children in the neighborhood, it seems more likely that the other photographer might be doing something else that paid a little better, like girly pictures. Still, this seemed like a bit of a stretch, but you never know with Hitchcock. 

Then I decided to watch a little further. At  approximately 3:50 to 4:10 (again from James Stewart's name in the opening credits), while James Stewart is talking on the phone with his editor, you see this apartment again. Two women come out on the balcony wearing robes. They lie down on the balcony deck, and you see them drape their robes over the railing above the brick wall that borders that balcony. No indication is given as to whether the women are wearing bathing suits or birthday suits, but they are scantily clad enough to make a passing helicopter come what seems dangerously close to the roof of the building. So does that make the girly pictures thing seem a little less far fetched?

Motivated by this I decided to rewatch the whole film again in fast forward, looking for that window. It is shown again a number of times, but I didn't see anything that would lend more credence to my girly pictures theory. That window appears when the dog is killed. Two man-woman couples are standing in that window, when the woman is yelling about her dog. Nothing indicates that anything unusual is going on. Just two couples having dinner or whatever. Possibly, I'm just imagining things. Possibly, it is Hitchcock's private joke to himself. Likely, we will never know. 

But let's just say that I am right about this girly pictures thing. That means that the whole time James Stewart was obsessing over Miss Torso and worrying about Miss Lonelyheart's love life. He should have been looking in that top floor apartment, where the real action was going on. Then again, if he did that, Raymond Burr might have got away with murder. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

'Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon – Body Heat

This post is part of the 'Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon, hosted by CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH.

I first saw Body Heat in college in a film class. In this class, the professor compared and contrasted classic films with contemporary films, like Casablanca with The Graduate (it was the early 1980s, so The Graduate was still considered contemporary). I don't remember all the film pairs, but I know Double Indemnity and Body Heat was one of them. The comparison of the two is pretty natural. Per IMDB, Halliwells Film Guide called Body Heat an uncredited revamp of Double Indemnity, and The Thriller Film Guide said that the "plot (although not credited as such) is a virtual reworking of Double Indemnity."

Though the basic concept (man and woman conspire to kill her older husband for the money) is identical, Body Heat works just fine. If anything, it takes the idea further and to a much darker place. As neo-noir goes, it's one of the best and for me, Body Heat holds its own with Double Indemnity quite well.

I hadn't seen Body Heat in probably 20 years until I watched it again a couple of weeks ago. I was confident that I would not be disappointed, and I was right. The film was written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, a name that looked familiar to me when I saw the opening credits. He also directed, The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon, and others, and wrote the screenplays for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, yes, the good Star Wars movie. Body Heat was his directorial debut, and at the time, he was afraid he might not get another chance. Thus, he wanted to do a modern film noir, like his favorite classics, Double Indemnity, The Asphalt Jungle, and Out of the Past. Suffice it to say, he succeeded.

Wikipedia calls Body Heat a "neo-noir erotic thriller," and there is no denying the raw sexuality of the film. Even today, I would call it one of the most erotic films I've ever seen. It's about as explicit as a film can get and still retain an R rating. Director Lawrence Kasdan was concerned about the sexuality and wanted to make sure it didn't come off as a male sex fantasy. He hired a female editor, Carol Littleton, the first of many collaborations between the pair. The sexuality is integral to the story and is deftly handled. It doesn't come across as gratuitous. Okay, maybe it does, but you won't care.

The cast consists of at-the-time mostly unknown actors, Kathleen Turner's film debut, and William Hurt's third film role. Though Ted Danson had been getting regular TV work, Body Heat precedes Cheers by by over a year, so he was largely unknown as well. The only well-known member of the cast is Richard Crenna as the ill-fated husband.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a slimy lawyer, not a slimy insurance agent, but to carry on with the Double Indemnity reference, he plays Ned Racine way slimier than Fred MacMurray. In fact, the Ned Racine almost seems to embrace his sliminess. Fun fact: Body Heat was produced by The Ladd Company. Alan Ladd, Jr., made one demand of the film, that William Hurt shave his mustache. He thought it made Hurt look slimy. He even had a rep at Warner Brothers threaten Lawrence Kasdan that if the first dailies came in, and Hurt still had the mustache, it would be a big problem. Lawrence Kasdan was uncertain what to do but ultimately decided to ignore it. To his relief, he never heard anything more of it. The mustache does make William Hurt look slimy, and it's perfect.

The Ned Racine character is portrayed as a womanizer from the very start. In the very first scene, he is standing covered in sweat in his boxers, as the woman behind him is getting dressed. When he meets Kathleen Turner's Matty Walker character the sparks fly. The dialog in Body Heat is crisp and funny like you would expect in a film noir, but between Ned and Matty, it crackles. The chemistry between William Hurt and Kathleen Turner is palpable.

Kathleen Turner wanted the part of Matty from the very beginning, but as her professional credits were mostly a TV soap opera she couldn't get an audition at first. She was working out of New York at the time, and when she returned to L.A. to audition for a different movie four months, she found out that they still had not cast Mattie and finally was able to get an audition. Lawrence Kasdan liked her immediately and said that when he closed his eyes, she sounded exactly like he had heard the character in his head. Her sultry voice is reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, and it sure doesn't hurt that at 26, Kathleen Turner was insanely hot.

Again, there's the temptation to compare Matty to Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. If anything, Matty is better, or worse. There are no cracks in the veneer. At the beginning of Double Indemnity, Walter Neff sees through Phyllis and goes in anyway. For Ned Racine, he doesn't have an inkling until it's too late, and later, as the layers fall away, and he sees how smart and manipulative and bad she is, he can't even do anything about it. He just gets more and more screwed. There isn't even a chink in her armor, not a tear or furrowed brow, until possibly the very very end. 

In Body Heat, Ted Danson plays Ned's friend and a young assistant district attorney with a penchant for dancing like Fred Astaire. They never explain this. It is just a quirk that he has like chewing gum. In fact, William Hurt talks about it with another character, that he finds it weird that he's so good at it. While all of the dialog is smart and funny, Ted Danson's character gets many of the best lines.

Best known among the cast at the time was Richard Crenna as Matty's older husband, who only comes home on the weekends. They leave a lot of Crenna's character up to the imagination. He is unrespectable in a respectable sort of way. He says he was/still is a lawyer, but no longer practices. He is involved with real-estate investments, but you get the feeling he is a gangster but up high enough that he no longer needs to get his hands dirty unless he really needs to. There is an impression of danger about him, like he would kick your ass or shoot you if you messed with him.

Rounding out the cast are Mickey Rourke as an ex-con arsonist/client of William Hurt and J.A. Preston as a police detective and friend of both Hurt and Danson. Mickey Rourke is only in two scenes, but both are great. Though he doesn't know what Ned is up to, only that it involves arson, he tries talk him out of it and even offers to do it for him knowing that William Hurt would make a mess of it. Mickey Rourke tries to protect him, because he owes Ned (wouldn't be on the street without him). He knows that whatever Ned is doing, the reward can't justify the risk. Rourke has a speech about crime that hits about as hard as Edward G. Robinson's actuarial table speech in Double Indemnity does. 

J.A. Preston has made a career out of playing detectives and the like.  He is cynical and tough, but mostly an honest cop, who cares about William Hurt, even though he considers him a screwup. When he is he is put in charge of investigating Richard Crenna's murder, he too tries to warn William Hurt about not doing anything stupid, but by this time, he's in so far over his head, there's nothing he can do. Preston has a bulldog intensity and uses it to try to clear William Hurt, but too many loose ends have unraveled.

Body Heat is a dark movie. It picks up where Double Indemnity left off and takes it about three steps further. There are some great touches, nods to Body Heat's film noir roots. Matty gives Ned a fedora hat even though they were hardly in style in 1981. There's a great shot of him trying it on by looking at his reflection in the car window. In one scene, Matty stomps out a cigarette as she gets out of her car, and it just makes you go weak inside. My favorite little touch happens right before, they commit the deed. Ned is on the street and a very unusual car and driver go by, serving as a surreal and ridiculous warning to him. If you watch close, you'll see a number of great noir touches running throughout the film.

Body Heat is set in Florida in the sweltering heat, but the actual production was anything but. The original plan was have the film set and shot on location on the Jersey Shore. A Screen Actor's Guild strike delayed production by about four months. It was snowing in New Jersey by the time they could shoot. The best alternative was Florida, but it turned out to be the coldest winter Florida had seen in years. For nighttime shoots, the actors had to suck ice cubes to keep their breath from showing. The breeze that Matty complains doesn't make things cooler was practically gale force winds that had to be blocked with a truck to make it look like just a breeze. The sweat that covers the actors had to be spritzed on, and the actors were constantly cold from being wet all the time. It works though, I never would have known had I not watched the DVD special features.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the score by John Barry was excellent. He called the main title theme a jazz ballad with strident piano chords and low-end strings. He was going for the feel of a Humphrey Bogart film, and it works very well. I love 1980s music and electronic music, but there's a tendency for films of the period to embrace it, and the films seem very dated in retrospect. Sticking with a classic feel, Body Heat is timeless and perfect. Another tendency at the time was load films up with pop songs for the sake of selling a soundtrack. That would be have been all wrong. There is just one pop song, Bob Seger, "Feel Like a Number." It works perfect in the one scene, but then we are done.

I guess I should just come out and say it. I love Double Indemnity. It's one of my all-time favorite films. I love Body Heat too. If I had to choose one, I would pick Double Indemnity, but that doesn't take anything away from Body Heat. It's still as great film. The premise of the two films are the same, but Body Heat tells a unique story and places it in a modern context, while embracing the film noir roots it springs from. I could put Body Heat up against any classic film noir or neo-noir, and it holds its own.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Man Who Knew Too Much vs The Man Who Knew Too Much

Alfred Hitchcock made the film, The Man Who Knew Much twice:
  • The Man Who Knew Much (1934) – Made in England, and starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best, and Peter Lorre. Hitchcock considered this version the work of a talented amateur. For simplicity, I'll refer to this version as simply, 1934.

  • The Man Who Knew Much (1956) – Made in Hollywood, and starring James Stewart and Doris Day. Hitchcock considered this version the work of a professional. I'll refer to this version as 1956.

I always considered 1956 to be far superior, but I now realize that a lot of my problems with 1934 stem from seeing it on poor quality copies almost every time I watched it. Having recently seen a good copy of 1934, I've come to realize that I like both quite a bit. I still prefer 1956, but not by nearly as much as I had previously thought.

Between the two films, the basic story is the same but the way they are executed is enough different that watching one does not ruin your enjoyment of the other. Probably, the biggest difference is the ending, 1934 ends with a running gun battle, whereas, 1956 ends with 127 verses of the song, "Que Sera Sera." Remind me again, why I like 1956 better. Oh right, Jame Stewart and Doris Day.

Admittedly, the above is a bit facetious, but both film have their strengths and few if any weaknesses: 

  • 1934:
    • The pacing is excellent. It's a roller coaster ride, and even if there are parts that might seem a little hard to swallow, by the time you could even think that, you're already onto the next scene.
    • Peter Loree is a great actor, and he is kind of the prototypical Hitchcock villain, smart, refined, funny, and likable. If anything, he might be too likable, you kind of hate to see him go. 1956 doesn't really have a villian. Actually, it probably does, but I don't remember a thing about him. The couple that kidnap James Stewart and Doris Day's son are lower level, they take orders from someone, but I couldn't tell you who he was or anything about him. 
  • 1956:
    • Though 1956 doesn't have the break-neck pace of 1934 and adds scenes not in the original version, I never feel that it drags at all. The scenes that are added, though goofy in some respects, are hilarious, so you let it slide. The scene in the taxidermist shop and the friends waiting in their hotel for like 10 hours are stupid but in a fun way. Even Doris Day singing "Que Sera Sera" for 20 minutes still works  (okay, it wasn't that long).
    • Doris Day and James Stewart. For Doris Day, this is the movie that convinced me that she could really act, not just sing and do comedy, and James Stewart, it just doesn't get better than that. In 1934, I don't feel the anguish of the parents. That's what 1956 is all about, well that and the comedy. 
Both 1934 and 1956 are very good but for entirely different reasons.  I think Hitchcock is being too hard on himself with the talented amateur comment. Admittedly, Alfred Hitchcock made some films that are not good. 1934 is not one of them. It holds up well among any of the better Hitchcock films. I do still like 1956 better but 1934 is very good.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Movie Blogathon Hits the Beach

Put on your baggies and wax up your rear-projection surfboard, it's almost time for the Summer Movie Blogathon, June 24 and 25 (first weekend of Summer).

Posts from June 25

Posts from June 24

Posts before June 24


We've been a little generous with our definition of Summer as indicated below. The only rule is no repeats on movies titles, first come first served. If interested, post a comment saying what movie you want to do below. Examples of qualifying films include the following.

Movies with Summer in the title:

  • 500 Hundred Days of Summer  [Taken]
  • The Endless Summer
  • Suddenly Last Summer
  • Long Hot Summer
  • In the Good Old Summertime [Taken]
  • Indian Summer [Taken]
  • Summer of '42 [Taken]
  • Summer of Sam
  • Corvette Summer, they can't all be Casablanca, folks

Movies about the beach, surfing, or summer sports:

  • Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, [Muscle Beach Party is Taken] ...
  • Gidget
  • Ride the Wild Surf
  • Dog Town and Z Boys [Taken, unless someone else wants it real bad]
  • Deliverance
  • Without a Paddle
  • Major League
  • Bull Durham

Movies about summer or hot weather:

  • Stand by Me
  • Grease
  • Dazed and Confused
  • American Graffiti [Taken]
  • Seven Year Itch
  • Weekend at Bernie's

Movies about vacation/camping or set in amusement park/resort area:

  • Coney Island
  • Roman Holiday [Taken] Change of plans, Roman Holiday now open
  • National Lampoon's Vacation
  • Meatballs
  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
  • Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
  • Euro-Trip
  • Woman on the Run

Summer blockbusters (to qualify, must have been released between April and September):

  • Jaws
  • Men in Black
  • Independence Day  [Taken]
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark  [Taken]
  • Ghostbusters [Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II are Taken]
Want to be involved? Post a comment, saying what film you want to cover.

Here's what we have so far:

I've made the above graphics to promote the blogathon. Please feel free to Save as and use as needed.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Movie Blogathon – Dogtown and Z Boys

This post is part of the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by yours truly. 

The blogathon is broken into categories. Dogtown and Z Boys falls in the Movies about the Beach, Surfing, or Summer Sports category. Dogtown and Z Boys is a 2001 documentary about skateboarding and an influential group of skaters, the Z Boys, named for the Zephyr Surf and Skateboard teams of the 1970s. The film is broken into several parts and uses interviews of those involved as well modern skaters and musicians like Tony Hawk and Henry Rollins to tell the story of this time and place and its influence on skateboarding and culture.

The interviews are great. Some of the people, in particular, Skip Engblom, co-owner of the Zephyr Surf Shop, and Zephyr team skater Wenzel Ruml are just hilarious. The film is narrated by Sean Penn who had lived and surfed in and near Dogtown in his younger days. The story of the Z Boys is mostly told the skaters themselves along vintage film and still photography. There's a great Grammy-nominated soundtrack, featuring everything from Jan and Dean, Herb Alpert, and Jimi Hendrix to Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd to Devo, The Stooges, and The Pretenders. The music is seamlessly integrated to what they are talking about.

Also there's a great editing trick that Dogtown and Z Boys uses extensively. A lot of the time when people are speaking, they tend to ramble. Normally, you would see a jump cut to where they get to the point. In this film, they fast forward the video for a split second to do the same. It's kind of a neat and subtle effect. I see it used all the time now, but this is the first film I ever saw it used. Director and one of the Z Boy skaters, Stacey Peralta, even uses the technique on himself in spots.

The film opens with some background on Dogtown, a rundown area consisting of the South Santa Monica, Venice, and Ocean Park beach communities in Los Angeles. Originally, the area had developed as a resort community with several amusement parks, but by the late 1960s, all of them had closed leaving the remnants of dilapidated piers and amusement park rides to rust in the surf. According to Skip Engblom, it was, "... the last great seaside slum." 

Peggy Oki, the only female Z Boy
By the early 1970s, the sport of surfing was in the midst of the short board revolution. Gone were the days of hanging ten and nose riding, surfers were moving to shorter boards to do maneuvers impossible on the longboards of the 1960s. In mainstream surfing, it was mostly flowers and sunsets, but for the boards coming out of Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom's Zephyr Surf Shop, they embraced the aesthetic of car culture and graffiti art. Also an aggressive localism developed in the surf as Dogtown surfers fought to protect their turf from outsiders. This gives a good background on the environment in which these skaters were brought up. Many of them came from broken homes, and Zephyr team gave many of them the structure they lacked at home.

Dogtown and Z Boys then gives a brief history of skateboarding, how it developed and became a national fad in the mid-1960s only to crash and almost disappear as fast as it appeared. Early skateboards used either clay or steel wheels. A tiny rock on the sidewalk could send you flying of the board, making them dangerous and causing many cities to ban them. Then in the early 1970s, the revolutionary urethane wheel made it possible to do things unimaginable on the stone-age clay wheels.

In Dogtown, the next wave of surfers and skateboarders emerged to take the radical approach of influential surfers like Larry Bertleman and apply it to the concrete on a skateboard. Near Dogtown, there were a number of public schools built on hillsides or in canyons with large concrete banks leading into the black top, the perfect spot for taking surf moves to the asphalt. 

Dogtown and Z Boys then looks at the birth of vertical skating. In the mid-1970s, a drought in Southern California caused many home owners to drain their pools, the perfect environment for this new approach to skateboarding. Once the Z Boys found some pools to skate, they knew others were out there. They didn't have permission from the owners. They just came and skated a pool until the cops showed up and then moved onto the next. Often the pools were partially filled with water, and they brought pumps and hoses to drain the pools, so that they could be ridden. 

In 1975, a national championship was held in Del Mar. Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom built skateboards for their team and entered them in the contest. This was mainstream skateboarding's introduction to the Z Boys. They skated like no one else there. Whereas other skaters were doing tricks like handstands and nosewheelies, the Dogtown guys were skating like the hottest surfers from the 1970s. Though their style was unique and innovative, the judges largely gave better scores to the more traditional skaters. Still, their skating drew the notice of a burgeoning skateboard industry.

At the time a newly revamped SkateBoarder magazine started publishing photos and articles about the Z Boys written/photographed by Craig Stecyk, the photojournalist and artist behind the innovative look of Zephyr surfboards. As a result, the Dogtown skaters became instant celebrities, and other skateboard  companies offered the Z Boys contracts to ride for them. The Zephyr team disbanded, and financial issues caused the Zephyr surf shop to close. Of the Zephyr skateboard team, the top skaters were, Stacey Peralta, Jay Adams, and Tony Alva, who all took different paths in skateboarding and life. 

Of the three, Stacey Peralta (who directed and co-wrote the film with Craig Stecyk) was the most responsible. He saw professional skateboarding as a once-in-lifetime opportunity, and he was determined to milk it for all it was worth. He traveled the world, as an unofficial ambassador of skateboarding. Later as his skateboarding career was on the wane, he teamed with skateboard manufacturer George Powell to form Powell Peralta, and their skateboard team, the Bones Brigade, had a huge impact on skateboarding in the 1980s and into the 1990s. In addition, with the help of Craig Stecyk, Peralta produced a series of skate videos that virtually invented the concept of skateboard videos.

Stacey Peralta

Jay Adams was probably the most naturally gifted of the group, but had the most trouble with dealing with the notoriety of being a famous skateboarder. He just wanted to skate, but being sponsored meant showing up on time and having responsibility, and that seemed to freak him out. He made bad choices, like dropping out of school and got heavily involved in drugs. When the film was made in 2001, he was serving time in prison on drug-related charges. Jay Adams died of a heart attack in 2014 at the age of 53.

Jay Adams

Tony Alva was the rock star of the group. They said that all of the Z Boys had enormous egos, but Tony's ego was bigger than all of theirs combined. After riding briefly for another company, he did something unheard of at the time. He formed his own company. Now, in skateboarding, often the top skaters will leave their sponsors and form their own companies. Tony Alva was the first to do this. Also the marketing was as much about attitude as it was about skating. That too has almost become a standard in extreme sports. 

Tony Alva

Dogtown and Z Boys ends with a segment on the Dog Bowl, a pool where the Z Boys had their last and best sessions together as a group. The pool was in a Santa Monica home, and the owner's son was dying of cancer and asked his parents if they could drain the pool, so that his friends, the Z Boys, could skate it.  Here they could skate and not worry about the police. By this point, they were all professional skaters, but the environment gave them a chance to skate and push each other for the pure joy of doing so. 


I actually have very complicated feelings about Dogtown and Z Boys. I have only one problem with the film and that one problem is also the one thing that makes the film work so well. Let me explain. I'm a skateboarder. I grew up reading SkateBoarder magazine. I saw the Z Boys at the time and was amazed by what they were doing. But they were not the only skaters out there. There were lots of great skaters, not among the Z Boys, who were doing things that in my eye seemed every bit as radical and innovative as what the Z Boys were doing. The film makes it seem like the entire skateboard world revolved around Dogtown. It didn't, though as a group, they were hugely influential. 

What makes a good documentary is the narrative. The narrative of Dogtown and Z Boys is the unique point in time, the Dogtown environment, and its influence on this group of skaters and the world as a whole. Because I was following skateboarding at the time, I know that Dogtown was one part of of a much larger scene, and while I would like to see Dogtown placed in a larger context of skateboarding as a whole, doing so would only dilute the film's narrative. 

Also at the time, generally speaking, I didn't like the Z Boys as much as other skaters. The main reason was that with them, it seem to be about attitude, and that bothered me. In particular, Tony Alva seemed to be all attitude, but to pull that off, you have to be good, and he was very good, and at a certain point in time, indisputably the best. I saw Tony Alva skate at the 1976 Hang Ten World Championship. It was in Carlsbad, North County, San Diego. I was 14, and my older brother took me. In the film, there are shots of Tony Alva in a white jumpsuit with a red arrow. That was from that contest. I'm not sure if this is the same contest where Alva won the overall (film says it was 1977). All I know was that when I saw him skate, Tony Alva placed second in the slalom behind Henry Hester. Alva hardly did slalom. Henry Hester and the other top slalom guys specialized in slalom. Tony Alva beat out the others and came very close to beating Hester. That's how good he was.

If I had to pick a favorite skater, it would be Stacey Peralta. He was a phenomenal skater with an incredible style, but what also made me like him was that he didn't seem to have the attitude of the rest of the Z Boys. He just let his skating speak for itself. Seeing Dogtown and Z Boys, I now understand where that attitude came from and how it molded the skaters coming from that scene. It really help me put it into perspective.

In sports like skateboarding and surfing, you tend to have three types of movies. First, you have surf films/skateboard films. These feature the best footage that the filmmakers can put together. If you're a surfer or a skateboarder, you love these. You could watch them all day. If you're not, you probably couldn't sit through the whole thing. Second, you have fictional films about the sport and the people who do it. We're talking about films like Ride the Wild Surf for surfing and Thrashin' for skateboarding. These rarely ever work very well. I can't think of one that I really like.

Finally, you have documentaries with a narrative strong enough to make them appeal to an audience not involved in the sport itself. For surfing, Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer was such a film. To be honest, Bruce Brown didn't set out to make a film about surfers following the summer as they traveled the world. He just wanted to make another surf movie about surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August taking a surf trip to South Africa. When the travel agent suggested that it was only marginally more expensive to take a trip around the world, Bruce Brown decided to go that route. The narrative of following summer by crossing the equator emerged as they were on the trip. It's that narrative, the adventures that Hynson and August have on the trip, and taking surfing to places and cultures that had never seen a surfboard that make into more than just a surf film, something even nonsurfers could watch and enjoy.

For a long time, there wasn't a film like The Endless Summer for skateboarding. Had Stacey Peralta made a film about skateboarding as a whole, skateboarders like me would have loved it, but it would have just been another skateboarding movie to everybody else. By focusing on the Dogtown narrative, that place, that point in time, and that group of skaters, Dogtown and Z Boys becomes something that anyone can watch and enjoy. For someone like me, who knows the bigger story, learning their story, who they were and what they went through, I can now appreciate and see beyond the attitude that to me overshadowed who and they were back then. 

Dogtown and Z Boys was entered in the Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award (in a tie with Good Scout) and the Directing Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It also won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary and received other awards and nominations. This is a great film, and it's well worth the time to watch.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Movie Blogathon – Pajama Party

This post is part of the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by yours truly. 

The blogathon is broken into categories. Pajama Party falls in the Movies about the Beach, Surfing, or Summer Sports category. It is the fourth in American International Pictures Beach Party series, sandwiched between Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo. Though in some respects, it's not a proper sequel, Annette Funicello plays, Connie not Dee Dee, and Frankie Avalon plays a Martian. But if you are trying to keep track of continuity in a Beach Party movie, you are so overthinking it. Still, it has all the earmarks of a Beach Party movie:

  • Frankie and Annette, though not as a couple
  • Series regulars, like Harvey Lembeck, Jody McCrea, Don Rickles, and Candy Johnson
  • Stupid broad humor
  • Rent-paying roles for classic film actors, Buster Keaton in his first of four appearances in Beach Party films, along with Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, and Jesse White
  • Bikinis and dancing to music that was not quite good-enough to sell many records

In Pajama Party, Tommy Kirk plays a Martian scout Gogo sent to prepare Earth for a Martian invasion. He lands in Elsa Lanchester's rose garden. She takes him in, renames him George, throws a bathing suit on him, and sends him to the beach to meet girls. Jesse White plays J. Sinister Hulk, who with the help of Buster Keaton, wants to rob Elsa Lanchester, because her husband died years earlier leaving her a fortune stashed behind a bookcase in what looks like an automat vending machine with stacks of cash. Of course, Harvey Lembeck leads the world's most ineffectual biker gang and is upset at the beach kids for getting footprints on their beach. Right, makes perfect sense.

Native American Buster Keaton gets a scalp (wig), yes, that's
about the level of sophistication you can expect in Pajama Party
Then again, you don't watch Pajama Party for the story. You watch for the stupidity, the girls, and cameo roles for people on the downside of their acting careers. In a way, it's kind sad to think of Buster Keaton having to don dark makeup and a feather in his signature pork pie hat to play Native American, but I'd rather see that than hear that he was pumping gas or drank himself to death in a hotel room. And this time, you get Dorothy Lamour as the manager of Elsa Lanchester's dress shop and singing a number, "Where Did I Go Wrong in front of dancing models, including very young Toni Basil and Terri Garr.

Of course, there's the obligatory chase scene with speeded up car and motorcycle stunts, rear-projection, vehicles plowing through pedestrians sending them flying in the air, a crash that drops into cartoon animation of smoke, debris, and granny's bloomers, and finally, Harvey Lembeck  going off an ocean bluff in a motorcycle side car, "Why? Why me all the time?" Though incredibly stupid, I still find these sequences very funny.

Susan Hart, shakin' butt and takin' names
Though Candy Johnson is credited and can be seen, the hip shaking devastation is mostly done by Susan Hart as she pops caps off Dr. Pepper bottles, breaks glasses, melts candle, and makes a bowl of flowers wilt. Someone should've told the producers that hip shaking causing flowers to wilt  is not sexy, but a sign of poor hygiene. Oh well.

Through much of the film, Annette is frustrated as her boyfriend, Jody McCrea, is too busy organizing volleyball games to realize that she wants some. And next best thing Martian Tommy Kirk is being distracted by one of Jesse White's cronies, a Swedish bikini model (Bobbi Shaw). Annette laments to this in "Stuffed Animal" where she sings about how much better stuffed animals are than the boys in her life. While you're kind of used to Annette staying virginal in these movies, having her on verge of begging for it is an unusual but somewhat sad twist. 

Toward the end, Jesse White throws a Pajama Party for the beach kids and asks Elsa Lanchester to chaperone, but he just wants to get her out of the house so he can look for her money. When Harvey Lembeck and his gang crash the party a fight ensues and just about everybody gets knocked in the pool. Sadly, though everyone is wearing PJs and night gowns, there are virtually no thin wet fabric stuck to hot young bodies shots that you would hope for. Ultimately, Tommy Kirk figures out that Jesse White is up to something and uses a Martian device to teleport White, Buster Keaton, and another henchman to Mars. 

Largely missing from the film is Frankie Avalon. He and Don Rickles play Martians back on Mars observing Tommy Kirk's progress. Through most of the film, you just see the back of Avalon's head and hear his voice. All ends well with the Martians abandoning their invasion plans and  Annette hooking up with Tommy Kirk. I assume Jody McCrea ends up happily sleeping with his volleyball. 

Dorothy Lamour (center) Terri Garr (in yellow, left) and
Toni Basil, I think (purple top, right)

As Beach Party movies go, Pajama Party is nothing Earth shattering. I chose it mostly because it is one that is not shown all the time. If you hate Beach Party movies, you will hate this one too. If you like them, you will be happy to know that Pajama Party doesn't depart from the tried and true formula by more than a fraction of an inch. And having Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Lamour, and Jesse White and very young Toni Basil and Terri Garr make it well worth the watch. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Beginner's Guide to Teapot Racing 3 – This Oolong Earth Build

Been a while since I posted anything on Teapot Racing. And Teapot Racing would be? It is a bit of steampunk silliness, wherein you mount a teapot on an Remote Control (RC) car and race it on an obstacle course. The official New Zealand rules (they made it up) are given here. Now while Teapot Courses will vary, the ones I have seen feature ramps, a banked U-turn ramp, and a slalom course. Thus, I chose a tank as the parent vehicle, because it both climbs and turns well.

Previous posts in this series have looked at:

This post looks at how I created a teapot racer out of an RC tank, using the following:
  • Teapot I bought on It was sold as a child's teapot, though possibly it was a real single cup, probably made in Japan. Anywho, the main thing I was looking for was a small size and lightweight. It's made of thin aluminum. It measures approximately 2 1/2 inches tall by 3 inches in diameter, not counting the handle and spout. Sorry for the poor quality picture I forgot to take one before I put it together.
  • Sided armored off-road crawler All-terrain four-wheel drive high-speed remote control toy car with lights in blue available on Amazon at
  • Toy boat from a 99 cent store. This gave me a platform to mount on which to mount the teapot, that had a somewhat interesting shape on its own. I turned it upside down and backwards to get sort of the effect of a 1930s boat-tail speedster. I bought two of these, so I could have one to experiment on.

  • Black duct tape, a bracket, lots of zip ties, various accessories for decoration, and Pop Metaluna Mutant Mystery Mini Figures as the driver. I talk about these as I go along
Step 1 – Covering the tank with black duct tape. The tank was a blue plastic and was too modern-looking for steampunk, so I wrapped the entire body in duct tape. I suppose I could have painted it, but it had blue LEDs that I didn't like that would shine through the paint. I used fairly small pieces of tape, about 2 to 3 inches long and cut in half lengthwise. That way I could push it down into the contours of the plastic. On the bottom of the tank, there were an access panel to the batteries, a charging port, and a on-off switch. I left these open. 

Note: This vehicle has an antenna. It was not clearly marked, and I didn't think about it until I was about 80% done with the project. I assume the antenna is somewhere under the plastic shell, and once I thought of it, I was afraid that the duct tape would interfere with the radio signals. Fortunately, that was not the case, and it seems to work fine encased in duct tape. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than smart.

Step 2 – Cutting the top off the toy boat. The toy boat is made, so that the top of the boat just snaps into the bottom, but there is a cabin molded into the plastic that was in the way. I cut the cabin off with a utility knife. A small hacksaw would have worked just as well. I also cleaned up any rough spots, with a file. The plastic was soft and cut easily, but do take care not to cut yourself. 

I ended up taking off the rails.
Step 3 – Attaching bracket to the tank body. I found a bracket at a surplus store that sells mostly hardware. It looks sort of like a simple belt buckle. with three bars, the middle one lower than the two on the outside. I knew I wanted to attach the top of the boat with zip ties, and I figured the two bars would allow me to attach the boat top to the tank with 4 zip ties. It the openings in the bracket are roughly the same width as my duct tape, so I could just tape it down. I eyeballed where I thought it should go and taped it temporarily with just one short piece of tape, so I could test it. It seem to be about right, I took it off reattached it with one long piece of duct tape. I wanted the tape to be long enough to wrapped around the front and back of the tank. I know that when I pick up the final teapot racer, I will grab it by the tank body. But I know other people might not be so careful, and I didn't want the whole top of the teapot racer to come off, because the duct tape holding the bracket came loose from the tank body.

This is the bracket I used, running tape through center bar.
Tank with bracket taped down

Step 4 – Attaching boat top to tank. I placed the boat top on the tank and marked where I wanted holes for the zip ties to go through. The plastic on the toy boat is pretty soft, so I used a ice pick to poke holes through the plastic, seemed faster and easier than drilling. Also, sometimes a drill will wander, when trying to drill on plastic with a curve in it. I was planning to use four zip ties to hold it down, but once I got the first two on, it seemed fine with just two.

Step 5 – Attaching teapot to boat bottom. I drilled 4 holes in the bottom of the teapot. I placed it on the bottom of the boat and used a silver Sharpie to mark on the boat where the holes were. I poked the holes (with the ice pick again). Two zip ties later I had the teapot attached to the boat bottom and could snap it on the boat top on the tank. By this time, I knew I wanted to use a Pop Metaluna Mutant Mystery Mini figure as the driver. The scale was about perfect for the small teapot. I also had some small plastic spoons (about half the size of a normal spoon). My daughter suggested that he hold the spoon like a weapon and maybe have a sugar cube in the other hand (that didn't work out).

The figure and spoon aren't attached at this point.

Step 6 –  Attaching the eyes and exhaust ports to boat. Originally, I toyed with the idea of attaching wings like 1950s car tail fins to the back, but that sort of conflicted with the 1930s boat-tail speedster look I'd already committed to. Instead I went for exhaust ports in the rear. For the front, my wife had found these reading lights as Daiso (Japanese chain of 100 Yen stores that they have on the West Coast, everything $1.50). They are shaped like miniature desk lamps, (got four of them):

For the exhaust ports, I found these whistle party favors at a dollar store. The LEDs from the book light fit inside them perfectly, so they light up from the inside. On the eyes, at first I thought I would go with headlights, but then I ran into some eyes that were the perfect size for the shade on the book lights. I used gel superglue to glue the eyes to the shade, so the eyes light up too. I cut the base off the reading light with a hacksaw, just after the first joint.

Then poke more holes and attach the exhaust ports with zip ties.

And same with the eyes. I put them on the diagonal to match what I was doing on the teapot on the next step.

Step 7  –  Make and attach interocitor. Now, I know what you're thinking, what is an interocitor. Well, the Metaluna Mutant was from the 1955 Sci-Fi Classic, This Island Earth. The interocitor is a communication device that the aliens with the prominent foreheads used, basically a inverted triangle-shaped TV screen.

This was one of the toughest things to fake. I just wanted a triangle-shaped thing at roughly the right size to turn into an interocitor. The best I could do was a spatula from a 99-cent store toy cooking set. It was already sort of triangle shaped, and I cut it down to make it more so. Then drill holes through both it and the teapot and attach with zip ties near the handle.

Step 8 – Attach stuff to Metal Mutant. The Metaluna Mutant has two claws but they don't hold anything. The best bet was to drill holes in the spoon and teacup and attach to its arm/claw with more zip ties. I tried a couple of things until I found something that worked well. For the spoon, I drilled two holes in the handle and attaching with a zip tie to the claw. For the teacup (from a 99-cent store toy teaset), I drilled a hole through the cup handle and zip tied to the wrist.

From the back, you can see it, but you have to really
look to see it from the front.

Step 9 – Disassemble and prime and finish plastic parts. Disassembly was a snap. Just cut the zip ties. I used a plastic spray primer, Rust-oleum Painter's Touch Ultra Cover 2x Spray Primer (red, which is more of a rusty brown). Black would have been my first choice, but they don't make that in plastic primer.

The boat had some company info molded into the plastic, so I sanded that off and sanded all of the parts, so that the primer would stick better. I used 150 grit sandpaper. which worked well on the lettering. If I had it to do over again. I would have used 150 grit on the lettering and about 400 grit on the rest (the higher the number, the finer the grit). I think the 400 would have given me a smoother finish.

I had a few extra bits including an extra boat that I primed, so I could play around with the finishes. I wanted to try, doing seams and rivets with a Sharpie.  I was planning to use rub and buff silver for the finish.

My first attempt at seam and rivets with a Sharpie

I used the top of the extra boat as a template to draw the seams on the extra boat bottom that I primed. I made a few mistakes, but better that than on the real one. For the Rub and Buff, I applied to all of the pieces and buffed out with a clean cloth. I played around a second time with colors on the seams and rivets on the spare hull. Since this is supposed to be an alien ship, there's no reason the seams and rivets couldn't be a color. Turns out I liked black for the seams and red for the rivets, respectively.

On the exhaust ports, I did the rub and buff lightly on the middle part, so you could still see the primer in the grooves. Once I got that done, I realized that I didn't like the way the primer looked. Since I had mostly red accents on the vehicle I got red whistles/exhaust ports, I did unprimed red ones with Rub and Buff. Even though, it didn't stick as well, I liked the finished results better.

For the boat top I used three coats of Testors red model paint on the edges that would show. It took three coats to cover the primer.

Then, I drew on the seams and rivets with black and red Ultra Fine Point Sharpie, respectively.

Finally, I wanted to put the name on the side.  I searched online for unusual-looking fonts and found one I could copy reasonably well by hand. It didn't come out perfect, but if I decide later that it really bothers me, I could probably cover it with more Rub and Buff and try again.

Step 10 – Finish off interocitor. I found an image online of Exeter the alien from This Island Earth for the front of the interocitor. While looking, I found some other images of what it looked like when it was off, nothing I could use, but it was a fairly simple design I could re-create with my illustration program. I made a printout of both and cut out about an 1/8 of an inch smaller than the plastic piece I'd made for the interocitor. To attach, the printout, I used clear packing tape.

Step 11 – Reassemble with zip ties. Nothing big here. I did use blue zip ties on the spots that I wanted them to show to match the color of the Metaluna Mutant and contrast with the red accents elsewhere. I then tested it. While the Metaluna Mutant figure sits in place pretty decent, it wobbled around when I was driving. I decided to drill a couple more holes in the teapot, so I could zip tie the figure in place. for this I used a neutral white zip tie because it blended with the color of the teapot, and I didn't want it to show.

Final results