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Roger Corman Tag

Opening with Roman Polanski’s Carnage, the 49th New York Film Festival concludes tonight at Lincoln Center. New this year, a leap into the 21st century: online ticketing, which for longtime Film Society of Lincoln Center members like me was  a godsend, no more fussing with “amount not to exceed —” checks stuffed into SASEs, and no more guesswork. The films I wanted to see, I got tickets to see, period. (Never mind that the ticketing site was slow and offered the same description for every movie, meaning a fair amount of toggling back and forth between areas on the site–this was easy street compared to the clunky old way, with papers scattered about like a general planning invasion strategies.)

If only it were this easy even a few years ago, before I traded my Alice Tully Hall seat for a diaper changing table. Stay-at-home (cringe) parenting and the Mrs.’ work schedule restrict me to Sunday and Monday slots, and being a responsible family man I’m not going to spend every waking hour of my weekend on the Upper West Side. (I’m only going to think about spending every waking hour of my weekend on the Upper West Side.) Bottom line: where once I saw 15 or so movies a year, this year, amount not to exceed four. “And that’s that,” says the mafioso in Goodfellas, after rubbing out Joe Pesci. Festivalgoing without pity.

As it happens, my first selection, the Iranian drama A Separation, made me anxious for home within minutes. There’s little escapism at the New York Film Festival, where people go to pray to the cinema gods for a release from Transformers and Jennifer Aniston, and none in A Separation, which puts you in a head lock for two remorseless hours. It’s about a family in crisis, and sitting in the dark I got nervous

Any movie can be great at 2 1/2 minutes!

That’s the credo of Trailers from Hell, and if you’ve ever been burned by a disappointing movie that had a great trailer, you’d be inclined to agree. Shout! Factory, in conjunction with the website, has just released Trailers From Hell! Vol. 2 . The DVD is a twofer of sorts, because not only does it include twenty different trailers for movies both obscure (Stranglers of Bombay) and famous (Jaws), but you can also listen to optional commentary provided by the likes of  Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro, Roger Corman, and more (some of whom worked on the movie they speak about)

With Piranha 3D in theaters now, I thought it might be fun to revisit an old favorite from 1978. Movies like Piranha happened in the good old days of drive-in theaters, when a producer like Roger Corman knew that his low-budget exploitation flicks would always find an audience.

The thing is, the talent pool he drew from back then is a very impressive list nowadays, including Ron Howard (1977’s Grand Theft Auto), Jonathan Demme (1974’s women-in-prison opus Caged Heat), Martin Scorsese (1972’s Boxcar Bertha), Francis Ford Coppola (1963’s Dementia 13), and Joe Dante, the director of Piranha. With Allan Arkush, Dante had previously codirected Hollywood Boulevard (1976) for Corman, but Piranha was his first solo directorial effort.

I must admit a particular affinity for Dante’s films, most likely due to the fact that our brains were both warped at a very young age by watching far too many Warner Bros. cartoons. I saw Gremlins (1984) no less than six times in the theater during its run, and the underrated Explorers (1985) made my Revival House list of six poorly reviewed movies that I love. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) is sharp, self-reflexive satire with a particularly funny “technical difficulties” moment, and Martin Short poking a half-sized Kevin McCarthy in the eyes cracks me up beyond reason in Innerspace (1987).

First-time screenwriter John Sayles smartly turned Piranha from a standard “animals attack” picture into a “military weapons experiment gone awry” picture by having the U.S. government spawn the mutant fish. Sayles became a frequent Corman collaborator before embarking on a very successful career as an independent filmmaker, writing and directing The Brother From Another Planet (1984), Eight Men Out (1988), and The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), among others. If you’d like to hear a great DVD commentary track, check out Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), with Sayles and Corman, two old friends, just shooting the shit.

Piranha 3D PosterThe other day, my son saw the commercial for Piranha 3D and had exactly the reaction you’d expect from a 9-year-old boy: “I WANT TO SEE THAT!” And I had the response required from said boy’s 42-year-old father, namely, “Absolutely not. It’s completely inappropriate.” By which I of course meant, “I WANT TO SEE THAT!”

“Inappropriate” is one of those catch-all words we parents use when we mean, “This is something I’d rather put off discussing as long as possible.” But in the case of Piranha 3D — which, judging from the trailer, consists primarily of people in tiny bathing suits being eaten in extreme close-up by prehistoric fish — the word seems entirely, well, appropriate. It looks like a movie that is completely inappropriate for viewing by almost everybody.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mW5_4gZ0Jn4" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

So why is my gut reaction to run down to my local IMAX and plunk down 15 bucks? After all, I consider myself a student of the cinema. I’ve paid to watch foreign films — with subtitles, not the dubbed kind where someone steps on Tokyo. Once I even went to a library to watch De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a movie in which not a single person was skeletonized in 3-D.

“Hey, roll it, ’cause I’ll tell ya, you know, you’re listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies from watching laserdiscs with director commentary.” —Paul Thomas Anderson, from the Boogie Nights audio commentary

Okay, so I’m an audio commentary junkie. Sometimes I’ll buy a movie I don’t particularly like all that much just because it has a commentary track or other cool extras. It seems like I’m always repurchasing some movie I already own simply because the new version has extra features.

In the laserdisc days there was Criterion. The very first audio commentary track was done by film historian Ronald Haver on the 1984 Criterion laserdisc of King Kong (1933). Unfortunately, many of those Criterion tracks still haven’t made it to DVD, including Martin Scorsese’s commentaries for Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, and Terry Gilliam’s for The Fisher King (all worth checking out, provided you can find a working laserdisc player).

BoogieNightsBoogie Nights (1997; director Paul Thomas Anderson). This is pretty much everything I look for in a commentary track, so it’s really too bad Anderson doesn’t seem to want to record them anymore (to date, this is the last one he’s done). There’s a lot of cool information here, including many anecdotes about the production of the film, but the real fun for me is hearing Anderson talk excitedly about how much he loves to write material for certain actors.

ANDERSON (on actor William H. Macy): And you know, everything you write, you better know what you’ve written, because he is going to say every single word exactly as you’ve written it. And he’ll sort of look at the punctuation, find out what it means. A dash means this, an ellipses means that. You know, this is in quotes, this has been underlined, this has been italicized … He’s all about finding out what the writer means, you know, and he studies the script clearly so well that as a director you don’t really have to do shit. You just have to watch him, because I feel like I did my job as a writer, so being a director was just being a fan.