Monday, February 1, 2016

SPAGHETTI WESTERN FACTORY! PLUS ‘THE PRAIRIE’, ‘HOLLYWOOD GOES WEST’ REVIEWED, AND MORE!



Ray Watts in PRICE OF DEATH


‘PRICE OF DEATH’ NEWEST EURO-WESTERN FROM SPAIN’S THRILL-FACTORY!


Production on PRICE OF DEATH wrapped just before the end of 2015.  In it, a bounty hunter hires on to transport a killer to his execution, unaware that the killer has a fortune stashed along the way, and former accomplices will do whatever it takes to recover the loot. 

Many of the same filmmakers are now hard at work both on post-production of PRICE OF DEATH, and pre-production for their next, THOU SHALT KILL.  Their first Western, last year’s 6 BULLETS TO HELL, has been playing the festival circuit for some months, and will soon get a general release.   As the market’s appetite for Westerns is growing, companies like Chip Baker Films and Privateer Entertainment are stepping up to meet that need with a studio/factory approach. 

It all started, appropriately enough, in Spain, at The Almeria Western Film Festival in October of 2012.  Danny Garcia and others from the Chip Baker company were running the event, and met Texas writer/director/actor Tanner Beard, whose Western film, LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE, was screening.  Soon, Tanner and Russell Quinn Cummings, one of his HELL’S GATE stars were co-directing 6 BULLETS, produced by Privateer Entertainment, with a script by Chip, Tanner, Russell, Danny, and Jose Villanueva.

THE PRICE OF DEATH, produced by Chip Baker Films, was directed by Danny.  He scripted, along with Jose, and Aaron Stielstra, an actor who came to the Almeria Festival to promote his American Western, THE SCARLET WORM.  He also stars in 6 BULLETS, PRICE OF DEATH, and will be in THOU SHALT KILL, to be directed by Tanner Beard.  Similarly, British-born America actor Crispian Belfrage, who starred in three U.S.-made Westerns – THE DONNER PARTY, DOC WEST, and TRIGGERMAN (all 2009) – is one of the stars of all three Spanish Westerns.  You get the picture – this close-knit pack of filmmakers, with ever-shifting roles, is working on their third Western in a couple of years, with more in the pipeline.  I spoke to Danny Garcia, director and co-writer of PRICE OF DEATH, and principal in all of the films, about making a string of back-to-back Westerns.


Danny Garcia


HENRY: What does the label ‘independent filmmaker’ mean to you?  

DANNY GARCIA: Well, to me it means freedom, not needing to respond to anyone except yourself. It’s also a huge challenge to put a production together without major support and the hours of work you put into any film is sometimes utterly insane. It’s also an exercise of blind faith as with any other art form.   

HENRY: What are the advantages and disadvantages, especially in making a western?

DANNY: In theory they’d all be disadvantages because any period piece you shoot has already the inconveniences of having to sort out the correct period wardrobe, weaponry, the proper locations, the horses, props, etc to make it look real so the public can immerse themselves in the story you’re trying to tell without breaking their fantasy, because there’s an antenna on top of a hill or something.  But of course, I´m making Westerns because I love the genre, despite it all.

HENRY: Was there any particular inspiration for the story of THE PRICE OF DEATH?

DANNY: Not really; the idea was to write another fun, action packed western that we could shoot within a short time frame and in a few locations within a small region. But the movie has a few references to some of my favorite films like THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; 3:10 TO YUMA, PLANET OF THE APES and MIDNIGHT RUN.


HENRY: What was it like to direct your first feature, and to do it on locations where Leone and Corbucci worked?

DANNY: It was really a great experience and a lot of fun. Working with actors like Ken Luckey, Crispian Belfrage and Aaron Stielstra, whom I had already worked with on 6 BULLETS TO HELL was very easy, because we were already acquainted and also the chemistry between them gave us some brilliant moments. Shooting in those locations was a pleasure, but it also means a lot of responsibility, because they worked a dream for all those great directors in the past and you know you have to come up with something good. But while we were shooting there, I thought of Leone, envisioned him winking at us and thought to myself: cool, we’re on to something here.

HENRY: This is your first time directing a western, but your second time writing and producing.  What did you learn on the first film that helped you with the second?  What differences were there from one film to the next?

DANNY: I learned a lot working with Tanner Beard and Russell Cummings, who both directed 6 BULLETS. That wasn’t my first rodeo, but I loved the way they worked together because it was very relaxed yet at the same time they put a lot of energy and tension into every scene. Also it was good to see the way they were coaching the actors and the amount of improvisation they were allowing to happen on set.


As a director and producer you have to deal with everybody all the time, and there’s no such thing as a day’s rest during the shoot. On days off I had to prepare the scenes for the following day so it’s nonstop. I tried to apply everything I had learned in the past and studied how people like David Milch worked on the set of DEADWOOD for instance. All you gotta do is watch a bunch of ‘making of’s and learn from the best to figure out how to do it.

HENRY:  What advantages are there for making films, particularly Westerns, in Spain?

DANNY: Working in Spain still has the same advantages it had back in the 1960’s when the great Italian directors made those landscapes world-famous. Basically it’s all to do with the terrain, the light and the amount of hours of daylight you can shoot in one day; plus the economic aspect which of course is also very important. Shooting in Spain is still a lot cheaper than shooting in the US or Canada and that’s why there’s a growing number of foreign films and TV series being shot in Spain every year.

HENRY: In the last two films, and others you have upcoming, you use many actors and crew members repeatedly.  You are creating a stock company, as did Leone, John Ford, and many others.  What are the advantages of having a Danny Garcia stock company?

DANNY: It’s funny because when you shoot a western the cast and crew become a family almost instantly, perhaps a dysfunctional one but still, a family. And that’s what actors like (late Spaghetti Western stars) Frank Braña or Nicoletta Machiavelli told me in the past; that there’s something about shooting  westerns that makes it different from any other genre. It might be the fact that you’re working with animals and gunpowder that turns it into a sort of circus. Anyway, the idea is to work as much as possible with those who you feel comfortable working with and that you know will deliver and bring in new people each time so the family keeps on growing. And I’d call it a Chip Baker Films stock company in any case.

HENRY: In the script you have a climactic shootout in the snow, but I understand that sequence had to change.

DANNY: I’m sure it would have been hard to shoot but the reality is that when we got to the top of the mountain there was no snow whatsoever, although it was late November, so of course we had to shoot it without it. That’s one of the things when you’re producing independent films, the need to adapt to every situation. One of my favorite things is to have part of the crew dress up in period wardrobe as well and have them walk past the camera whenever they’re free. I even do it myself, mainly because it’s a lot of fun.


Aaron Stielstra


HENRY:  What else should I know about you, your life, your vision as a filmmaker?

DANNY: My uncle’s cousin was Otto Preminger, so growing up I’d always heard stories about him, and we watched his movies. Actually, I watched classic Hollywood films with my parents every night when I was a kid so I guess that’s where all my filmmaking fantasies come from. It’s all thanks to them.  My plan is to keep on directing, writing and producing quality films in the next few years. I have a couple of scripts that hopefully will be produced this year. The idea is to continue working and growing as a filmmaker.

HENRY: 6 BULLETS TO HELL was a spaghetti western, an homage to the films that came before, and even had a post-dubbed dialogue track.  Do you consider THE PRICE OF DEATH a spaghetti western in that sense, or would describe it in some other way?

DANNY: 6 BULLETS TO HELL is a full-on spaghetti western, and a tribute as you say to those who rode in that desert 50 years ago. THE PRICE OF DEATH is an action/western film. It’s obviously influenced by our love for  spaghetti westerns, and not only Leone and Corbucci; I personally love the work of Tonino Valerii, Ferdinando Baldi, Antonio Margheriti and Demofilo Fidani as well.  And same goes for Aaron Stielstra and Jose L. Villanueva, who co-wrote the script with me and are also fanatics of the old Italian westerns.

In the next Round-up, I’ll have my interview with one of the stars of all of these films, Crispian Belfrage.


THE PRAIRIE – A Movie Review



So much of what we think of as a Western story comes from Owen Wister’s ground-breaking  novel THE VIRGINIAN that it’s exciting to see a story that predates that overwhelming influence.  James Fennimore Cooper (1789-1851) was the first great Western novelist, best remembered for LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and his final Leatherstocking Tale, THE PRAIRIE (1827), is the basis for this movie.

In 1803, the Bush family has lost their Kentucky farm to taxes, and on the heels of the Louisiana Purchase, head west in a couple of wagons, looking for new land, and a new start.  They’re lead by the well-meaning but tyrannical patriarch Ishmael Bush (Charles Evans).  The rest of the party includes his brawny, shirtless six sons, his pale and vague wife Esther (Edna Holland), and her shiftless brother Abiram (Russ Vincent). 

Their lives are a daily struggle for food, and an endless, monotonous trek through unchanging prairie until Abiram and one of the sons, Asa (Jim Mitchum, in his first film role) witness another group of pioneers all but wiped out by a buffalo stampede.  The lone survivor, a young woman named Ellen (Lenore Aubert), is almost taken by the Sioux until the two men drive them off.  They bring her back to camp, Ishmael begrudgingly agrees to take her along, and with one desirable young woman among seven single and lonely men, tensions quickly rise. 

The inexperienced pioneers are helped by Paul Hover (Alan Baxter), a map surveyor for the government they despise, but the only aid they can find.  It doesn’t help that Ellen is more taken with Paul than with any of the other men in the party.  When Sioux steal their horses, intending to pick the party off one at a time, the pioneers must unite to make a stand. 

Directed by German expressionist Frank Wisbar, who’d fled the Nazis in 1939, this tiny budget, 61 minute film is remarkable, and looks like no other Western I’ve ever seen.  Except for occasional stock footage, the film is shot entirely on one large prairie set of waist-to-shoulder-height grass, against a vast cyclorama of sky.  Artificial though it is, it captures the sense of endless, unchanging prairie to a degree that an actual location never could.

It’s atmospheric, dreamlike, unmistakably Germanic in its starkness.  The almost final sequence, where a character who’s gotten away with murder is overpowered by his own sense of guilt, is nightmarish and haunting.   Storywise, it’s unusual in that the Indians are not all the same – Pawnee are friends and Sioux are enemies.  And they’re played by actual Indian actors: Chief Yalwalachee; Jay Silverheels, TV’s Tonto; and the screen’s first Tonto, Chief Thundercloud.  And Ellen, rather than just being a prize for the men to compete over, has more gumption than any of them.


While the film features no big stars, it’s full of familiar faces.  Alan Baxter was a busy actor since the early thirties, usually playing villains rather than this sort of sympathetic character.  Lovely Austro-Hungarian Lenore Aubert played slinky ladies in comedies with Bob Hope (THEY GOT ME COVERED – 1943), and wielded a sword as THE WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO (1946), but is probably best remembered as the gorgeous doctor who claimed to be madly in love with Lou in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  THE PRAIRIE, from Alpha Video/Oldies.com is available HERE


HOLLYWOOD GOES WEST – A Coloring Book Review


No, I’m not kidding: I’m reviewing a coloring book.  The increasing popularity of coloring books among adults is a curious phenomenon, but it’s understandable.  I think we all have an artistic impulse to satisfy, and getting lost in any artistic endeavor is good medicine for a stressed brain – and who doesn’t have one of those?  Some of you may remember from the 1960s the fad of the paint and pencil-by-numbers kits.  With coloring books, you get to choose your own colors, and you can even color outside the lines if it makes you happy!


Jack Palance

Mark O’Neill is a gifted caricaturist and clearly a western nut like the rest of us, and his book is precisely the one we would have made for ourselves.  He celebrates the great Westerns of the big and small screen, focusing on the big stars of films, the casts of the great TV series, and the unforgettable character actors.  While coloring books have for decades featured Roy and Dale, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy, did you ever dream that you’d be able to choose the hues for Royal Dano, John Dehner, Morgan Woodward and Jack Elam?  Or Bruce Dern?   There’s the cast of THE RIFLEMAN, family portraits of the Cartwrights and the Barkleys, a romantic pairing of Leif Ericson and Linda Cristal from HIGH CHAPARRAL, and both Matt Dillons – TV’s James Arness and radio’s William Conrad, and much more, each picture with an explanatory caption. 


Both Matt Dillons!

You can color in The Duke, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.  You can decide how RAWHIDE and MAVERICK would have looked in color.  And you can do it all for ten well-spent dollars!  Order it HERE.


Jack Elam


MONDAY IS ‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ REUNION REGISTRATION!



If you want to attend the Reunion on March 17th through the 20th, the registration deadline is Monday, February 1st!  It’ll be at Old Tucson Studios, where the classic series was filmed.    Coming back to their old galloping-grounds will be series stars Don Collier, Rudy Ramos and BarBara Luna.  They’ll be joined by a posse of stars from other Western series, including Robert Fuller from LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN, Darby Hinton from DANIEL BOONE and the recent TEXAS RISING, Roberta Shore from THE VIRGINIAN, frequent John Wayne co-star Eddie Falkner, and Stan Ivar from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.  Also on-board are HIGH CHAPARRAL producers Kent and Susan McCray, and writers and historians Boyd Magers, Charlie LeSueur, Neil Summers, and Joel McCrea’s son Wyatt McCrea. 
The packages vary from a bare-bones $30-per-day deal to $475 with all the trimmings.  To take your pick and make your reservations, check out the official site HERE.

And here’s something special for all HIGH CHAPARRAL fans, and it’s free!  Last year the Reunion inaugurated a live Webcast of the event.  It was not cheap, but it was very entertaining and informative.  HIGH CHAPARRAL REUNION Top Hand Penny McQueen has decided that this year’s Webcast will be FREE!  

THAT’S A WRAP!



With Friday’s release of JANE GOT A GUN, joining THE REVENANT and THE HATEFUL 8, there are now three major Westerns playing in theatres at the same time.  How many decades has it been since that happened?  I’m guessing the last time was in the 1970s, but it may be even farther back. 

Have a great week, and catch a Western or two.  Or three!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Content Copyright January 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved





Sunday, January 24, 2016

ACADEMY THROWS LONGTIME MEMBERS UNDER THE BUS!

ROUND-UP FOR 1-24-2016

Not the regular Round-up today.  I’ve gone to every second Sunday, so the next one will be January 31st.  Today’s entry is an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and I’m running it here because this is the only soapbox that I’ve got.

January 24th, 2016

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences,

In a rush to rectify what many see as an injustice in awards nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences appears to be on the verge of perpetrating a much greater injustice upon its own members.  Along with the perfectly reasonable goals of greater inclusion, it has been suggested that Academy Members who have not been active in the film business in a decade should lose their voting rights.

To disenfranchise the very people who built this industry and art because of their age would be horrendously cruel and unfair.  The Academy is an honor society for the most accomplished and respected members of the film business.  Their work has been judged to withstand the test of time, which means almost by definition that its age-range will skew older.  It is not a union, which would have a legitimate concern whether those voting on contracts are in fact currently employed. 

I am not an Academy member, but I have known many over the years, quite a few of them in their eighties, and I have always marveled at their dedication.  Many of them plan much of their lives around viewing the hundreds of movies that are required to be seen if they are to cast their votes in good conscience.  I can think of no more conscientious and fair-minded a group.  I cannot count the number of times a member has told me that, while they disapprove of everything a given filmmaker stands for, they are still voting for them because of the quality of their work. 

And on a practical note, remember too that these retired or semi-retired Academy members are the ones who have the time to watch all of the films.

If you agree with me, please share this message as widely as possible.  As I am not an Academy member, I don’t have access to their membership lists.  If you are an Academy member, of if you know any, please be sure to share it with them.  And please feel free to add your name.

Much obliged,

Henry C. Parke

Please comment on Facebook, and on Twitter using #OscarSoAgeist


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

WEDNESDAY ‘BUTCH CASSIDY’, ‘WORD ON WESTERNS’, PLUS ‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ REUNION, FAREWELL DAN ‘GRIZZLY ADAMS’ HAGGERTY!


NATIONWIDE ‘BUTCH CASSIDY’ SCREENINGS WEDNESDAY!



4-Oscar-winner BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) will be showing in 650 theatres across the nation, on Wednesday, January 20th.  This event comes to you from the fine folks at Fathom Events, TCM, and 20th Century Fox, and is the kick-off for a year of national screenings of classic movies.  If you’re a Round-up Facebook follower, you’ll know that I gave away two sets of tickets to a pair of readers who successfully answered the following:

Two classic Westerns, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE WILD BUNCH, were released in 1969, and both told the story of the same group of men.  One actor was in both films.  Who?  Did you know the answer was Strother Martin? 


Strother Martin in BUTCH CASSIDY


BUTCH won Best Original Screenplay, William Goldman; Best Cinematography, Conrad Hall; Best Score, Burt Bacharach; Best Song, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

There are two shows on Wednesday, at 2 pm and 7 pm. THIS LINK will take you to the official Fathom site, with all of the theatres listed by city, and you can buy tickets there as well! 


Peter Duel & Ben Murphy in the...uh...
derivative ALIAS SMITH & JONES 


I saw the movie on Sunday, and was struck by how beautiful Conrad Hall’s photography is, and how many things I saw on the big screen that were lost on television.  I went home and watched, of all things, the pilot TV movie for a series that was an homage – or shameless rip-off – of BUTCH CASSIDY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES.  And now we’re getting pretty obscure, but for no prize at all, what actor is in both BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and the TV movie ALIAS SMITH AND JONES?  Familiar character actor Charles Dierkop, who plays Flat Nose Curry in BUTCH, and an outlaw named Shields in SMITH. 


Charles Dierkop


I guess next I’ll be re-watching BLACKTHORN (2011), starring Sam Shepard as an aging Butch Cassidy, living in Bolivia, and wanting to go home. 


WEDNESDAY ‘WORD ON WESTERNS’ LUNCHEON AT THE AUTRY!


Clu Gulager in THE TALL MAN


At noon on Wednesday, January 20th, the first WORD ON WESTERNS luncheon at the Autry for 2016 will feature three very interesting gentlemen discussing their Western-making memories:  CLU GULAGER, who starred as Billy the Kid in the series THE TALL MAN (see it Saturdays on getTV) and Sheriff Ryker in THE VIRGINIAN (see it on INSP).


Bruce Davison & Burt Lancaster in ULZANA'S RAID


BRUCE DAVISON, (who to me will always be WILLARD, the kid who sic’d the rats on Ernest Borgnine), who starred with Burt Lancaster in ULZANA’S RAID, and just completed a new Western, ANY BULLET WILL DO.



And PHILIP PROCTOR, founding member of the brilliant comedy troupe THE FIRESIGN THEATRE, who also co-wrote ZACHARIAH, The First Electric Western!  It should be a great show – get there early, buy your lunch and snag a seat!


‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ REUNION REGISTRATION DEADLINE FEBRUARY 1ST!



March 17th through the 20th, Old Tucson Studios, the original home of the HIGH CHAPARRAL series, where the ranch-house still proudly stands, will be the site of the HIGH CHAPARRAL REUNION 2016!  Coming back to their old galloping-grounds will be series stars Don Collier, Rudy Ramos and BarBara Luna.  They’ll be joined by a posse of stars from other Western series, including Robert Fuller from LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN, Darby Hinton from DANIEL BOONE and the recent TEXAS RISING, Roberta Shore from THE VIRGINIAN, frequent John Wayne co-star Eddie Falkner, and Stan Ivar from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.  Also on-board are HIGH CHAPARRAL producers Kent and Susan McCray, and writers and historians Boyd Magers, Charlie LeSueur, Neil Summers, and Joel McCrea’s son Wyatt McCrea. 

The packages vary from a bare-bones $30-per-day deal to $475 with all the trimmings.  To take your pick and make your reservations, check out the official site HERE.




And here’s something special for all HIGH CHAPARRAL fans, and it’s free!  Last year the Reunion inaugurated a live Webcast of the event.  It was not cheap, but it was very entertaining and informative.  HIGH CHAPARRAL REUNION Top Hand Penny McQueen has decided that this year’s Webcast will be FREE!  You’ll be able to watch it HERE starting March 17th


DAN HAGGERTY – FILM & TV’S GRIZZLY ADAMS DIES

It’s been a rough week for passings.  About 100 days after the death of Kevin Corcoran, the Disney child star who will forever be remembered as Moochie; and as Arliss, the younger brother in OLD YELLER, his sister Noreen Corcoran died.  Known best for starring in the series BACHELOR FATHER, Noreen also appeared in episodes of ADVENTURES OF KIT CARSON, RIN TIN TIN, GUNSMOKE, and her last onscreen appearance was in an episode of THE BIG VALLEY. 



Rocker David Bowie, who starred in one spaghetti western, GUNSLINGER’S REVENGE, died, as did screen-villain Alan Rickman, who made one very memorable Western appearance, opposite Tom Sellick in the Aussie-oater QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER.





The loss that hit Western fans the hardest, of course, was Dan Haggerty, the screen’s Grizzly Adams.  A big bear of a man with a manly, handsome face, irresistible grin, and a wreath of hair, Haggerty was mostly seen in biker films until 1974, when he was cast as the 19th century mountain man and animal trainer.  That tiny, outdoor picture, shot without synchronized sound, became an astonishing hit due to the charm and talents of Haggerty.  Made for a reported $140,000 (and I suspect a lot less) it would take in $45,000,000 (the franchise, including the TV series, would gross $140 million), and create the ‘wilderness family’ western subgenre. 



Haggerty would go on to star as the title pioneer in THE ADVENTURES OF FRONTIER FREMONT (1976), play Grizzly Adams in several other films, and make many other film and TV appearances, in big roles and small.  He also lent his baritone voice to many cartoon characters.  Among his better later performances was as the trading-post operator in CHEYENNE WARRIOR (1994). 

A few months ago I wrote an article for TRUE WEST MAGAZINE about the ten best Mountain Man movies, anticipating THE REVENANT, and sought out Haggerty.  He had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and when I reached him by phone, he was in the hospital.  I apologized, and almost hung up, but he wanted to talk, and we did for a few minutes, about the movies, the character, and even more about the historical Adams.  Then he had to go for an MRI.  He asked me to call him back the next morning to continue the interview, but when I did, he had lost his voice.  We said we’d try again in a couple of weeks, and I tried, but it never worked out.  The last thing he said to me in our interview was, “Thanks for remembering me.”  I will.


‘RAMONA’ AUTHOR HELEN HUNT JACKSON RETURNS TO RANCHO CAMULOS JAN.31! 



Okay, she returns in spirit. On January 31, at 1:00 PM, experience Helen Hunt Jackson’s January 23, 1882 visit to Rancho Camulos which inspired her to include this vestige of the Californio lifestyle as one of the settings for her novel Ramona. Re-enactors will engage and delight you as they portray this event which forever changed the peaceful life at Rancho Camulos. “A Women with a Mission”, a presentation on the life of HHJ by author Patricia Clark Doerner will follow the reenactment.
The museum is located on Highway 126, 10 miles west of the I-5 freeway near Piru. Details at (805) 521-1501, info@ranchocamulos.org, or www.ranchocamulos.org.



Also, docent-led tours are available Sundays at 1, 2, and 3 and by appointment.  See the “Home of Ramona” including the 1853 adobe, 1867 chapel and winery, 1930 schoolhouse, and beautiful grounds.  View the 1910 silent film “Ramona” starring Mary Pickford that was filmed on location at Rancho Camulos. The suggested donation for the tours is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children over 5.  Entrance to the non-profit museum which is on private property is only allowed with a docent escort.  Check the website before going in case of closures due to weather or special activities. The museum is located on Highway 126, 10 miles west of the I-5 freeway near Piru. INFO: (805) 521-1501, info@ranchocamulos.org, or www.ranchocamulos.org.



WONDERFUL INTERVIEWS – ROBERT DUVALL AND JAMES DRURY!



I’m sorry for the lengthy delay of the Round-up, but I’ve got a great excuse!  Over the past couple of weeks, both for The Round-up and True West, I’ve been conducting a slew of interviews with personnel involved in several up-coming Westerns.  I’ve been talking to stars, writers, directors and producers of THE KEEPING ROOM, FORSAKEN, and THE PRICE OF DEATH.  But best of all, I’ve had the chance to speak at considerable length with a pair of icons of the genre, and personal heroes of mine, THE VIRGINIAN’s James Drury, and LONESOME DOVE’s Robert Duvall!  Doing it right takes a lot of time to prepare, and a lot of time to transcribe.  You’ll be seeing the results soon, and I’ll bet you’ll say it was worth the wait!




AND THAT’S A WRAP!

GREETINGS, RUSSIAN ROUND-UP READERS!

One of the true joys of writing the Round-up is the knowledge that it’s read in over one hundred countries across the globe.  It’s always fun to check and see who is reading, and what posts are the most popular.  Generally I’m read more in the United States than anywhere else, with other English-speaking countries usually next in numbers, often followed by Germany or France.  The remarkable pattern of the past couple of months is that the Round-up is often read by greater numbers in Russia than in the U.S.!   I’m delighted to have found such a large following in Russia, and I would love to know what about the Round-up appeals to them.  If you are a Russian Round-up Reader, I’d be grateful if you took a minute to leave a comment about it.  Of course I’m very eager to hear from any and all of my readers everywhere!

Happy Trails,

Henry


All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 28, 2015

‘HATEFUL 8’, ‘KEEPING ROOM’ REVIEWED, PLUS BIG DOINGS AT THE AUTRY!




Kurt Russell & Samuel L. Jackson


THE HATEFUL 8 – A Film Review

In Wyoming, in the dead of winter, a chartered stage-coach is flagged down by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter with a stack of frozen outlaw cadavers – he needs to get them to town for the rewards.  But the renter of the coach, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), wants no more passengers, living or dead: he’s already transporting murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whom he intends to hang, and the company of another bounty hunter holds no appeal.  John Ruth finally gives in, and the trio of passengers are barely on the road when who else appears, thumbing a ride, but Sheriff Clay Mannix (Walton Goggins), the new lawman at the town where both Ruth and Warren are expecting to collect their bounties. 



Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh


The group arrives at a stagecoach stop, and find it full of an interesting and sinister mix of characters: Bob (Demian Birchir) is minding the place while the owners are away; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is a British traveling hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a hard-looking cowboy and would-be writer; and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) is a former Confederate officer still clinging to his past status.


Bruce Dern


Guess what?  They’re snowed in: everyone will have to spend the night.  This concerns John Ruth because he’s convinced that someone, perhaps more than one someone, is not who they say.  Someone is there to free Daisy Domergue, and will willingly commit murder to do it.  And he’s right, of course.  From there, 99% of the movie takes place in the one big room of the log house stagecoach stop, as characters confront each other, secrets are revealed, and people die. 

That’s right, it’s what’s known in the TV vernacular as an ‘elevator show’ or a ‘bottle show.’  It’s a funny and audacious decision by Tarantino to do a big-budget theatrical feature version of what is done on TV to save money.  Tarantino explained in an interview with DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD that his influences were series like THE VIRGINIAN, BONANZA, and THE HIGH CHAPPARAL.  “Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa, or go to Judge Garth's place — Lee J. Cobb played him — in The Virginian and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Barren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson, or James Coburn . I don't like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, 'What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.”


Samuel L. Jackson & Walton Goggins


What happens, very entertainingly is the HATEFUL 8 – it’s full of the droll characters and crackling dialogue that helped make Tarantino famous.  And this kind of claustrophobic DESPERATE HOURS sort of story is the kind that he excels in, as he proved in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992).  Are the characters over the top?  Sure, but they’re meant to be: this is stylized story-telling, not docudrama, and the ensemble is a delight to watch. 

Tarantino loves to shock us, of course, and there is a lot of blood and vomiting, and there is an extended sadistic story-telling sequence where Warren psychologically tortures General Smithers with what may be a real story, or one as invented as the characters’ identities.  It’s too ugly, and too long, but at least its flashback gets us out of the cabin for a bit. 


Michael Madsen

Of course, Tarantino has fun with his inside jokes.  Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, is a nod to novelist, independent Western filmmaker and screenwriter Charles Marquis Warren, a protégé of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was one of the great story talents behind GUNSMOKE, RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN series.  Tim Roth plays Oswaldo Mobray as a delightful impression of British character Alan Mobray.  And Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage character is a wink at Nick Adams’ character, Johnny Yuma, from THE REBEL series, a former soldier roaming the West and writing about his experiences.

The acknowledgment of THE REBEL is particularly interesting because, while this sort of snowed in ‘Zane Grey meets Agatha Christie’ story can be found in other series – the STOPOVER episode of THE RIFLEMAN, directed by Budd Boetticher and written by Arthur Brown Jr, is particularly memorable – an episode of THE REBEL, entitled FAIR GAME (1960), written by Richard Newman and directed by Irvin Kershner, is unexpectedly close to HATEFUL 8.  It’s fascinating to see what Tarantino does expanding what was a thirty-minute plot to 168 minutes.  The entire run of the exceptionally good THE REBEL series is available from Timeless Video, and after you’ve seen the feature, it’s definitely worth your time to watch the short, as well as the whole series.

One of the great joys of HATEFUL 8 is the new score by the maestro Ennio Morricone.  Although he made his name putting music to Sergio Leone’s ‘man with no name’ films, he hadn’t scored a Western since MY NAME IS NOBODY, forty years ago. 

One of the great virtues of HATEFUL 8 is the beauty and grandeur of its outdoor visuals for the brief time that the story is out of doors.  Thrice Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson has shot several other films for Tarantino, as well as for Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone: he knows how to get details and definition out of what could simply be a whited-out snowscape in other hands.  It may seem like a crazy film to shoot in 70mm Panavision, but that decision halted Kodak’s plan to shutter their movie film stock production entirely. 

The whole presentation sentimentally harkens back to the time of road-show movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, when seeing a big movie was a big deal, like going to the real theatre.  People dressed up, the seats were reserved, there was a musical overture, and an intermission.  Moviegoing, like the rest of life, is less ‘special’ today.   People go to real theatre today attired in a way I wouldn’t dress to mow the lawn.  So, see HATEFUL 8, and if you can, see it in the longer road-show version, with the overture and intermission.  And maybe dress up.  Just take off your Stetson when the lights go down and the curtains part.

THE KEEPING ROOM – a Film Review


Brit Marling takes aim

In 1865, in a location identified only as ‘The American South’, three women survive on a crumbling plantation, trying to keep body and soul together, and just barely managing.  Augusta (Brit Marling), perhaps twenty, is the daughter of the plantation’s owner who has gone off to war.  She hunts rabbits for stew.  Mad (Muna Otaru), a young slave, searches the overgrown fields for edible vegetables.  Louise, (Hailee Steinfeld), is sixteen, Augusta’s baby sister, and unable or unwilling to face the realities of war; she refuses to work, and seems at times to drift into a fantasy world, donning her late mother’s elegant clothes when she should be dressed for picking and planting.  When asked by her sister to work, she refers tersely to the woman who helped raise her.  “The nigger should do it.”

Her sister Augusta responds, “Like I told you, Louise.  We all niggers now.”

Unbeknownst to the three women, greater danger than starvation is on its way.  Union General William Tecumseh Sherman is coming, cutting his bloody slash “…from Savannah to the sea.”  And in advance of his army come his foragers, or as they were known, ‘Bummers,’ men sent to seize supplies or destroy them, to prepare the ground for invasion.  Mostly they are unregulated, many of them destructive, sadistic, and homicidal.   A pair of them, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) introduce themselves with an apparent rape and several murders that mark them as men without conscience. 


Sam Worthington

Back at the plantation, the power shifts between the three women with each challenge they face, until everything comes to a head with a potentially disastrous accident: Louise is bitten by a raccoon, and they lack the medicine to treat the infected wound.   Augusta heads to town looking for medicine – the ‘town’ being a single business, a store, saloon and brothel – and comes to the attention of the Bummers.  She barely escapes, and soon the Bummers are on the hunt for Augusta and the other women.

Not a traditional Western or War Movie by any measure, THE KEEPING ROOM is also a suspense and adventure story, and above all a character study of three finely drawn, very different women.  Elegantly written by first-timer Julia Hart, it’s directed by English-born Daniel Barber, whose previous Western, the short THE TONTO WOMAN (2008), from the Elmore Leonard story, garnered Barber an Oscar nomination. 


Muna Otaru

Cinematographer Martin Ruhe, known for filming crime thrillers like HARRY BROWN   (2009 – directed by Barber), and THE AMERICAN (2010), worked with natural light and source light – lanterns and candles – to give an authentic and often beautiful look to  the interiors.  The exteriors, forest and field, are equally convincing.  Remarkable to think that they were found not in Georgia but in Romania, where COLD MOUNTAIN (2003) and HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012) were also filmed.

The structure is unusual, and often admirable.  Among the highlights are a pair of intercut sequences where the women are separately stalked.  Author Hart has a fine ear for dialogue, and the script is at times unexpectedly generous, allowing a humanizing of the Bummers, and raising intriguing questions of how life might have been, had the characters met under different circumstances. 


Hailee Steinfeld

The cast is tiny – only seven actors have speaking parts, and only two scenes have any extras at all.  This serves to make the story intimate and personal, and it also puts a great burden on a very few individuals to carry the entire story, which is fraught with tension and suspense.  Fortunately, the triumvirate of actresses are up to it.  Muna Otaru, a relative newcomer, seems all the more powerful for her halting, soft-spoken performance.  Hailee Steinfeld, playing a weak and self-centered character diametrically opposed to her Matty Ross in TRUE GRIT, turns us off, then wins us over when her character rises to the occasion.  And blonde and beautiful Brit Marling, half Matty Ross herself, and the better half of Scarlet O’Hara, is who we all wish we’d be when the chips are down.

Of course, no film is perfect.  The smallness of the cast can be a problem: would Sherman ever send just a two-man force, and if he did, why didn’t the Southerners just pick them off?  And as smart as Augusta is, why does she keep ignoring warnings to leave the store, and why does she keep making eye contact with men she should know to avoid?



Highly recommended, THE KEEPING ROOM, from Alamo Drafthouse, will be available on VOD in early January.


PLENTY HAPPENING AT THE AUTRY IN JANUARY & FEBRUARY



Kenneth Turan, renowned film critic for The Los Angeles Times and NPR, will be introducing the first two film programs for 2016 in the Autry’s monthly What is a Western? series.  On Saturday, January 16th at 1:30 pm he will introduce the John Ford/John Wayne classic THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962).  On Saturday, February 13th, at 1:30 pm he will host a double feature, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) and RIDE LONESOME (1959).  Star Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown had formed the Ranown production company, and these two films are part of the fabled ‘Ranown cycle’ of exceptionally fine, tiny budget Westerns, all starring Scott, all directed by Budd Boetticher, and written by Burt Kennedy. 

Also screening at the Autry on February 27th at noon are a double-bill of Gene’s films, BACK IN THE SADDLE (1941 Republic) and RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING PINES (1949 Columbia).
On Wednesday, January 20th at 12:30 pm, Rob Word will present the Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry.  After lunch it’s Rob’s A Word on Westerns discussion.  This time the topic is KINGS OF THE COWBOYS, and as we get closer to the date I’ll let you know what exciting guests Rob has lined up. 

For folks who still remember how to read (there are still quite a few of us), One Book, One Autry  is a year-long series of programs focusing on Owen Wister’s genre-creating THE VIRGINIAN.  The first two events are Saturdays, Feb. 20th & 27th, with more to come.  If you don’t have your own copy, you can get one at the Autry Store.  (And you can read it, and learn that the great HIGH NOON is actually plagiarized from the last seven or eight chapters). 

Sunday, January 3rd is the last day to see the magnificent exhibit Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and The West.  From February 6th through March 20th you can enjoy Masters of the American West, and if you have deep pockets, you can buy! 

Between book signings, performances and other events, I’m barely scratching the surface.  You can learn more by visiting the official Autry website HERE.  

And admission is free on Monday, New Years Day, and free Saturday and Sunday, the 2nd and 3rd, to Bank of America card holders.

THAT’S A WRAP! 



I hope you had a wonderful Christmas (see above, a favorite gift from my wife), and I wish you a Happy New Year!  I’ve got a lot of stuff cookin’ but I don’t want to say too much and jinx myself.  But I’m very excited that I’ll be a guest of Jim Christina and Bobbi Jean Bell on THE WRITERS BLOCK radio show on Thursday, January 7th at 8 pm, when the BIG guest will be LONGMIRE creator Craig Johnson!  If you haven’t tuned in to this entertaining and informative interview show about the art and craft of writing, here’s the link:  http://latalkradio.com/content/writers-block.

Happy Trails,

Henry


All Original Content Copyright December 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved