Tag Archives: classic films

Excuse Me, Are Those Your Fangs In My Neck? Part One of Two Parts

2 Apr

I don’t know when I first became enamored of vampires.  I read “Dracula” when I was very young, and though it didn’t terrify me, it nevertheless made quite a creepy impression.  I remember how Dracula is first introduced as a decrepit old man who then grows progressively younger and more vigorous during the course of the book, as the blood of his victims begins to rejuvenate him.  The most vivid impression that remains was of the Count slithering up the side of the castle like a reptile.  There was a mixture of the effete and the bestial in Stoker’s vampire, which is still a horrifying alchemy.  When would this tuxedoed gentleman inevitably bring his darker nature to the fore?  After all, we were simply meals to him.  This touch of cannibalism also brought with it a further creepy factor, that of ending one’s days in the jaws of a feral beast.  But not just any beast, but one that disguised its terrible predatory habits by simply resembling us.

I had seen the 1931 “Dracula”, of course, the one starring Bela Lugosi, when I was very young.  In 1950s Southern California, we had the Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9, which showed the same film over and over again for five nights a week, and consequently I saw “Dracula” probably every day of that week.  (This was well before videotapes and DVDs – we never knew when we would ever see these films again and had to store up the experiences.) Lugosi, with his middle European accent and fluid, balletic gestures seemed the quintessential blood-sucking nobleman of my youth.

Then in 1967 I saw Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers”.  My best friend Randy and I were diehard film addicts and we had long heard of this mangled masterpiece by the Hungarian wunderkind.  It had been recut by MGM to feature its slapstick humor and general quirkiness, and a toning down of the violence had supposedly occurred.  (It a parody of all the Hammer epics starring Christopher Lee, you see.) What I did not expect was the full-blown horror that the film showed alongside the slapstick.  Polanski’s vampires were once again elegantly attired royalty inhabiting a seedy castle.  But when the blood lust came upon them they became animals, sporting huge jagged fangs that ripped into their victims’ throats with horrifying rapacity.  No delicate little puncture holes for our Roman Polanski; in fact, the man who designed the fangs was given a screen credit.  I remember being so terrified during the attack sequences that I had to go stand in the lobby.  I was in love with Sharon Tate back then, too, and “Valley of the Dolls” had been released earlier that year.  I remember saying to Randy that my one overwhelming memory of Tate would always be the moment when she turned into a vampire at the end of the film.  Alas, she was to be remembered for something far more dreadful.

My real conversion occurred when Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” was published in 1976.  (I still have the first edition).  She literally redefined the genre.  It was the time of the disco sex revolution, and I was just old enough to participate in all of it, and somehow the goth-influencing Rice novel seemed a mirror of it all – the infernal highs of mind-bending drugs (which is how the vampires described their ingestion of blood) and the gender-bending concepts of love and devotion.  It was all very perverse and exceedingly glamorous.  Just like Louis and Lestat, we were all night time prowlers looking for sex in all the wrong places.  And we were all so deliciously bored, you see, by our perceived immortality and the constant parade of flesh that paraded through our lives with barely an acknowledgment.  (Except that our immortality lasted all of five or so years before the dying set in.)

I never got into the “Twilight” phenomenon.  I read the first book because I decided that I must know more about this craze if I were to be a knowledgeable writer.  But it just didn’t take.  Perhaps I was the wrong age, and/or the wrong sex.  I was much more a creature of the rampaging 70s than the timid 90s, and it all seemed so vapid.  Was I really supposed to believe that the first question that the 100 year old vampire Edward asks Bella is “What’s your favorite color?” Really?  That’s it?  I simply don’t buy it; I believe that any 100 year old creature would be so mentally advanced when compared to a 17 year old high school girl that I wonder if he could ever think of her as anything other than a comestible…?

Nevertheless, inspired by both the success of Twilight and Charlaine Harris’ wonderful “True Blood” series (which I am unashamedly addicted to), I have decided to take the plunge and write my own vampire saga, called “The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous”. You can buy it here for a mere 99 cents.

Sanguivorous means “blood eater” and I’ve taken the story all the way back in time to the very first mention of vampires in history…to the river plain of Mesopotamia, to Ur of the Chaldees.  Each book will begin in a new time, until by the seventh we arrive in the 21st Century.  They also give to mankind both the art of writing and…religion.

What do you think?  Should Anne Rice become one of the vampires in the last volume?  After all, my heroine starts off with the name Enna.  Could she be one and the same?

Sometimes I think it’s the only explanation.

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Dear Marilyn, Part Two

13 Mar

First, I want to apologize for the delay. My goal is to write two posts a week, but between the start of my new semester (I teach screenplay writing at Mt. San Antonio College) and finishing a screenplay, the time just got away from me.

Please keep reading, but … Have you read my latest book, The Stand In? 1957 Hollywood, intrigue and mystery for less than a latte. Now available on KindleNookeBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

At any rate, where were we? Ah, yes, saying goodbye to the late, great Marilyn Monroe…

To recap, I was once the principle researcher on a best-selling book called, “Marilyn, the Last Take”, which dealt with Marilyn Monroe’s last film and final days. The real point of the book was to prove that the Kennedy’s had secretly killed her, making her death look like a suicide, because she supposedly was going to go public with her affairs with both John and Bobby.

How did they kill her? Well, there were two ways that were contemplated: one of the ambulance attendants, an FBI operative, purportedly gave her a hypodermic straight into her heart to cause an embolism. The other theory was that someone had given her an enema filled with seconal. When you think of it, both suppositions are equally nutty. Was the FBI supposed to plant someone on one of the many EMT services available, in the hope that they would be called in case Marilyn was in crisis mode? And the thought of someone taking the time to stick thirty seconal tablets up her ass is…well, a grotesquerie. What was Marilyn supposed to be doing all the time they were fiddling “down there”? The most logical explanation was that everyone around her knew that Marilyn staged suicide attempts for sympathy, during which she called all her friends to say goodbye, knowing that one of them would rescue her. On that last night, however, no one came. One conspiracy theory is that the Kennedy’s forbade their in-law and Monroe’s best friend, Peter Lawford, to intervene that night – and that’s the closest it ever came to murder. At best, it was a negligent homicide.

Well, as I’ve said, the book was an immense best-seller and it was fun to be associated with it. I so enjoyed working with its authors, Peter Brown and Patte Barham (true LA royalty, whose father gave his name to the famed boulevard located next to Universal Studios), and never expected to again become connected to the book. But when it was scheduled to come out in paperback, the authors once again contacted me.

It seems that after the hardbound book was published, the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” had done an episode about “the unsolved murder” of Marilyn Monroe, and Robert Stack had asked the public to write to L.A. Supervisor Antonovich to reopen the case. The Supervisor needed something like 30,000 signatures for legality purposes, if I remember correctly, but received only 8,000 letters and the matter was dropped.

In the meantime, however, after reading the first issue of the book, other people had come from the shadows to tell the authors what they knew, and their “confessions” were to comprise the addendum that was to be included in the paperback. My job was to go to the Antonovich office to read those 8,000 letters; to see “if there were any legitimate clues” that could be found in them.

Let me say that I found no legitimate clues. But, oh my God – those letters gave me a harrowing insight into the public’s collective mind that I have never forgotten.

I got to the Antonovich office in the morning and was led to a stark, windowless room where boxes and boxes of the letters were piled. I began to read them and became increasingly appalled at what they contained – and then, after the first two-thousand had been digested, I began to realize that they were repeating themselves. I saw patterns begin to emerge, and I was soon able to catalog them into a few sub-categories.
First, I’d like to say that only the very old, the very young, the truly profane, and the certifiably crazy took the trouble to write. Why? It’s because the sane, ordinary people don’t write at all. We’re too busy leading our lives, working our jobs, raising our kids, balancing our checkbooks – we just don’t have the time.
The next thing to surprise me was that the letters came from all over the world, from wherever the show was broadcast – mainly from Australia and New Zealand but also from Europe and even Vietnam. Antonovich couldn’t have used these signatures at all, because only American Citizens could have signed the petition to reopen the Monroe murder case. The foreign letters could not be counted, which cut the number of interested parties to about half.

The sub-category I next became aware of, because they were the most numerous, was the Marilyn for Sainthood letters. There was something so evanescent about her cotton-candy screen image that people could pin any hope and belief to her memory. To these writers, she was the Tragic Victim of an unfeeling world, too pure to live in its muck, a secular saint that was too fine for this hard, hard world. “Yes,” they said, “yes! By all means eopen the case, so that her true glory can shine again!” My God, I thought after reading them, this is how saints and redeemers are created. Marilyn is becoming Our Lady of the Overdose! (I just bet that this was how Jesus came to be regarded in those first years after his crucifixion – a gossamer mannequin that you could clothe in any costume you wanted. He could be Everything and Everyman. Now the same beatification process was happening to Marilyn.) What those letter writers seemed to forget was that Billy Wilder had called her the “meanest woman in Hollywood” or that Tony Curtis had said that “kissing her was like kissing Hitler”; they had also forgotten that she was an erotic vagrant of epic proportions and that she had terrorized directors and producers with her sheer and utterly selfish unprofessionalism. Yes, she burnt a hole in celluloid like no one else, but at what a cost – to both herself and the studios that employed her. In truth she was just ordinarily insane, just like her mother, and that’s from where our pity should spring. But to these writers, she was a goddess; enshrinement was their only end.

The next category I noticed was that of the Kennedy haters. They would write to anyone who asked them to vent their spleen about that terrible family. “She was assinated!” wrote one of them. (Need I mention that grammar and spelling skills were not readily apparent in most of these letters?) “The Kennedy’s were behind it and she was assinated!” (Yes, I thought, and after that she was rectified!) One particular writer went into lengthy discussion about how he could prove that it wasn’t Teddy Kennedy who had driven Mary Jo Kopechne into the drink, but that it was actually John F. Kennedy. John, you see, had actually survived that nasty “assination” attempt in Dallas, and the family had secretly installed him – almost a vegetable – on Chappaquiddick Island. Apparently they trusted him with the car keys, however, and poor Mary Jo paid the price. Teddy had come forward to cover the entire thing up! They assinated her!
Then there were the letters that went into what I called the Sacred Relics pile. These writers wanted Monroe’s body disinterred for any number of reasons – one saying that we would find a chip on her breast bone, where the aforementioned FBI agent had nicked it when he gave her that embolism. The most plaintive came from a gentleman from a foreign clime. “Please do a DNA test on Miss Monroe’s remains. The test will prove that I am the long-lost child she gave up for adoption in 1949” – which had been a long standing rumor, by the way – “signed, Quon Duc Pho of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”

The most bizarre grouping of letters came from what I soon called the Lonely Woman Club, which exists mainly in Australia and New Zealand, but with ancillary chapters in places like Wyoming and Montana. Long, rambling twenty-page hand-written letters would describe their bleak lives on distant ranches or farms. “People have often compared me to Miss Monroe,” went one of them, “and often remark that I, too, am sad and tragic and not fit for this life.” Then a tiny slur against Monroe: “Only I am a natural blond!” Invariably these women would send snapshots of themselves posed provocatively against the corral fence, beside their best friend in the world, their horse Fluffy. I thought the first one was odd when I read it, but along about the thirtieth (complete with snapshots), I realized that these women (and they were only women) were so pathetically lonely that they would write to just about anyone who asked them, even a stranger on a television show. Then, almost as an afterthought on the last page they would remember the ostensible reason why they wrote and add, “please add my name to reopen the Marilyn Monroe murder case.”

I know there were other genres of letter, but I can’t quite remember them all. Suffice to say I had a whole new respect for our poor members of congress, city councils, and even Presidents – because if these were the kinds of people who wrote to them, just imagine what they must be thinking! We’re a nation of imbeciles, that’s what.

Perhaps the most profound thing I learned from these letters is that people are truly comforted by conspiracy theories. It is far safer to think that there was an important reason behind the death of a politician or a movie star; that cabals and conspirators with their elaborate and improbable plots are behind everything. What terrifies people most seems to be pure, uncaring randomness – because if even the likes of a protected, cocooned star like Marilyn Monroe can be doomed by chance or chaos, what hope do the rest of us have?

Oscars Blah

27 Feb

The Oscars left a bad taste in my mouth.  They were never more irrelevant than last night.  I think Billy Crystal said it best – a bunch of millionaires giving themselves golden statues.  And Chris Rock proved extremely out of synch with his TV audience when he boasted about a getting a million dollars for such easy work as voice chores in an animated film – and then complaining about playing animals.  Talk about trying to have it both ways!  Made me a little nauseous.  Glad for Jean DuJardin – I think it was an amazing performance given the fact that he was deprived of an actor’s number one asset, his voice.  But as far as “The Artist” goes, it was a pleasant little diversion, with absolutely no mystery about where the story was going next.  And the lead actress in it was a grinning gargoyle who didn’t look period at all.  I loved “The Descendants” and “Moneyball” and, particularly, “Hugo” – movies far more worthy for consideration than “The Artist.”  But, then – they didn’t have Harvey Weinstein behind them, more’s the pity.  Highlights were the Focus Panel for “The Wizard of Oz” (I sure hope GWTW has flying monkeys!) and  Cirque du Soleil.  My god, if one of those straps had broken they could have taken out the entire Columbia Studios contingent!

Brad Geagley’s List of Essential Films

13 Feb

After my last blog, many of you have asked to see my list of films that I give out to my classes – so here it is.  As I’ve repeatedly said, this is a very eclectic list that I use for a variety of reasons:

 

  1. To acquaint the students with (mainly) films from the American Studio System after sound was introduced.
  2. Some are true classics that they should know, if only for cultural reference, i.e., famous for being famous, like “Gone With the Wind” or “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  3. Sometimes a film (such as “Stage Door”) has been included because I want to introduce them to actors or actresses with whom they may not be familiar – such as Katherine Hepburn or Eve Arden.
  4. All the films have extremely strong stories, and utilize the storytelling elements I teach in class superbly.
  5. Some are included to illustrate specific storytelling elements:  “All About Eve” for dialog, for instance, “Cleopatra” for spectacle, “Sunset Boulevard” for the clash of two styles (silent and sound) or “Inherit the Wind” for those films based on a real news story.

 

Because of the above-stated reasons, you’ll notice that many of the famed classics are missing, the most obvious of which is “Citizen Kane”.  Sorry, I’ve never found it interesting or emotionally compelling enough to include.  My apologies to its legion of admirers – but it’s my class, after all!

 

1930s

Stage Door

Camille

Ninotchka

A Tale of Two Cities

Gone With The Wind

Bride of Frankenstein

The Awful Truth

The Wizard of Oz

 

1940s

The Lady Eve

The Shop Around the Corner

Meet Me In Saint Louis

Citizen Kane

The Heiress

The Little Foxes

The Best Years of Our Lives

Casablanca

Mildred Pierce

Shadow of a Doubt

 

1950s

All About Eve

The Bad Seed

Some Like It Hot

Sunset Boulevard

North by Northwest

Marty

On the Waterfront

Singin’ in the Rain

Rebel Without a Cause

A Place in the Sun

Paths of Glory

 

1960s

West Side Story

Lilies of the Field

The Haunting

Cleopatra

Rosemary’s Baby

Bonnie & Clyde

Night of the Living Dead

Spartacus

Inherit the Wind

Lawrence of Arabia

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The Graduate

Petulia

Patton

Psycho

Splendor in the Grass

To Kill a Mockingbird

 

1970s

The Godfather

The Godfather, Part 2

Cabaret

Chinatown

The Last Picture Show

Nashville

Annie Hall

 

1980s

Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels

A Room With A View

E.T., the Extra Terrestrial

Amadeus

Blue Velvet

Raising Arizona

Terms of Endearment

Ordinary People

Broadcast News

Moonstruck

Out of Africa

Remains of the Day

 

1990s

Searching for Bobby Fischer

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The English Patient

Raise the Red Lantern (Chinese)

American Beauty

Shakespeare in Love

Unforgiven

Goodfellas

 

2000s

To Die For

A Beautiful Mind

No Country For Old Men

American Beauty

O Brother, Where Art Thou

The Queen

Chicago

Agora

The Descendants

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Milk

 

As I’ve said, there are a lot of necessary films missing from this list.  Write and tell me what films you’ve seen from the list, and also some more films I should include.

 

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