Friday, August 03, 2007

Surprise Surprise

Many thanks to Kim August for alerting me to the fact that Amazon.com already has pages up for the paperback and hardcover editions of my VIDEODROME book, which is listed there as a November 2007 release.

A very spiffy cover, too. I can still vividly remember where I was standing in the room when this very scene was shot. I can even remember standing in the same approximate area when Michael Lennick and Lee Wilson got the idea to film a strip of television static in 16mm and project it onto this stretchy, veiny material from Rick Baker's EFX Inc. and dissolve it out to create one of the movie's most memorable images.

Seeing the format that Millipede Press' "Studies in the Horror Film" series is going to take also excites the imagination about what further entries in the series there might be. An exciting development in publishing, to be sure.

Last night, I joined the elite group of people (Roger Corman may be the only other person able to make this claim) who have recorded three full solo DVD audio commentaries in a single day -- a single night actually, as this took place roughly between midnight and 5:30 am. These commentaries are for the second round of Mario Bava releases coming later this year from Anchor Bay, and the recordings are now out the door and flying west. My voice was close to shot after the third one, but I can tell you this much: wine helps.

I promised to pamper myself today by goofing off and imbibing soothing liquids (to restore my throat, you understand), but it's turned into a work day, after all, though a pleasurable one. I started compiling my personal mailing list for the Bava book, which gave me the opportunity to call and e-mail a bunch of the book's interviewees in search of their current addresses. I got to speak on the phone with Brett Halsey and John Steiner, I left a message for Daliah Lavi, e-mailed other old acquaintences and got e-mailed back, but it seems I may have inadvertently lost touch with Richard Harrison. (If anyone within the reach of this blog knows where to find him, please let me know.) Everyone seems happy for me, excited to know the book is on the way. After all this time, it's really happening...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Your Faithful Blogger on the VIDEODROME set

One of the many things we've been doing this week is getting some last minute additional images together for my "Studies in the Horror Film" book on David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME, which is being published by Millipede Press. I thought I would share a few of these shots with you, partly to stir up interest and partly because I'm not altogether certain these particular ones will make the cut; it's not a book about me, after all. If they do appear in the book, they'll look a lot better, because I didn't do anything much to restore these. I'll leaving that task to the many-handed team at Millipede.

Anyway, this was me twenty-five years ago. Dig those Italian frame eyeglasses. This particular Author's Photo, which finds me simultaneously posed by and broadcast on the fabled Flesh TV, was taken by the show's video effects supervisor Michael Lennick.

Here I am on the actual "Videodrome" set, interviewing assistant director John Board -- a wonderful fellow, knowledgeable, funny, authoritative, keeps a set on its toes. This is one of the few shots that finds me looking color-coordinated with my surroundings. It wasn't really in Pittsburgh, but in Toronto. Photo by Donna Lucas.

That's me with a chunk of Barry Convex's cancer in my hand. Polyvinylchloride, I think it was. Photo by my good friend Robert Uth, who asked me to look queasy.

And, last but not necessarily least, here I am in Rick Baker's EFX workshop holding a foam latex casting of Rick's own hand, which was later used to fill Barry Convex's right sleeve during his animatronic death scene. Another photo by Robert Uth.
My VIDEODROME book will be coming out sometime later this year or early next, I'm told. Needless to say, I'll be sure to let you know when it's available.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The Passenger" Moves On

Michelangelo Antonioni has vanished from this island Earth at age 94. His disappearance took place the same day as that of Ingmar Bergman, whose death was noted by many a blogger with terms like "Endgame" and "Checkmate." Bergman once staged a memorable chess game with Death, of course, in THE SEVENTH SEAL -- one of the few films whose every image is invested with such power and inevitability that they seem to preexist the film itself, like carvings in ancient wood or stone -- but it was Antonioni who was truly the chessmaster, one of cinema's rare geometric thinkers, possibly its first and without question its most definitive.

This is a very busy week for me, a prelude to a very busy month in fact, and I can't spare the time to write about Antonioni and his glorious work as fully as I'd like. BLOW UP and L'AVVENTURA have always been personal favorites, and when Criterion released L'ECLISSE a few years ago, it immediately vaulted past them into my Top 10: I watched it three times in three days, and then began writing an infatuated short story about the spell it cast, which work and time (again) conspired to prevent me from finishing. Once this present pile of work is out of the way, I would like very much to go back to it and complete it in tribute to this outstanding artist. Last year, "THE PASSENGER" (another of those curious films with titles in quotes, like "DON'T LOOK NOW" and "THESE ARE THE DAMNED") was finally released on DVD, a magnificent film about life, identity, and mortality.

Antonioni's films were often criticized for being too nihilistic, but I don't see them as nihilistic as much as conscious and accepting of the human condition. Just because they are cerebral doesn't mean they are without spirit. "THE PASSENGER" is actually the ideal film to watch if you seek the comfort of knowing that only what Antonioni was, as a man, is dead. What he is and always was, as energy, survives -- I believe the film subtly expressive of this philosophy, that this world is no one's final destination, that we are all merely passengers, our present identity in quotation marks (as well as question marks). Needless to say, his films remain with us as his representatives.

Today, I send a loving genuflection halfway around the world today to one of my favorite filmmakers, Eric Rohmer -- who recently turned 87 -- in the hopes that he can keep his name out of the headlines for awhile.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Requiem for a Heavyweight Broadcaster

Tom Snyder as he appeared in a bit part in "A Friend in Need," a 1961 episode of THE RIFLEMAN. He had two lines.

I was very sorry to read about Tom Snyder's death yesterday at the age of 71, from leukemia. As a constant viewer of his NBC late-night talk show TOMORROW WITH TOM SNYDER (1975-81) and a frequent viewer of his post-Letterman series on CBS, THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH TOM SNYDER (1995-98), I feel as though I shared a big part of my life with him, but that's not exactly true. He shared a big part of his life with me and anyone else thoughtful enough to tune in. Few television hosts were as forthcoming about themselves as Tom Snyder. He would talk "Mother Snyder" when it was her birthday or if she wasn't feeling well, about the joys and woes of raising a teenage daughter, about his problems with the networks, and he would even make on-air references to his experiences with smoking pot or about the times when he tuned into SCREW editor Al Goldstein's public access porn show.
Talk about a box of chocolates. With TOMORROW and Tom Snyder, you never knew what you were going to get. The theme music he chose for the program was probably a clue to the real Tom: Barry White's "Love Theme" -- romantic schmaltzy disco music that was equal parts cheesy and classy. Tom could either be very cool, a complete jerk, and most winningly, he could often be seen vulnerably and forthcomingly trying to navigate a through-line between the two. On the evening that Barry White himself appeared on the show, it was like the Pope had deigned to give him audience. And Snyder gave him the serious attentive interview that I doubt ROLLING STONE ever did.

"Got it. It's not a band, it's a company. It's not a concert, it's a gig." "Humour me..." "Not for long."

Cutting-edge guests didn't necessarily guarantee a cutting-edge interview; his legendary sit-down with John Lydon and Keith Levene of Public Image Limited is a classic example of "failure to communicate," and I can also well remember a joint appearance by James Brown and football great Jim Brown, who apparently showed up at the studio one evening unannounced, requesting airtime on TOMORROW to discuss solutions to the problems facing black youth... in which it quickly transpired that the two JBs really had nothing to offer except that more young black people should look up to role models like them. It turned out to be a fairly bare-faced, smug-assed ego stroke that left Tom so baffled that he spent the next on-air segment scratching his head over why the interview hadn't worked. Very candid, very brave -- and it momentarily turned galling television into great television.

I've written here before about what TOMORROW's great interviews with Sterling Hayden meant to me. But I can also remember seeing a round-table discussion between Snyder and various Russ Meyer stars, including Uschi Digart, to this day the only interview I've ever seen with her. She came across as very smart and business-savvy. I'll never forget Snyder's incredulous comment "So what you're actually saying is that, on a Meyer set, there's no actual..." (he fumbled for a word) "... balling?" His choice of word somehow rooted his question at once and forever in the 1970s. Tom often had trouble with finding the right word for that particular act on national television. On another occasion, he started a show by telling an off-color joke after warning viewers that he couldn't use the word that made that joke so funny. He proceeded to tell it, and to the audible amusement of the stagehands, he sat flustered at his inability to say what he wanted to say. Then he said, "You know, the irony is that I can't say the word, but I can spell it backwards as much as I want. KCUF! KCUF! KCUF!" I've often wondered if he got his wrist slapped over that, the next day. His lusty laugh had an appreciation of the ribald. Another case in point is Grace Slick's first appearance on THE LATE LATE SHOW, when she referred to the crux of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal with the phrase "polishing a knob." Snyder smiled at the former psychedelic rock goddess with an ever-widening Cheshire grin before saying, "You know... I like you."
Which brings us to another of Tom's great TOMORROW moments, and perhaps the one that most crystallizes his value as a broadcaster. There was a night when he interviewed actress Liv Ullmann, I believe on the occasion of the release of Ingmar Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. (Yes, I've heard about Bergman's passing, but that will have to be another topic for another time.) Throughout the interview, there blossomed something very strange in the communication between interviewer and interviewee that was as quizzical as it was compelling to watch. They seemed to be flirting with one another but, then again, they weren't. The next night, Tom opened the show by confessing that, during the previous night's interview with Ms. Ullmann, he had felt a powerful erotic pull that, he was convinced, was being reciprocated and teased on the air. The interview, from his perspective, had been great foreplay. After the show, a production associate alerted him that Ms. Ullmann and her entourage were going to the elevators to leave, and he literally ran after her. Catching the actress just as the doors were closing, he took her aside and explained that he was under the impression that they'd shared what is now known as "a moment." Ullmann then very politely and tactfully thanked him for his flattering interest but said that he must have misinterpreted something in her manner.
He certainly didn't have to discuss such a personal story on the air, but stories like this helped to turn both of Tom Snyder's shows into something conspicuously more than a nightly talk show; they were, in a sense, personality-driven serials in which the interviews were central yet also incidental. There's an element of that in LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, but in that setting, it's show-biz served with an unhealthy dollop of irony. With Snyder, you always got the reality of Tom Snyder at that moment -- good, bad, smart, stupid, curious, clueless, but ceaselessly watchable -- and his passing drops a precious digit from the ranks of a most endangered species.
Tonight, let's all raise a Colortini in his honor and watch the happy memories as they fly through the air.