Reading In Progress: In Which I Read Something Vaguely Nearly Current, and Also a Star Wars Reference

Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists - Steven Bach

I spend a lot of time (when I'm not reading) looking at my TBR list and thinking about what I really should be reading instead of what I'm currently reading. Such as books written in the current century. I was in one of those moods when I was looking up a film reference and discovered that hey, this book I've been meaning to read is available on Open Library, and it's not checked out!

 

Title: Final Cut: Money and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, The Film That Sank United Artists

Publication date: 1985

Film: Heaven's Gate (That wikipedia link will give you all the floptacular details, and cites this book. I have never managed to sit through the entire movie.)

 

So it's not quite current, but at least it puts me a lot nearer than the history I've been living in for the past few months. It's also about a subject that I adore - films that are flops. I love reading about how they happened, who signed off on them, and how many people were tearing their hair out during the process. It's usually never just one person to blame - it takes a lot of people under various delusions to make a real fiasco. (Which reminds me that I haven't read this book either: Fiasco, A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops)

 

Since this isn't the review I won't say more about the book - but I'll note that so far it's short on any fun detail, and mostly about business meetings. But it does throw out film references every so often, and then of course I have to google for more info.

 

As part of a discussion of how companies will purchase "pickups" - films that are finished but need someone to put together distribution deals to actually show them in theatres.

 

p 75:  "...Production might not even be consulted, merely informed that domestic distribution, say, had just spent $1 million of production's money to acquire a Japanese sci-fi adventure called Message from Space "which can't keep 'em from lining up at the box office. It's a Jap Star Wars! It'll clean up." The only thing it cleaned up was the red inkwell. Then there was something called The Passage, which featured Malcolm McDowell as a sex-crazed Gestapo agent who ran around in a jockstrap adorned by a swastika."

 

There you have it, the kind of quote that makes me IMMEDIATELY stop and say "I MUST see those films!" (Actually my first thought was "wtf, "Jap Star Wars?! Really?!" and then I remember that this was the 80s, and that this isn't the first nonfiction book I've read where film executives talk like that. And worse. I'm saving the rants for the book review.) This is how I find myself hours later still looking at Youtube videos, because it's like eating potato chips, one leads to another and then another...

 

Message from Space (1978) (IMDB)

First, here's the wikipedia page, which has one of the longest plot summaries I've ever seen for a film on wikipedia (I did not read it all, let me know if I've missed anything comic). And now, you MUST go watch this:

 

Message From Space trailer (Youtube, 3 min)

 

That just screams Fodder for MST3K. Also there are SO many things there that I recognize from anime and now want to go check the dates and see which came first. In particular, that spaceship shaped like a clipper ship - because I automatically think of Captain Harlock space pirate anime. But then there are MANY such things in Message from Space that seem similar to other film/anime/etc. - but specifically Star Wars. A great summery is this video, which also has many, many clips of the film alongside clips from Star Wars:

 

Mike Matei Message From Space Review (Youtube, 2012, 8min)

 

If the trailer made me think that the film might be humorously bad but dull, that review made me feel it might not be quite so dull. But still definitely bad.

 

[No matter what wikipedia calls it, I am never calling Star Wars anything with "A New Hope" tacked on. It was Star Wars in 1977 when I saw it in the theatre, and it'll always be Star Wars, no additional title needed. So there, George Lucas.]

 

At this point I could go on about good-bad space films that exist only to feed off of the late 1970s mania for Star Wars - but that would be a really long tangent. And I should go ahead and talk about the second film, which is much less fun than I thought it'd be.

 

The Passage (1979) (IMDB)

On its wikipedia page there's the following quote from Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide:

"Trashy WW2 story of Basque guide Quinn helping chemist Mason and his family escape over the Pyrenees with Nazi fanatic McDowell in hot pursuit. McDowell's campy performance must be seen to be disbelieved."

So I was really hopeful at that point that it was going to be more campy and less sadism. After all, Final Cut had referenced "a sex-crazed Gestapo agent who ran around in a jockstrap adorned by a swastika." I thought that scenario would have to be comedic. But nope, I was wrong.

 

There are a few YouTube clips from the film (you can easily dig up the others), but the one I'm going to post has none of the original audio and instead is set to an Anthrax song. Depending how you feel about Anthrax, you can mute it. Er, if you still want to see it after I describe it.

 

The Passage (1979) Tribute (Youtube, 4min)

 

Judging (somewhat unfairly, though I do know a lot about the history of films churned out in the 1970s) from the clips I've seen, this is a film trying to be really edgy with the sadism of the lead villain, McDowell's nazi, Capt. Von Berkow. And here's where I really should have remembered watching him in the 1979 Caligula, which I'd rented with some friends thinking it'd be total campy bad film night. And no, it was mostly just gross and very non-funny.

 

The scene where McDowell is in a jockstrap (in The Passage, not Caligula!) - and here I'm just basing this on what I know about the film's plot, characters, and the clips in that 4min video - is when he's with actress Kay Lenz and his character has somehow forced her into having sex with him. I assume in one of those "or else I'll kill your loved ones" set ups where the woman has no choice. It might have come off campy if Lenz hadn't managed to look as upset in her reaction shots - because even without hearing the audio you can see that McDowell's really hamming it up in his gestures. (The film also has a scene where Christopher Lee is set on fire by McDowell, which I wouldn't call enjoyable - though in the clip that I saw you don't see much, there's no gory detail. Not to mention it's not the first or even 20th time I've seen Lee die in a gruesome manner, because I've watched most of his vampire movies.)

 

So enough said about that. On the up side, this is now a bad movie I don't have to bother to watch. And suddenly I find this a wonderful thing, that Youtube has saved me so many hours of bad movie watching, when I can now screen a few scenes ahead of time and figure out if it's the right level of bad movie for me to enjoy.

 

So I'm now off to watch more of Mike Matei's and Cinnemasacre's film reviews. Because in there are the kinds of bad films I can happily enjoy. For example:

 

Monolith Monsters review by Matt Matei (wikipedia) (youtube, 7min)

 

Actually this is the kind of movie that desperately needs an MST3K-ization or you'll drift off to sleep before the action happens. Or alternately you'll learn the dangers of becoming a geologist and picking up strange rocks. (Spoiler, there is no giant humanoid rock monster. Imagine the kids seeing that in 1957 and how incredibly pissed off they were! Well, I'd have been, anyway.)