Four Eyed Frog Books has always been a popular destination for me and my family whenever we are vacationing in Sea Ranch. This independent bookstore opened up for business in Gualala back in 2003, and it has long since become a go-to destination in this small city in Northern California. While it is much smaller than your average Barnes & Noble, its selection is still very impressive and you can count on new releases always being available. And what if they don’t have what you are looking for, you ask? They can order it for you with no problems whatsoever.
Even if I am not intending to buy a book, I am always enjoy visiting this unique bookstore whenever I am in town thanks to its very friendly atmosphere. Being in there is worth it just to watch my nieces run inside and decide what book their grandpa can buy for them next. I also love holding up those literary works by Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck in front of my parents just to see how they react. They don’t care for Palin’s or Beck’s books, but that’s okay because neither do I.
The owner of Four Eyed Frog Books, or “The Frog” as many like to call it, is Joel Crockett who, on the store’s website, admits he always dreamed about “owning a little store – in a small town – on the ocean.” This dream later became a reality when he and his late wife Linda came to the Redwood Coast, and they knew right then and there that this was the place for them to live. Following its opening, Joel’s brother, Jeremy Crockett moved into town to become a partner in the bookstore. These two even have their own band which is understandably titled The Crockett Brothers. Their specialty is folk music, and my dad has confirmed to me that they are hilarious.
In addition, Four Eyed Frog Books has also become a place for authors to drop by and give readings of what they have written. Guests who have dropped by include Bill Broder who wrote “Taking Care of Cleo,” Charles Furey who shared World War II stories from his memoir “Going Back,” and California’s High School Poet Laureate of 2005 Lindsey Smith who gave us a sampling of her work in “Hailing The Taxi Hopefully.” Also, during the summer, the bookstore has a weekly story time for kids of all ages to attend. This should show deeply ingrained this bookstore is in the local culture.
The Frog also has other items to peruse like a large number of greeting cards for any occasion. They also have a selection of gently used books which are worth a look, and there is a section dedicated to the works of local authors. This I think is especially thoughtful as books like these can be slightly easier to find online than in as store like this. Furthermore, they have some fun games to purchase such as Bananagrams. For those unfamiliar with it, the game is kind of like Scrabble except you have a whole game board to yourself to compose words as do all your opponents. This game has become a big favorite in my family, and it has given us great times as well as frustrating moments where we get the same letter seven times and end up throwing them across the room.
One of my other favorite features of The Frog is this display they have of customers who have displayed travel photos including the store’s bookmark. Those fans have shown off their bookmarks in such places as Australia, Rome, London, Mexico and Los Angeles, which for some probably is a far-off destination. As for myself, I found the perfect place to show off my Four-Eyed Frog bookmark:
Joel has said that the goal of Four Eyed Frog Books is to be “a responsive, involved, interested and interesting community bookstore.” It is safe to say he has long since succeeded in making the store just that. The selection they offer reflects what its customers often purchase, and they continue to serve the town of Gualala very well. They are also very happy to place special orders for you, and they can get that book you desperately want out delivered to you as ordering from Amazon can be severely overrated.
Taking this all into account, there is much more to this small independent bookstore than meets the eye. I will most definitely continue to support The Frog whenever I visit Gualala. Joel still knows my family and was quick to recognize me even though I only come to this town just once a year. I very much enjoy the friendly atmosphere the bookstore provides, and it is always a pleasure to walk through the doors. Even though I still have dozens of books waiting to be read, I always find myself buying something because leaving empty handed, especially in an independent bookstore, feels quite criminal.
If you are ever driving through Gualala on your way to Mendocino, I strongly recommend you check Four Eyed Frog Books out. Trust me, it is worth the time, and you will find a book you like. Small Business Saturday may be gone, but the memory lingers on.
The following article was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
If you are like me and love classic movies, there is one channel and company which stands out: Turner Classic Movies. In our house, this channel is on a lot! There is always an older film that has slipped under my radar and deserves my time and attention.
With the holidays fast approaching, now is the time to take advantage of some of the great products that are provided by Turner Classic Movies for the movie lover in your life. They will thank you time and time again for these thoughtful and exciting gifts.
The first place you need to start is by visiting shop.tcm.com/gift. While there, you will find a variety of gifts which are suited for just about anyone in your family that loves all things classic movies. Choose from a variety of movies under $10 or pick up one of the many great books filled with tons of trivia. If you are looking for the perfect holiday movie, TCM has them in stock as well. There are also TCM exclusives such as shirts, hats and even a mug. With so many amazing options, I wanted to highlight a few of them TCM sent me to share with you all.
TCM Coffee Mugs
Do you love coffee, or are you more of a tea or hot chocolate fan? If so, this TCM Coffee Mug is perfect for you! This is the same mug you see your favorite hosts use in the TCM Studio. This 11oz. drinkware comes in either a black or white design and features the Turner Classic Movies logo on it. Drinking from this ceramic mug will remind you of all the great classic movies you can get lost in after a long day of work.
“Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir” (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Eddie Muller
One of my favorite genres of film is film noir, especially in beautiful black and white. There are so many great film noirs out there to look through and read about in this fantastic book. One of the films you can learn more about is “Rear Window,” the classic Hitchcock film. Other films discussed by this talented author include “Naked Alibi,” “Laura” and “Sudden Fear” to name a few. This is a 264-page book filled with phenomenal images and tremendous writing. I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it. This is just one of many great books they have to offer on their website. Also included is a great book on the cinematic classic, “West Side Story.”
Now, even though I’m straight edge and don’t drink, I’ve heard wonderful things about the wines produced by TCM. They pair nicely with a classic film! You can also drink your TCM Wine while enjoying one of their many amazing books. The TCM Wine Club ships out limited-production wines from around the world. You will receive your shipment quarterly. The bottles feature artwork and images from some of your favorite films and actors. As a special introductory offer, you can save up to $160 on your very first collection. Choose between red or white wines or even a combination of both. As a special welcome, you will also receive 3 bonus classic movie wines. This is a wine lover’s dream!
TCM provided me with the Elvis wine, which my dad is absolutely going to love, as he’s a huge fan of the King!
If you’re interested in joining the TCM Wine Club or want to purchase this for a friend, check out the wine club here: http://tcmwineclub.com/holiday ($79.99 plus $19.99 shipping & tax)
I hope this TCM Holiday Gift Guide has made your holiday shopping a little bit easier! Act fast as the holidays are quickly approaching, and you want to make sure to get your order shipped and delivered in time. This is a great way to show the movie fan in your life how much you care about them in a variety of ways. Happy Holidays and keep watching a lot of classic movies on TCM!
WRITER’S NOTE: As the first paragraph will indicate, this event took place back in 2013.
I was one of the lucky attendees at the Fox Studios lot on January 31, 2013 where the unveiling of a brand-new mural done in honor of “Die Hard” took place at Stage 8. The action classic which stars Bruce Willis as New York Detective John McClane has now reached its 25th anniversary, and the fifth movie in the long running series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” is about to be released. Joining Willis in this celebration were Fox Film Entertainment chair Jim Gianopulos and the cast and director of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill it was to be a part of this historic event. Like so many, I was raised on the original “Die Hard” and its sequels, and the fact this franchise has held up so well is really a testament to the character of McClane and Willis’ portrayal of him. Before McClane, all movie action heroes were indestructible superhuman armies of one who obliterated every single bad guy while barely getting hurt in the process. McClane, however, was a different kind of action hero because he was like the rest of us; vulnerable, easily wounded, scared, and far from ever being indestructible. Gianopulos made this clear when talking about the character and his enduring status.
“While John McClane describes himself as the ‘fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass,’ I’d like to think his appeal is just that he’s the everyman who just has this uncanny way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and who never, ever says die,” Gianopulos said. “So, however you try and categorize him, John McClane will live on for audiences in our hearts and the studio’s legacy and so will his ‘yippee-ki-yay…’ Well, it’s a family thing so I can’t really say it.”
Gianopulos also rightly pointed out how, unlike Batman or James Bond, John McClane has been played by the same actor in all five “Die Hard” movies. The crowd was thrilled to see Willis show up for this mural unveiling, and he looked genuinely happy to be there and to see us so excited.
“This is really very nice, really nice,” Willis said of this occasion. “I worked on this lot. I started on Stage 20 here and I moved on to bigger things here at Fox, and I just couldn’t be more pleased that you all came out here. It has been a big, great, fun time doing ‘Die Hard’ for the last twenty-five years and living to talk about it.”
Afterwards, Gianopulos gave Willis a device which looked like a detonator to a bomb and, after the 20th Century Fox Fanfare was played, he pushed the button on it. What followed were some loud pyrotechnics and the dropping of the curtain to reveal the 35- foot “Die Hard” mural which was designed by muralist Van Hecht-Nielsen and painter Fernando Cepeda. It depicts the scene where McClane makes his way through an air vent and pulls out his cigarette lighter to see what’s ahead. This of course led to one of Willis’ famous quotes from the movie:
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
I personally got a huge kick out of the whole presentation as did everyone else, and it was greeted with thunderous applause from the onlookers as well as many car alarms which were inadvertently set off by the pyrotechnics (I guess they had to have their say as well). Then again, “Die Hard” did get its name from a car battery, so the irony is hard to ignore.
Following the mural presentation, we were invited to a screening of “A Good Day to Die Hard” held at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox Lot. Introducing the movie was its director, John Moore, who added he hopes his funeral looks like this and with so many excited people in attendance. He also pointed out while this was a special screening of the new “Die Hard” movie, he also called it a “nerd screening” because of a new sound system being utilized for it.
“This is an Atmos screening of ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,'” Moore said. “To explain what that is, Atmos is a new three-dimensional sound system that Dolby is rolling out over the next few years, and this is only the eighth film to be mixed in Atmos. If I could director direction to the ceiling for a moment, you can see there is an array of nearly 40 speakers, and this creates a three-dimensional sound that’s gonna role of you like nothing you’ve ever experienced… Or since the last time something’s rolled over you.”
But for many of us, the biggest treat of the evening was when we were invited to the 21st floor of the Nakatomi Plaza where the original “Die Hard” was filmed… Okay, it’s really called Fox Plaza, but to us “Die Hard” fans it will always be known as the Nakatomi. The lobby in the building has changed only so much since 1988, and while the lighting inside was different, it still looks the same as it did back then. You should have seen us when we got into the elevators though because they looked exactly the same as they did in the movie. My friend Phillip was practically hyperventilating from all the excitement of being there, and he later claimed how he almost died of “sheer awesomeness.” We all definitely shared in that feeling, and I had a great grin on my face for the rest of the night.
The 21st floor was decked out with a DJ and food that ran from cheese and apple blintzes to bigger dishes like beef stroganoff and egg noodles, perhaps to reflect how “A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place in Russia. I loved how the floor resembled the one McClane hid out on when he set off the fire alarm and was waiting for the fire trucks to show up. This had a lot of us going up to the windows and looking out while repeating our favorite lines from “Die Hard” such as “c’mon baby, come ta’ papa, I’ll kiss ya’ fucking dalmatian” or “you macho a-holes! No! No!” We didn’t bang our hands on the windows though as that likely would have gotten us into trouble.
Actually, some of us got a really nice security guard to take us up to the 30th floor where the Christmas party in “Die Hard” took place, but it looks nothing like it did in the movie. In fact, much of what we saw in “Die Hard” was done on a soundstage, and the real 30th floor was full of empty office spaces still waiting to be occupied. We were hoping to go up to the roof where the helipad is so we could imitate the scene where McClane shot his machine gun into the air to get the hostages to run downstairs, but unfortunately the guy couldn’t do that for us (he was very nice about it though).
Still, we got to see the front parking area where Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) drove around in circles before going inside, and we also got to see the place where a terrorist stole a Nestle Crunch candy bar while waiting for SWAT to break into the building. It’s all those little details which got us so excited.
Seriously, this was one of the best evenings I have had in a long time. To be a part of it was an honor, and it was an amazing thrill to go inside the Nakatomi/Fox Plaza and see where “Die Hard” was filmed. I came out to Los Angeles to be a part of the movies and to be close to those involved in their making, and this was an occasion which allowed me to do just that. I’ll never forget this evening, and I look forward to having many more of them.
It’s been talked about for ages to where we wondered if Comedy Dynamics, the largest independent comedy production and distribution company, would ever release Eddie Pence’s long-awaited comedy special in any format. Pence spent a good deal of time raising money on Indiegogo to help bring about the funds needed to produce it, Comedy Dynamics signed on to distribute it, and then everything turned into an elongated episode of “Waiting For Godot” as we all wondered if it would ever see the light of day.
Well, the wait is finally over as “Eddie Pence: The (Un)Special Comedy Special” is about to be released by Comedy Dynamics on September 1, 2020 on various digital platforms such as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime and so many others. As for a DVD, Blu-ray or perhaps even a 4K Ultra HD release, that is still being worked on. But more importantly, the first trailer for it has now been unveiled for all the world to see, and it makes me want to watch the whole special sooner rather than later.
Pence’s “Un(Special) Comedy Special” was filmed in the comedian’s hometown of Washington D.C. at the cellar of the D.C. Comedy Loft (hence the special’s rather unique title). It is said Pence will be giving us his humorous takes on killer chihuahuas, streaking, and how he parents his young son. The trailer, however, shows him performing an unforgettable bit about “The Empire Strikes Back,” still the best “Star Wars” film ever made. We all know the famous exchange between Princess Leia and Han Solo in their penultimate scene where Han is about to be frozen in carbonite, and Leia tells him, “I love you!” To this, Han replies, “I know.” It’s a beautiful moment which none of us can ever forget, but as Pence points out, it’s a moment which will never, ever play out well in real life.
Pence has been a stand-up comic in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, and he has performed on television shows like “The Late Late Show” and various ones shown on Comedy Central. These days, he serves as the “Vice Host” of “The Ralph Report” which is hosted by Ralph Garman, and he is one of the hosts of “The Ramble” alongside Jerry Rocha and Cody Villafaña. He is also a big fan of the formerly named football team Washington Redskins, and even he thinks this NFL team has long since deserved to be renamed to something less offensive.
I did not become aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” until its first sequel, “Psycho II,” was released back in 1983, 23 years after the original. Of course, I didn’t watch this sequel at the time as I was just a kid, but I do remember its movie trailers and the title cracking up on the big screen as it played before the feature presentation of “Return of the Jedi.” This image really freaked me out, and it was just as well I didn’t see the classic film which inspired it until many years later. When I rented and watched it on VHS with my older brother, we did not see what the big deal was as we had long since been spoiled by the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies with all the blood and gore a hormonal teenager could ever want or endure.
Well, it turns out watching it once was not nearly enough. Whether or not you think “Psycho” is Hitchcock’s best movie ever, it is often the one he is remembered best for making. After 60 years, it remains a great study of how a director can maintain suspense throughout the entire running time of a movie, and of a master playing the audience all the way up to the last frame. This becomes even more apparent when you watch it for a second and third time. Hitchcock puts you into the mindset of Marion Crane as she drives out of town after embezzling some money, and then he completely changes the dynamic of the story once Norman Bates arrives.
With “Psycho” now at its 60th Anniversary, we have another chance to go behind the scenes to see how this horror classic was made. It also represents another opportunity for Universal Pictures to release a new digital edition of the movie so they can fleece a few more dollars from our wallets. There has already been a Blu-ray release which made it look exquisite, and there has got to be a 4K Ultra HD version at some point. Anyway, looking back at the history of this classic proved to be one of the most interesting research projects I have taken on in years as there is much to be said about what went on behind the scenes.
“Psycho” originated as a novel written by Robert Bloch which itself was based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, a man whose horrific exploits would inspire many horror movies to come. Hitchcock acquired the film rights through his agent for $9,000, and he chose to film it after two projects he was working on for Paramount Pictures, “Flamingo Feather” and “No Bail for The Judge,” fell through. But Paramount did not want to help Hitchcock out on this one either as they were quoted as saying they found Bloch’s novel “too repulsive” and “impossible for films.” The executives refused to finance the production, and they even went as far as telling Hitchcock their soundstages were unavailable because they were being used for other projects. Of course, this proved to be a bold-faced lie as their production schedule was already in a slump at the time.
Undaunted, Hitchcock was still determined to bring “Psycho” to the silver screen, and he even offered to defer his normal director’s fee of $250,000 in exchange for 60% ownership of the movie’s negative. Still, executives would not grant him the financing he desired, so he continued to go through several different cost-cutting measures before getting a budget of no more than $1 million to make the movie his own way. Hitchcock had planned to make the film fast and cheap anyway, and he employed the crew members of his television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” who were already skilled at doing the same. He also succeeded in casting proven stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins at a quarter of their usual salaries.
Bringing down the budget also meant shooting the film in black and white, but this was fine with Hitchcock as he wanted to film it that way as to make the shower scene come across as less gory, and he was also a big fan of “Les Diabolique” which was also shot in black and white.
Like “Psycho,” “Les Diabolique” was remade many years later. Unlike the originals, both were filmed in color. Even more unlike the originals, they received mercilessly scathing reviews upon their separate releases.
In filming “Psycho,” Hitchcock started off by making it as objective an experience as possible, and we feel what Marion goes through as the voices in her head fill her with guilt and doubt over what she has done. To help emphasize this effect, Hitchcock shot much of the movie with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. By doing this, the camera was said to mimic normal human vision. As a result, you are not just watching the movie, you are experiencing it. This even goes on after Marion has gone and the story turns its focus to Norman Bates. When he pushes her car into a nearby swamp, you share in his anxiety when it does not completely sink. That’s the thing; like Norman, you want the car to sink, and it makes one feel like a voyeur just as Hitchcock intended.
Then, of course, you have the famous shower scene, and after all these years it remains one of the most talked about and heavily dissected moments in cinema history. I am sure you all know the details regarding it: it was shot over six days from 77 different camera angles, and the scene features around 50 cuts in the three minutes which it lasts. Not much is shown as you never see the knife penetrating Marion’s flesh, and there is no gore other than the blood (chocolate syrup was used) going down the drain along with the water. Indeed, it is what you do not see which makes the scene feel so violent. Like Spielberg later did with “Jaws,” Hitchcock dared the audience to use their imagination in regards to what they thought they saw here. This is one of many reasons why this scene has stood the test of time, and it was also the first time a director killed off his leading lady in the middle of a movie. Back in 1960, audience members could not help but wonder where things could possibly go from there, and shower curtain sales have never been the same since.
I also cannot go on without mentioning the infamous score composed by the great Bernard Herrmann, and it remains one of the scariest pieces of music ever applied to a motion picture. Throughout his career, Hermann proved brilliant in composing film scores which really captured the psychology of the characters. This proves to be as true about “Psycho’s” score as it was with Hermann’s work on “Cape Fear” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a surprise to learn how this score almost didn’t come about as Herrmann balked at Hitchcock’s request to take the job on a reduced salary. Somehow though, Herrmann agreed to the terms and ended up writing music for a string orchestra as opposed to a full symphony which would have included brass and woodwind instruments. This is now clearly seen as a masterstroke on his part as the screeching of violins captures the sheer terror which overtakes Marion and the audience during the infamous shower scene.
Although “Psycho” is now recognized today as a classic, it actually received mixed reviews upon its release. Some admired the buildup of tension, but others questioned the psychological elements as being less effective. It even made one critic, C. A. Lejeune, so offended to where she walked out of the movie before it was even over, and she soon after resigned from her position as film critic for The Observer. Looks like Norman’s mother did not just claim victims onscreen!
When you look at the history of cinema, it is important to keep in mind how movies we see these days as classic were not necessarily treated this way upon their original release. It is over the passing of time where movies get re-evaluated or seen in a different light, and none can ever truly be perfect (although some do come very close to it). “Psycho” was a game changer as it came about during the Motion Picture Production Code which was heavy in its censorship of violence and sex in American films. With “Psycho,” Hitchcock flirted with showing nudity as well as gore, and this later opened up doors for filmmakers to exploit these elements with far more detail. Without “Psycho,” there may never have been a “Halloween” which by itself inadvertently sparked a whole wave of slasher movies. And without “Halloween,” there certainly would not have been a “Friday the 13th” as Jason Voorhees, like Norman Bates, also had serious mommy issues.
The cultural impact of “Psycho” lasts on to this very day. There are only so many movies which could have a sequel made to it several decades later. “Psycho III” followed a few years later, and a prequel came about because some just thought it would be a good idea to show how Norman Bates got to be the shy psycho we know him to be. There was even a failed television pilot called “Bates Motel” which starred Bud Cort as Alex West, an asylum inmate who befriends Norman and later inherits the motel and the house where mother lived (Anthony Perkins wanted nothing to do with that one). It also inspired a shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant which seemed almost every bit as odd as Norman himself. The only purpose of it seemed to be proof of how remakes will never be able to recapture what made the original so good. But if they make money, the studios will clearly not mind the critical bashing even if it proves to be justified.
Television would later take another shot at the “Psycho” franchise with another version of “Bates Motel,” and this one starred Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother. This version ended up lasting five seasons and proved to be very compelling as our fascination with the dark side of human nature is always stronger than we ever bother to realize. While some may have said enough already with “Psycho,” this show proved there was more life to it than we cared to initially realized.
Even today, you cannot hear screeching violins and not think of “Psycho.” Filmmakers reference it today like Wes Craven did in “Scream,” and there are dozens of movies out there which have done the same. That shower scene has been spoofed lord only knows how many times, my favorite being on “The Simpsons” where Maggie ended up attacking Homer with a mallet after watching one Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Another great one came about during one of Billy Crystal’s Oscar montages where he was in the shower and ends up getting accosted by Kevin Spacey who plays his “American Beauty” character of Lester Burnham. Turns out it was not the same shower Marion got stabbed in, but instead the one where Lester often experienced the highlight of his day.
Leigh never looked at taking showers the same way again, and it would be ages before she ever took one. Perkins would forever be typecast in roles similar to Norman Bates, but he said he would still have done “Psycho” even if he knew this would be the case. Many filmmakers (Brian DePalma especially) have tried to use the tricks Hitchcock employed in this and his other films to varying degrees of success. Still, there is no topping what Hitchcock did with this classic 1960 movie, and it remains the one so many other suspense and horror movies are judged by. Hitchcock’s powers of manipulation remain very hard to duplicate after all these years, and this illustrates what he meant when he was quoted as saying, “I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.”
By the time I finally got around to renting Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” on VHS, I already knew how it ended. Heck, everyone knew the ending of all the “Jaws” movies just as we did with “Rocky” and its endless sequels, and yet we still went in droves to the nearest theater playing them when they opened. But even while the great white shark’s final moment was never in doubt, it still provided to be one hell of an exciting movie. Much of this is thanks to Spielberg and actors Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. Its landmark success has been noted for starting the trend of summer blockbusters as well as the collective phobia of what’s in the water. 45 years later, many of us still do not feel the least bit safe about going into the water.
Looking back at the making of “Jaws” reveals a very troubled production which almost didn’t make it to the silver screen. From what I have read, this movie was to Steven Spielberg what “Apocalypse Now” was to Francis Ford Coppola. Remember the picture of Coppola on the set of “Apocalypse Now” with a gun to his head? Steven had one of him resting in the shark’s mouth, and he looked like he was more than ready for the shark to eat him.
The story of a great white shark terrorizing a New England island originated as a novel of the same name written by Peter Benchley which itself was inspired by several real-life incidents of shark attacks including the ones on Jersey Shore back in 1916. After buying the rights to the novel, film producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown tried to get John Sturges who made “The Great Escape” to bring it to the screen. When this did not happen, they went to Dick Richards who ended up calling the shark the whale, so he didn’t last long. Zanuck and Brown finally brought on Spielberg to direct, and this was just before the release of his first theatrical film “The Sugarland Express.” In adapting the novel, Spielberg focused on its main concept and took out the various subplots such as the affair between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper. In retrospect, this was an excellent call as it would have added more stories to a movie which did not need any extra baggage.
Hearing Dreyfuss describe his take on the whole production gives one idea of the mess Spielberg and Universal got themselves into:
“We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark.”
When he appeared on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” Spielberg said he invited the actors to dinner and they ended up “spit balling” the entire movie or, in other words, they made it up. Pages of the script were apparently not available to anyone until the day they were actually shot. A lot of filmmakers still work like this today even though it makes far more sense to work with a finished screenplay.
Then there was the shark itself which Spielberg nicknamed “Bruce” after his lawyer, Bruce Raimer. Three mechanical sharks were built for the production: a whole shark to be used for underwater shots, one which moved from camera-left to right as to hide the other side which completely exposed its internal machinery, and an opposite model with the right side uncovered. But while these models were tested in a pool under controlled conditions before production began, making them work in the ocean was another story. Some of them accidently sank and a team of divers were forced to retrieve them. The main mechanical model endured various malfunctions throughout, and its operation was constantly hindered by the hydraulics being corroded by salt water. Spielberg even joked about Bruce’s maiden voyage and how he sank to the bottom of the sea:
“It was a terrible sight! The shark comes out of the water tail first, wagging like Flipper! The tail comes down into the water, and then it sinks. And then there’s another explosion of white water, and all these pneumatic blue cables come out like snakes everywhere flying around! And then that got quiet, and then there was one last belch of bubbles, and that was the last we saw of the shark for about three weeks.”
Dreyfuss described the frustration everyone had with these models, and those walkie talkies being used by the crew always had the same words coming out of them:
“(static) The shark is not working, (static) the shark is not working.”
Things got even worse from there as filming at sea resulted in many delays as it would with just about any other film. Uninvited sailboats kept drifting into shots, and the Orca ended up sinking while the actors were onboard. This apparently led Spielberg to yell out as it was sinking:
“Screw the actors! Save the sound equipment!”
The crew members had absolutely no reason to believe they were filming a classic, and they instead nicknamed the film “Flaws.” Brown commented how the budget was originally $4 million, and it ended up costing $9 million. While this may sound like chump change today, this was long before the days when movies came with budgets of at least $100 million. Filming was scheduled to last 55 days, but it ended up lasting 159. Spielberg was not yet the director we know him as today, so you have to understand what was going through his mind while he was enduring this trial by fire:
“I thought my career as a filmmaker was over. I heard rumors that I would never work again because no one had ever taken a film 100 days over schedule.”
Spielberg was not even on set for the final shot when the great white meets its maker, and it was mainly because he was under the suspicion the crew would throw him into the water. This has apparently become a tradition for Spielberg on the films that he directs; not being there for the shooting of the final scene. This is regardless of the fact not all his movies take place on the water.
As we all know now, the shark malfunctioning proved to be a blessing in disguise as it gave the “Jaws” a more suspenseful tone than it had already. By filming the dorsal fin as often as he could or using those yellow barrels to indicate the shark’s location, he was able to get away with not showing the whole thing through most of the movie. In fact, he had already told the producers he would agree to direct the movie on the condition he did not have to show the shark for the first hour. Spielberg went on to explain the logic behind this decision:
“I don’t know of anything more terrifying than off-camera violence, off-camera suspense. You have to give the audience credit; they bring with them to the movie theater probably collectively more imagination than any of us behind the scenes put together. And they come in there with their imaginations and implore us as filmmakers to use it.”
Looking back at the hell Spielberg went through to finish this, it is amazing any movie came out of it. You can only imagine what he was thinking before “Jaws” was even released. One of the funniest stories he ever told about it was when he went to a preview or test screening. As he stood in the back of the theater right near the exit, he was expecting the worst:
“Around the time that little boy was killed on the raft, a man got up and began to walk out of the theater. And I said ‘well, here’s our first walk out, the movie’s too violent. I shouldn’t have done this; I shouldn’t have made it that intense.’ The guy then starts running and I go ‘oh worst the walking out, he’s running out of the theater! He’s RACING out of the theater!’ He got right next to me, went to one knee and threw up all over the carpeting of the lobby. Went to the bathroom, came out five minutes later, walked back to his seat and I said ‘IT’S A HIT!’ “
“Jaws” ended up becoming the first movie in history to gross over $100 million at the box office, and it marked a watershed moment in how movies were distributed. Since its release, it has spawned several sequels, become a memorable part of the Universal Studios tour and has spawned lord knows how many VHS, laserdisc, and DVD reissues. And, of course, it was released on Blu-ray, and it has now been released on the format 4K Ultra HD. If there is to be another new format on the horizon, you can be sure “Jaws” will be released on it.
As for the sequels, “Jaws 2” had its moments, the only saving graces of “Jaws 3-D” was its 3D effects which look awful when viewed on your television, and for the beautiful appearances of Bess Armstrong and Lea Thompson. As for “Jaws: The Revenge,” it remains one of the worst movies ever made as it contains many unforgivably glaring errors. On the upside, “Jaws: The Revenge” did inspire one of the greatest movie reviews on “Siskel & Ebert” which still has me laughing whenever I watch it. Spielberg later said he felt bad about how the franchise turned out, but he couldn’t go back to it after the frustration he had with making the first. By the time “Jaws 2” came around, Spielberg and Dreyfuss were already busy making “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
After all these years, “Jaws” remains one of the all-time great movies as it effortlessly taps into those fears we all have of the unknown, or of what is underneath us in the water. You could watch it a dozen times and still be thrilled by it, and it made Spielberg into the director he is today. If you are about to watch it for the first time, and you will find that the shark is indeed still working.
Here are some other interesting tidbits about “Jaws”:
Spielberg originally offered the role of Brody to Robert Duvall, but he was more interested in playing Quint.
Charlton Heston expressed interest in playing Quint, but Spielberg felt he was too big a personality and would end up overshadowing what he saw as the film’s real star: the shark.
Spielberg was initially apprehensive about casting Scheider because he feared he would play a tough guy like he did in “The French Connection.”
The role of Quint was offered to Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, but both turned it down.
The scene where Hooper discovers Ben Hooper’s body in the hull of his wrecked boat was actually added after an initial screening of the film. Spielberg said he was greedy for one more scream, and he ended up financing this moment with $3,000 of his own money since Universal Pictures denied him anymore financing at that point in the production.
Thanks to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), many movies including “No Time to Die” and “Fast & Furious 9” have had their releases delayed from seven months to a full year. As for the movie theaters, they are virtually empty or have developed a “social distancing” designed to keep audience members separated from one another (as if social media has not accomplished this already). Truth is, we would be better off staying at home and watching “Dolemite is My Name” or “The Irishman” on Netflix.
This epidemic, however, did not stop Flicks For Fans from screening “Friday the 13th” in honor of its 40th anniversary. That’s right folks, the horror classic which eventually gave birth to the hockey mask wearing icon known as Jason Voorhees has now reached its fourth decade and continues to thrill one generation of horror fans after another. The screening was held at the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills, California, and it played as a double feature with another slasher film, “Sleepaway Camp,” which has a twist ending M. Night Shyamalan would never have come up with on his own.
Hosting this momentous screening was James “Jimmy O” Oster, writer for JoBlo and Arrow in the Head, and he was shameless in admitting just how much he loves the “Friday the 13th” and its far bloodier sequels, and he thanked those of us who braved the pandemic to come here even as we are, as he put it, “facing Armageddon.” Those who did show up were careful to keep their distance from one another, but we were relieved to see the theater had an ample supply of Purell and toilet paper on hand.
In addition, James and the Flick For Fans founder, Jason Coleman, took the time to make this cinematic experience all the more immersive. Fans got a chance to participate in the Kevin Bacon “Kill Cabin” photo op where you could get a picture taken while having a knife stick out of your throat. Both James and Jason did an excellent job of recreating the setting of Kevin’s infamous death scene to where it looked pretty much spot on. I did see, however, that they included a copy of Kitty Kelley’s “biography” on Nancy Reagan, and I am fairly certain this book was not featured in the 1980 film.
But the real “immersive experience” of this screening came as guests were brought to the back of the Fine Arts Theatre where actress Natasha Needles portrays a Crystal Lake camp counselor who takes audience members on an orientation for new counselors while trying to ease any concerns about the rumors we may have heard about “Camp Blood.” This orientation allows us to meet certain prophets of doom as well as a crazed parent who is a bit upset about her son drowning accidentally. There is also a wheelchair-bound man who has a machete painfully inserted into a certain part of his body. Judging from this man’s reaction to this unexpected injury, medical science has certainly come a long way since the 1980’s.
“Friday the 13th” was preceded by a number of vintage trailers of 1980’s slasher flicks: “Don’t Go in the Woods,” “Madman” and “Just Before Dawn.” These are movies which feature young adults venturing into nature against their better judgment, making out with one another at the worst possible moment, and inviting death in ways which truly have them asking to be, at the very least, decapitated. And yes, they each have a prophet of doom warning others of a legend which must be taken seriously, but like scientists in the average disaster movie, their warnings are thoughtlessly ignored.
Also preceding the movie were some retro commercials featured as well. Suffice to say, laxative advertisements must have been far more lucrative 40 years ago.
But more importantly, this “Friday the 13th” screening was preceded by a video message from director Sean S. Cunningham which he made just for Flicks For Fans and this audience. In it, he thanked those in the audience for “braving the L.A. traffic” to be here (clearly this was made before Coronavirus became a global pandemic), and he paid tribute to all the actors who have played Jason over the years, among them Kane Hodder.
A big thank you to both James Oster and Jason Coleman and Flicks For Fans for putting this anniversary screening together and for making it all the more immersive. Furthermore, they deserve medals of honor for keeping it going even as we suffer through a global disease which will still be with us for some time. For some, it offered an opportunity to see “Friday the 13th” on the silver screen for the very first time, and the sound was jacked up to make all the screams more infinitely ear-piercing than ever before. A big thanks also goes out the employees of the Fine Art Theatre for all the Purell and toilet paper. It’s nice to know there was some place in Los Angeles which still had them.
Bruno Orlandi and Nihey Takizawa of Kassel Labs have done it again. After finding much success with their Star Wars Intro Creator, they have now done the same with the opening titles of the incredibly popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” which debuted its third season this summer. These titles were created by Imaginary Forces and scored by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon of the electronic band Survive, and they have since become some of the most memorable titles of any television show released in the past decade. With the intro creator, you can take these titles and make them your own, and you can download the video you create for your own use.
Please keep in mind, downloading an intro creator from Kassel Labs will take time, a lot of time. Since their “Star Wars” intro creator debuted, many people have flocked to their site to make their own, and the waiting time threatens to be infinite. However, you can make a donation of $7 dollars to Kassel Labs which will allow you to move to the front of the line. I did this when I created my own “Strangers Things” intro, but it took five months for me to get my download. Just saying.
I ended up creating a thank you video for those who donated to The Pablove Foundation on my behalf. It is a non-profit organization which is dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer, and I ran the 2019 Los Angeles Marathon in support of it. I put this video together just before the marathon commenced this past March, but it is only now that I have gotten a download of my work. Still, I really want to give thanks to those who still took the time to give even if it is coming a little late.
I recently had the pleasure of checking in with Keon Maghsoudi (a.k.a. Keon Kobra), a most excellent friend of mine from high school. We joined up to do an online commentary on the horror movie “Night of the Demons.” Released in 1988, the same year we got “Child Play’s,” “Maniac Cop,” “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master,” “Phantasm II” and the completely unnecessary “Poltergeist III,” it was made for $1.2 million and shot over four weeks in South Central Los Angeles. Despite negative reviews from critics, it went on to gross over $3 million after its debut in Detroit. Since then, it has become a cult classic and was followed by two sequels and an obligatory remake.
Before Keon and I started, I admitted I had not previously seen “Night of the Demons.” I was aware of it, having seen its posters in newspapers and a trailer on television. But back then, I was only slowly getting into horror movies as they were the kind of cinematic experiences I was fascinated by but quick to avoid. These days, I look forward to them as I have long since become deeply fascinated by the dark side of humanity.
“Night of the Demons” tells the twisted tale of a group of high school seniors who decide to celebrate Halloween at Hull House, an isolated funeral parlor which (surprise surprise) is said to be haunted by evil spirits. Despite this, one of the seniors gets the group to participate in a séance which, as you can expect, leads to all hell breaking loose. This demon, which kind of looks like the anglerfish from “Finding Nemo,” rises up and begins to possess these foolish teens, and it is clear from the get go many of them will not survive the night.
This is one of those movies best watched with a group of friends as watching it by yourself serves as a reminder of how a party of one is not much fun. Director Kevin S. Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn employ a large number of horror movie clichés to where we feel like we have a good idea of which characters will live and die. It’s almost like a guessing game as I was tempting to place bets as to which one would bite the dust first. I kept thinking it would be Stooge (played by Hal Havins). Was it? Watch the movie.
Dread Central, in its review of the cult classic, described it as being “fun. Lively. A masterpiece, it’s not.” I think this perfectly sums up “Night of the Demons” as it was made not to ascend to the cinematic heights of “Lawrence of Arabia,” but instead to satisfy its core audience which was into blood, gore and hair/glam metal bands which the 1980’s was famous for producing. I want to thank Keon for inviting me to be part of this commentary as watching the movie with him proved to be a lot of fun.
As we watched the movie, I had its Wikipedia and IMDB pages up on my computer, and I found out the following:
Cathy Podewell, who plays the virginal Judy Cassidy, lived in Walnut Creek, California, a city not far from where Keon and I grew up.
Judy’s boyfriend, Jay, who is portrayed by Lance Fenton, played Kurt Kelly in one of the greatest teen movies ever made, “Heathers.”
Linnea Quigley, who plays teenager Suzanne, was 30 years old when she was cast. Quigley initially turned down the opportunity to audition as she felt much too old to play a teenager. Nevertheless, she was cast.
Quigley is best known for playing teenage punk Trash in “The Return of the Living Dead,” another in a long line of movies I still need to see.
This movie was recorded in Ultra Stereo. Remember Ultra Stereo? That seems to have gone the way of VHS tapes.
I have included the entire video of our commentary down below. I hope you enjoy it.
I still remember watching this particular trailer before Phil Alden Robinson’s highly entertaining comedy caper, “Sneakers.” Most movie trailers do follow a certain formula as marketers are determined to sell their product to the widest audience possible, but every once in a while, we get one which breaks the mold and gives us something different and unforgettable. This came with the teaser trailer for Barry Levinson’s “Toys” which featured Robin Williams improvising in a field which he called the largest studio on the 20th Century Fox lot, and I almost believed him when he said the field was inside one building. Back then, Williams was at the height of his box office powers, and this trailer quickly reminded me of how brilliant a comedian he was.
This trailer essentially has Williams riffing on the various ways this movie could be promoted to the public, and each of them proves to be hilarious even as certain references have long since become dated. And if you didn’t know about the existence of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, you certainly did after watching this trailer. And yes, we can agree it is not the right holiday to release this movie, let alone any movie, on.
The only downside of this trailer is it made “Toys” look like a full-on comedy. For those who saw it, however, they can agree it was hard to put Levinson’s movie into one particular genre. In fact, it proved to be one of the most experimental movies released by a major Hollywood studio back in the 1990’s as well as one of the biggest box office flops of that decade. But for those willing to go into “Toys” with an open mind will find it to be strikingly original and one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever. At the very least, you have to love Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s art direction which he spent more than a year working on.