Phil Joanou on How He Came to Direct U2: Rattle and Hum

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Filmmaker Phil Joanou was at New Beverly Cinema when the theatre showed two of his films: “Three O’Clock High” and the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum.” While most of the evening was spent talking about “Three O’Clock High” as it had arrived at its 25th anniversary, Joanou did take some time to talk about how he was hired by U2 to direct their first music documentary (or rockumentary if you will). The story ended up becoming one of the strangest and funniest ones told on this evening.

Joanou was busy doing post-production on “Three O’Clock High” when his agent got him a meeting with U2 on the day before the band had to leave America for Ireland. They had already interviewed a number of directors already, but Joanou said they hit it off to where they asked him, “can you come to Dublin tomorrow?” He said sure, but he had to call the producer of “Three O’Clock High” to explain why he had to leave post-production on a little early. The producer apparently was not too happy about this sudden opportunity, but Joanou got to go anyway.

Once in Dublin, Joanou said U2 interviewed him for five days about directing “Rattle and Hum.” Where the story goes from there is not what you might expect as the band kind of left him hanging.

Phil Joanou: They would take me to a friend’s house and then Bono and Edge would leave and I would have dinner with the husband and wife. After that they took me to a wedding and they left me there as well. I’m there in Northern Ireland and I’m all by myself at an Irish wedding and I’m like, okay great! I don’t know anyone here. I had to figure out how to get home. So, they would do weird things like that to me. They’d drop me off at a bar and leave me. This went on for five days!

After all this craziness, U2 came up to Joanou and said, “alright, you can do the film.” Joanou said that to this day he still does not know what the criteria was for them hiring him, but he described making “Rattle and Hum” as being an “incredible experience.” Looking back, he described the Irish rock band as having taught him so much while being on the road and in the studio with them.

“Rattle and Hum” was greeted with a critical backlash when it came out as critics accused the band of being too grandiose and self-righteous. Watching it today, however, is a different experience as “The Joshua Tree” tour, as it is presented here, feels far more intimate than any tour they have done since. The musical numbers are exhilarating to watch, especially in black and white, and their journey through the American music scene gives us a number of unforgettable moments. But moreover, it was especially great to see it on the big screen for the first time in many years. Concert movies like these really need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn on The Victim

Michael Biehn and his wife Jennifer Blanc reappeared at New Beverly Cinema on September 11, 2012 to do another Q&A on his directorial debut of “The Victim.” It had been playing at the famed revival movie house since Friday, September 7, and Biehn and Blanc were determined to make as many appearances there as they could to promote their fun little grindhouse flick. This particular evening had Biehn talking about its making, another movie he was involved in which did not get much of a release, and there was also a big surprise in store for yours truly.

Biehn first made his presence known to the small audience on this evening when the end credits for “The Victim” began, and he ended up doing a running commentary as they played on how he got everyone’s picture on screen whether they were acting in the movie or working on it behind the scenes. He once again alluded to the fact he had such a low budget to work with, and he described how most films don’t have end credits like this one, nor are they as fun to watch.

Among the people in the audience was Brian McQuery who served as the movie’s assistant director, and Biehn pointed out how McQuery worked 4 or 5 days “for nothing.” Biehn said this was the result of a “friend helping out a friend,” and he got the audience to applaud McQuery for his selfless efforts.

During the Q&A, Biehn talked about when he worked with filmmaker William Friedkin on the movie “Rampage” and how the filmmaker kept calling everyone on his set “Moe.” Biehn ended up working on two movies with Friedkin and he remarked how no other actor has worked with him twice. It turns out no one saw “Rampage,” Biehn said, because Dino De Laurentis’ company, which produced it, ran out of money and was not able to give it a proper release. Biehn did say he liked “Rampage” a lot and thought Ennio Morricone’s film score to it was fantastic.

Biehn also pointed out how he got some of the best directing advice ever from Friedkin. When Biehn asked Friedkin where he decides to put the camera when filming a scene, Friedkin ended up telling him, “I just think of where I would like to see the scene from, and I put the camera there.”

Even after making “The Victim,” Biehn told the audience he does not consider himself a director as he “never had a feeling for the camera, lenses, angles or close ups.” This was the result of him always being so focused as an actor to where he never learned all that stuff. Although he said he is never going to be a great director, his directorial debut showed he is better and cleverer at this job than he gives himself credit for.

Blanc also went out of her way to say that Biehn is a “phenomenal director” and that she “always looks to him for audition help.”

Biehn went on to talk about how a movie needs to be in escrow before it even gets made, and this led to him discussing how he got the money to make “The Victim.” At the time he was recovering from a hernia operation and was on Vicodin when he took a meeting at a restaurant with some guys looking to finance a movie. They told Biehn how they wanted to work with him and that they had “a small amount of money” to make a film with. Biehn, in his drugged out state, told them he would do the project but only if he had total creative control over it. They ended up agreeing to this, and the next day Blanc told Biehn the check those two gave him had cleared. Biehn, now off the Vicodin, ended up saying out loud, “What the fuck?!”

Whatever the case, Biehn clearly put a lot of effort into making “The Victim” with the limited resources he had. He described how the film was shot most days from 6 a.m. in the morning to 6 p.m. at night, how he had to write the script and do pre-production in just three weeks, and all the driving scenes were shot on some guy’s driveway which had bushes on both sides. Biehn also said the character he plays is like him but “with a few problems.”

There were also days on set where he got so upset to where Biehn became like “William Friedkin, Michael Bay, James Cameron and Val Kilmer all together on their worst day.” Blanc said his temper tantrums among other behind the scenes fodder can be found on “The Victim’s” Blu-ray which will be released on September 18, 2012.

Ok, now I don’t brag about myself too much but this is something I have to talk about: I was sitting in the front row of the New Beverly taking notes down in my journal of what was being said during this screening, and Biehn saw me writing furiously and asked me, “Are you a reporter?”

“No,” I said (for some reason, I did not consider myself an official reporter back then).

“Oh, okay,” Biehn said. “You’re not gonna write a bad review of this, are you?”

I assured him I had already written my review of “The Victim,” and that it was good. Blanc then asked who I was and I told her my name and the websites I submit reviews to. It turns out she actually read my review and thought it was awesome, and she ended up coming over to give me a hug.

Biehn then asked his wife, “was it a good review?”

“It was fantastic,” she said.

Biehn then looked right at me with open arms and said, “come here!”

Who would have thought I would get a hug from the man who played Corporal Dwayne Hicks in “Aliens,” Kyle Reese in “The Terminator” and Navy SEAL Hiram Coffey in “The Abyss?” When things like this happen while you live in Los Angeles, it reminds you of how magical this town can be.

Michael Biehn Premieres The Victim at New Beverly Cinema

Michael Biehn dropped by New Beverly Cinema on September 7, 2012 where the theater was hosting the Los Angeles premiere of his feature film directorial debut, “The Victim.” Joining Biehn for a Q&A were his wife and co-star Jennifer Blanc, Denny Kirkwood who plays one of the police detectives, producer Lorna Paul and musician Randy Chance who provided some original songs for the movie.

The first question Biehn was asked was, of course, what finally persuaded him to step behind the camera and direct. Biehn replied he was “not all that aware of really low budget movies until he worked on ‘Grindhouse‘” with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Those two directors ended up showing him a bunch of their favorite grindhouse/exploitation movies, and Biehn recollected of how he was on the set of “The Divide” one day and saw a crew member reading Rodriguez’s book “Rebel Without a Crew” in which he wrote about his first film, “El Mariachi.” Those elements are what finally got Biehn to direct as well as Blanc’s insistence in her telling him to direct. Then again, she also said, “you can’t bully him into anything.”

Biehn also stars in “The Victim” as Kyle, a loner living in a remote cabin in the woods. He said he kept thinking of “The Shining” and of how Stanley Kubrick made the hotel look so isolated out in the snowy wilderness. It was this feeling of isolation Biehn wanted to capture, and “The Victim” ended up being shot in Topanga Canyon, California which seemed to have the perfect look. He went on to say how Blanc’s mother was especially helpful as she lives up there and talked to all her neighbors about what was going to happen. Apparently, the residents of Topanga Canyon do not like it when filmmakers come to town and shoot their movies there, but Blanc’s mom ended up making things a lot easier as a result.

“The Victim” ended up being shot in 12 days, and both Biehn and Blanc said they were “not allowed to say how small the budget was.” They did, however, say it was “much lower than what it says on the IMDB website” ($800,000).” Biehn also joked about how the budget was “so low that there’s a lot about the movie I wish was different. ‘The Terminator’ had a budget of $6.5 million, and the budget on this one was about a tenth of that.”

As a result, the crew ended up doing 35 setups a day compared to the average Hollywood blockbuster which manages just 2 or 3. All the car scenes in the movie were shot in a single day on someone’s driveway out in the woods, and Biehn joked about how the crew had to keep “driving in circles all fucking day long.” They didn’t even have money to hire a stunt coordinator, and the scenes in the house between Biehn and Kirkwood had them fighting and trying not to hurt one another in the process.

Day one of production, Biehn said, was “all about sex” as he shot the sex scene between him and Blanc. He said this was because the script wasn’t finished yet and that they “had to shoot something.” This led Blanc to tell the audience Biehn’s niece worked on the film in the makeup department, and this was her first experience in the movie business. His niece ended up watching Biehn drop his robe and go onto the set stark naked, and she was apparently so freaked out by what she saw that she didn’t speak about it for days afterwards.

This led to another funny story of when one of Biehn’s sons came to the set and ended up being traumatized by the sex scene between his dad and Blanc. Biehn even said his son has not seen “The Terminator” sex scene he had with Linda Hamilton, and that scene was, as he put it, “essential to the plot.”

All this sex talk led Biehn to point out how one of the characters in “The Victim” ends up “losing their life over a blow job.” Women’s sexuality, he said, ends up giving them a lot of power over men, and this proved to be the case in real life for John Edwards and Elliott Spitzer among others. Biehn described being amused at how some men end up messing up all the good they have done in life by “blowing it all for some pussy.” Sadly, there is a lot of truth to this.

Another scene discussed was when Biehn’s character gets put in a choke hold. He ended up telling actor Ryan Honey to put him in a real choke hold and assured the actor he would tap him on the arm if it became too much. Biehn recollected he was “surprised at how fast it worked” and that he was “gonna be lucky” if he could tap out. After this, Biehn said he was in “la la land” for a while and remembered one of the producers saying they would not be trying this again.

One audience member asked how Danielle Harris (best known for her work in the “Halloween” movies) got cast as Mary. Blanc responded she and Harris are good friends and that Harris liked the script. Biehn said he always saw Harris playing “teenagers who are always running away from monsters, but here she gets to play a woman.” He also remarked at how Harris started out as an actress at a very young age and that she at times directs herself which made him see he did not have to tell her anything.

Before “The Victim” began its screening at New Beverly Cinema, Biehn made an announcement to the audience:

“If you don’t like fucking or fighting, get up and leave now,” Biehn said. “Don’t take any of what you see seriously. Think of this movie as being food like cotton candy; it doesn’t fill you up, but you will remember having fun eating it.”

The above description says it all, and we thank Michael Biehn and his colleagues for giving us a highly entertaining time at New Beverly Cinema.

Richard Tyson on Playing Buddy Revell in Three O’Clock High

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

“Every day of my life for the last twenty years, people come up to me, look me in the eyes and say ‘Buddy Revell!'”

That’s what actor Richard Tyson told the audience at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles where the theater was showing “Three O’Clock High” in honor of its 25th anniversary. The 1987 high school comedy marked Tyson’s film debut, and his character of Buddy Revell was the school bully who threatens the meek Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) to a fight after Jerry touches him on his leather jacket. From that point on, it is clear you never ever touch Buddy Revell at any time.

Around the time the movie was headed into pre-production, Tyson had just graduated with a Master of Theater Arts degree from Cornell University and was living out of his truck when he heard about it. Apparently, he went through about 14 callbacks before he got cast as Buddy, but the film’s director Phil Joanou was always convinced Tyson was the only one for the role.

Phil Joanou: While Jerry is so manic and nervous and flopping like a fish on the deck, Buddy is like an iceberg floating across. Just cool, he sits in the class, he just looks over at Jerry then he looks back. Buddy’s almost expressionless, and so many other actors would have been expressionless, but what was so cool about what Richard did is that he’s doing nothing but he’s doing something. That’s really hard to do, but you can see that there’s something going on behind this guy’s eyes.

In talking about how he established Buddy Revell’s physicality, Tyson brought up the scene where Buddy gets in a fight with the jock in the library. Joanou asked Tyson what he would do if someone came up and poked him in you the chest the way Buddy gets poked, and Tyson responded he would “break his fucking finger” and then showed him how he would do so. Once he was convinced, Joanou asked Tyson if he could throw a right cross punch after breaking the finger and Tyson had no problem doing so.

It’s important to note that the screenwriters of “Three O’Clock High,” Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, were on set the day the library scene was being shot. Matheson and Szollosi had their doubts about Tyson at first, but after watching him in action, they were convinced the filmmakers got the right guy to play Buddy.

In comparison to all the bullies we see and hear about on school campuses these days, Tyson said he didn’t think Buddy was really a bully.

Richard Tyson: I think the system, the school and the environment were worse than him. It’s not just the guy in the leather jacket. The leather jacket guys are usually left alone. Just don’t touch them in the bathroom!

What was great about Tyson’s performance in “Three O’Clock High,” and Joanou pointed this out, was in showing how Buddy was always in control and of what happened when he loses control. When Jerry manages to punch Buddy in the nose, you suddenly see the rage in his face as he registers this is the first time he has ever been hit and drawn blood. Seeing that look of rage which crosses his face shows what makes Tyson’s performance so damn good: he shows you the character’s emotions without ever having to spell it out for you.

Richard Tyson went from “Three O’Clock High” to starring in such movies as “Two Moon Junction,” “Kindergarten Cop” where he played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nemesis, and “There’s Something About Mary” in which he banged Ben Stiller’s head on a table several times. Tyson’s still got a lot of great work ahead of him, but we will never ever forget his performance as Buddy Revell.

Edgar Wright Talks with Walter Hill about The Driver

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011 when this screening took place.

Continuing with his film programming at New Beverly Cinema which he entitled The Wright Stuff II, filmmaker Edgar Wright gave us a vehicular double feature with “The Driver” and “Duel.” The main attraction of the evening, however, was “The Driver,” a 1978 movie directed by Walter Hill, and Wright gleefully told the audience it was more for him than us as it was his first time seeing it on the big screen, and that it made him want to become a getaway driver. Joining him for this screening was the film’s director Walter Hill, actors Bruce Dern and Ronee Blakley, and producer Frank Marshall.

Upon seeing the sold-out audience at the New Beverly, Hill remarked, “This is the largest crowd in the United States that has ever seen this movie. It didn’t do all that well when it was first released.”

Indeed, “The Driver” is not as well-known as some of Hill’s other movies like “48 Hours” or “Southern Comfort.” When it came out, it was criticized as not being fun and for being “too real.” Hill remarked how depressing it can be when a movie you make does no business and gets bad reviews. Later though, another filmmaker contacted Hill about the reception “The Driver” got and told him, “Pay no attention to reviews. The movie’s marvelous, life is hard.”

“The Driver” marked the first time Hill worked with Dern, and Dern praised Hill endlessly throughout the evening and said he would go anywhere in the world for him. Dern said he found Hill to be “full of surprises,” and he came to work thinking they would do something which had never done before. Hill in turn described Dern as “a very special actor” who always jumped out at him with quality and personality in each of his performances, and that he gave each role an unusual quality of psychological density to even the most mundane characters.

Marshall, best known for producing the Jason Bourne movies and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” originally turned the movie down because it was being shot at night in downtown Los Angeles. Back in the 1970’s, he was worried about shooting there as it had a very brutal atmosphere. Somehow though, he got sucked into doing this one and ended up trading a summer in Malibu as a result. “The Driver” later led Hill to make another film called “The Warriors” which was also shot at night.

While Dern has most of the movie’s dialogue, the main star of “The Driver” is Ryan O’Neal. His character is noted for having only 350 words in the entire script, and Wright remarked how nice it was to have an action movie where the hero has no good lines. O’Neal was known as a heartthrob at the time, but he was eager to do something different in his career when this role came along. However, many didn’t accept O’Neal as this character when the movie came out as people had a different image of him at the time. Years later though, it is clear just how good he is here, and it served him well in his growth as an actor.

When it comes to the car chases in “The Driver,” it is clear the actors really were driving those cars instead of their stunt doubles. This film was released not long after “The French Connection” which did everything for real, and everyone was really tearing around at crazy speeds. Hill said he and his fellow filmmakers were “young and reckless” back then, and he gleefully pointed out there indeed was “a real man in that car that flipped.”

But what’s great about the car chases in “The Driver,” as Marshall pointed out, is how Hill uses them to tell a story. These are not car chases for the sake of car chases, but ones which are an integral part to the movie as a whole. Watching it at New Beverly Cinema, it made me yearn for the kind Hollywood doesn’t do any more unless CGI is heavily involved. In the end, there is not much which is even better than the real thing.

One audience member asked if there were any police experts on set during the making of “The Driver.” Hill said there were not, and he made clear how the movie is really “pure fantasy” in what it portrays and is the “opposite of law enforcement.” It’s hard to think of any police force wanting to be involved with a movie like this as it appears to show the bad guys getting away without any real repercussions. In the end, Hill saw it as an extension of the “dark sides of personalities.” Indeed, this is not a film inhabited by easily redeemable characters, and Hill was correct in describing as a “very unreal movie.”

Hill also took the time to talk about his style of directing, and this something I was eager to know more about. His films typically don’t get much rehearsal time, but he found this actually works in the director’s favor. He told the audience that two-thirds of directing is casting, and he never gets any rehearsal until take one. Dern added how Hill is not very good at rehearsal, and this made him and Walter seem like a perfect match for one another.

Hill even talked about how he originally wanted Robert Mitchum for Dern’s role, and that he talked with him for six hours straight about it. In the end, however, Mitchum told Hill there was “too much car stuff” and that he didn’t have the energy for it. This clearly benefited Dern who got the role instead, and he admitted Mitchum would have been a “handful” for Hill to deal with.

In the end, this screening “The Driver” really turned out to be a gift for everyone at New Beverly Cinema. It was a gift for Hill and the other guests as it brought back so many memories they would have otherwise forgotten. It was also a gift for Wright as he would never have seen it on the big screen otherwise. But it was an especially big gift for the audience because many of would not have seen it otherwise. I probably would not have rushed out to see “The Driver” if Wright did not feature it in his festival of movies, and for me it turned out to be a special treat.

“The Driver” is one of the many movies which show how Walter Hill is still a vastly underappreciated filmmaker at times. After watching it at New Beverly Cinema, I am reminded of how effective a director he can be when given the right material.

ADDITIONAL WRITER’S NOTE: This movie has become a cult classic in recent years and has proven to be very influential on many filmmakers. Nicolas Winding Refn has cited it as an inspiration on his brilliant movie “Drive,” and you can see its influence all over Edgar Wright’s 2017 action film “Baby Driver.”

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon on their Favorite Hollywood Screenwriting Movie, Barton Fink

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article is about a screening which took place in July of 2011.

Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon dropped by New Beverly Cinema to host a double feature of the movies they consider to be the best about screenwriting in Hollywood: “Barton Fink” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Garant and Lennon are known for writing the scripts for the “A Night at the Museum” movies, creating the MTV sketch comedy series “The State,” and starring in Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” They were invited to screen some of their films, but both flatly refused as they consider only two of them “watchable.”

Much of the evening was spent talking about “Barton Fink,” as they both see it as their life story. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Joel, it stars John Turturro as the Barton of the movie’s title, a respected playwright from New York who moves to Los Angeles to write for the movies. While there, he stays in the dilapidated Hotel Earle where he befriends insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), who tells Barton he sells “a piece of mind.” Barton also deals with the overzealous movie boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner, in an Oscar-nominated performance), who tells him he cares deeply about his writing ability but who, in the end, is far more interested in what the audience wants to see.

Garant and Lennon recollected about watching “Barton Fink” back in 1991, the year before they started working on “The State” for MTV. They found it funny and abstract as Jack Lipnick chews out Barton for being “too fruity,” and they both looked at each other and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if movie studios were really like that?”

But soon after that, they both found those meetings Barton had were exactly like ones they ended up having in Hollywood. They consider this and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to be a far more accurate depiction of Hollywood than Robert Altman’s “The Player,” and, as John Travolta said in “Pulp Fiction,” “That’s a bold statement!” Tony Shaloub’s character of movie producer Ben Geisler ends up getting fired without ever reading Barton’s script, and to this the two of them replied, “That’s Hollywood!”

They also joked about how “Barton Fink” acted as the origin story for John Turturro’s character of Jesus in “The Big Lebowski.” John Goodman, who is also in “Lebowski,” ends up giving Turturro a box, and the Coens never say or show us what is in it (very smart on their part). For all we know, it’s Jesus’ bowling ball in there. Either that, or it is the same box featured at the end of David Fincher’s “Seven.”

Garant and Lennon recently released a book they wrote called “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at The Box Office and You Can Too!” If you take a good close look at the title, you will see the word “fun” has been crossed out. They were a hilarious delight as they talked about their ups and downs screenwriting in Hollywood. It was as fun to hang out with them for this double feature as it was guessing what their favorite quotes from “Barton Fink” were. They did, however, make it very clear that this was not one of them:

“The writer is king at Capitol Pictures!”

A few years later, I got to interview with Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon about “Hell Baby,” a horror comedy they wrote, directed and starred in. I brought up how I attended their double feature of screenwriting movies and of how “Hell Baby” was made independently without any interference from studio executives. I assumed they enjoyed the immense freedom they had in making this film, and it was the kind of freedom which was denied to them when they wrote the “A Night at the Museum” movies.

Please check out the interview below which I did for We Got This Covered. In addition, to Garant and Lennon, I also got to talk with Keegan Michael Key, Rob Huebel and Rob Corddry.

So Bad Its Good: Josh Olson on His Favorite Cult Movie Musicals

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Writer Josh Olson, best known for penning the screenplay to David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” dropped by New Beverly Cinema to introduce two of his favorite cult movie musicals: “The Apple” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” These films were not well received critically or commercially when first released, but they have since gained a cult following, and the fans have come to appreciate them for reasons the filmmakers did not exactly intend. This was especially the case with “The Apple” which has since become one of the most unique movie musicals ever made.

Olson thanked those who came to this double feature and made clear to us he worships at the altar of “The Apple” and shows it to those unfamiliar with it (a.k.a. virgins) everywhere. He even remarked how two close friends of his, after they saw it, had a baby. The movie tells the story of two young Canadian musicians, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), who travel to America to participate in an infinitely popular music festival. They are approached by the powerful entertainment agent Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) to sign with him, but Alphie sees the dark side of the music industry and refuses to be a part of it. Bibi, however, finds herself caught up in the wild lifestyle this industry has to offer, and it is up to Alfie to rescue her from Boogalow’s evil clutches.

In addition to screenwriting, Olson works for a website run by filmmaker Joe Dante called Trailers from Hell, and he talked about how the trailer for “The Apple” was one of the first he did a commentary track for.

Josh Olson: I stand by almost everything I said on that commentary except at one point I did use the phrase “it’s so bad it’s good,” and I regret that today. This movie has taught me that that phrase is meaningless. Intention does not matter. There are great movies out there that are so much better than the filmmakers intended them to make or had a right to make. Everything is accidental in this business so I don’t think it matters. I think either a movie is great or it is not, and there are movies that people think are wonderful that just won’t entertain you one iota as much as “The Apple” will.

Olson made it clear to the audience he will never again use the phrase “so bad its good” in reference to “The Apple” as he considers it to be one of the greatest movies in the history of the world. Once it was shown, he came back to the front of the audience to introduce the movie version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and said there was no way to top “The Apple,” so he wasn’t going to even try.

Olson talked briefly about “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” before it started. It was directed by Michael Schultz who previously made “Car Wash” which Olson described as a “weird, urban Robert Altman film,” and also “Cooley High” which he called one of the most formative films from his childhood. Olson told the audience at the New Beverly how Schultz got involved in making a cinematic adaptation of the Beatles’ classic album.

Josh Olson: Robert Stigwood (one of the most successful movie producers of the 1970’s) came to him and offered him “Grease” to direct, and Schultz looked at it and said, “This is fucking horrible and I don’t want anything to do with it.” So, he passed on “Grease” and it then went on to make a trillion dollars, and Robert Stigwood came back to him with the idea of turning the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” into a movie starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. To this, Schultz said, “Wow, this sounds like a worse idea than ‘Grease.’ But what do I know, I passed on ‘Grease.’”

After watching the “Sgt. Pepper” movie, we were all in agreement with Olson that it was one of the most “batshit” ideas for a feature film, and it remains one of the biggest critical disasters in motion picture history. Olson, however, did try to rationalize this particular movie’s existence as it was made back in the 1970’s.

Josh Olson: It was a better time back then, and you have to have the yin to balance out the yang. The really good ones (movies) were almost indistinguishable from the really bad ones. But we had people thinking “Sgt. Pepper” was a good idea for a movie, and we also had people who were making “Apocalypse Now” back then, so it was a small price to pay.

Big thanks to Josh Olson for putting this crazy double feature together. “The Apple” isn’t so much a movie musical as it is an experience, and you won’t find another one quite like it. As for “Sgt. Pepper,” we may never get another opportunity to see it on the big screen again, so those who stayed could not quite say they regretted sitting through it. But yeah, it really was a bad idea for a movie.

Edgar Wright Talks with John Landis About ‘Animal House’

Asks for Babs!

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2011 when this screening took place.

Edgar Wright continued his film festival he named The Wright Stuff II at New Beverly Cinema with “Animal House,” and joining him for this screening was special guest John Landis who directed it and succeeded in making what Wright called the first “adult gross out comedy ever.” Landis said director Todd Phillips had already made three movies where he did several shot for shot steals from “Animal House,” and even Wright had to admit he may have subconsciously stolen the taking coat gag for “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” from it as well.

“Animal House” was Landis’ third film, and he made it soon after finishing “Kentucky Fried Movie.” However, he was not the first choice to direct as it was initially offered to John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”), then later to Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) and Mike Nichols (“The Graduate”) who all turned it down. Landis said they all passed on it saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Landis was drawn to this project by what he called “a very smart script” written by Doug Kenney, Harold Ramis and Chris Miller. Landis gave a lot of the credit to Kenney who had come to this from the Harvard Lampoon where he was described as being “consistently brilliant.” Kenney wrote scripts called “Laser Orgy Girls” and “Charles Manson In High School,” but then he did “High School Yearbook” which eventually evolved into “Animal House.” The thought was there were so many off-color elements to where it made more sense to set it in college.

“Animal House” marked the film debut of many young actors who would soon become big stars in their own right. It was John Belushi’s first movie, and he was already an established star thanks to “Saturday Night Live.” Tom Hulce was doing the play “Equis” on Broadway when cast, and Bruce McGill was discovered doing Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” As for Karen Allen, she originally drove her friend to audition for it, but she never planned to audition herself. But Landis took one look and told her, “First off, you just lost a friend. Second, we want you in the movie!”

Others from “Saturday Night Live” were considered, but Lorne Michaels was getting pissed about losing more of his cast. While Landis got Belushi despite a crazy schedule which had him available for only three days a week, Michaels refused to let Dan Aykroyd be in it. Then there was Chevy Chase, the show’s first breakout star, who was getting offered everything and decided to do “Foul Play” with Goldie Hawn instead.

The only veterans in “Animal House” were Tim Matheson who started off as a child actor, and Donald Sutherland who was already a big star. All of Sutherland’s scenes were shot in two days, and he was offered $35,000 plus gross points. Sutherland, however, instead took an offer of a flat $50,000 which turned out later to be a mistake as the movie made over $140 million. Everyone else was paid scale except for Belushi, and the horse got $150,000. This led Landis to admit, “I got paid less than the horse!”

The late John Vernon who played Dean Wormer was talked about quite a bit. Vernon played his role so deadly straight, and Landis said Vernon got exactly what the movie was all about. Vernon was also the only one involved with “Animal House” who knew it would be a success as Landis remarked at how he said, “No one realizes what an important movie this will be.”

“Animal House” had a budget of $2.1 million, was shot in 32 days and averaged about 43 setups each day of shooting. Landis said the studio left them alone during the making of it, but they later complained about certain things. They did not like the actors who were chosen and even said, “Why’d you hire John Vernon?! He’s a television actor, a villain in a Clint Eastwood movie!”

The studio also voiced concern over the scene where some of the characters visit a black bar. They feared, Landis quoted them as saying, that “black people will riot” and would “tear up the screen.” But Landis and the producers were adamant of how the scene was told from a white person’s perspective and that it was meant to be subjective. Landis even got Richard Pryor’s take on it, and Pryor said, “I think it’s funny and white people are crazy!”

Studio executives also had an issue with the girls never being shown going home after the party. This led one of them to ask, “How do we know those girls weren’t raped?”

Test screening “Animal House” was an interesting story. The filmmakers took it to Denver where it had audiences screaming with laughter. Landis even taped the audience’s reaction and played it for Belushi over the phone. As a result, Belushi jumped at the chance to attend another screening of it in Atlanta where it ended up being shown to a bunch of what Landis called “drunken booksellers” who sat in stone cold silence throughout. Landis said Belushi came out of it saying the movie needed to be recut, but he was told to shut up by the producers who reminded him he wasn’t around for the Denver preview.

In the end, audiences found “Animal House” to be extremely funny and filled with many laugh-out loud moments, and that’s even if not everybody got the Belushi erection joke. That there was a sold-out audience at the New Beverly is proof of how it continues to stand the test of time. Landis thanked everyone for coming out and said the movie will soon be debuting on Blu-ray, and that all the grain which was taken out while being remastered has been put right back in.

The Grindhouse Film Festival Pays Tribute to Russ Meyer and Tura Satana

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill movie poster

Back in May of 2011, the Grindhouse Film Festival paid tribute to director Russ Meyer and the late actress Tura Satana, both of whom are best known for having worked together on the exploitation classic “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.” This film screened at New Beverly Cinema along with “The Doll Squad” which Tura co-starred in, and in attendance were two actresses from the 1965 cult film: Haji and Susan Bernard. Both said if Satana were still with us, she would have been very pleased by the large turnout.

Satana starred as Varla, the leader of a trio of thrill-seeking go-go dancers. Her contribution to the 1965 movie was she added karate scenes and even choreographed them with the stunt director. Satana died in February of 2011 from heart failure, and Haji burst into tears confessing just how much she misses her and her pot roast. Bernard said Satana had a very big heart. She was 72 when she passed away, but we came out of this screening feeling like she left us way too soon.

In talking about Meyer, both ladies described him as a “good hearted man” who always visited his mother on Christmas Day. They described his editing and photography on his movies as being consistently top notch, and he always worked with the same five men crew which became a “tight knit” family. Bernard also remarked how he had a natural instinct about actors in what they could do without direction. It got to where he went up to the cast and said, “Here’s your scripts, do your thing.”

Bernard recalled her big driving scene where she got into the truck and of how she told Russ she had never drove a stick shift before. To this, Meyer replied, “You’ll figure it out.”

Both actresses made it very clear Meyer always took care of the girls and made sure they were well rested and that he ensured they did not have sex during filming as he always wanted them to look horny onscreen. Working with Meyer also made them both understand what he stood for: freedom of expression, anti-prejudice, equal rights for everyone and, along with the late Hugh Hefner anti-censorship.

Haji further remarked if you went into Meyer’s movies a complete wimp, you came out a toughened and changed person. He had the cast sleeping in tents out in the desert with scorpions, snakes and tarantulas threatening them when they least expected it. After doing one film with Meyer, Haji said she came out if it “rugged,” but they remained very good friends all the way up to his death.

“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” is considered the cinematic origin of girl power and female empowerment. Unlike the endless number of films which came afterwards, it had no cursing and no nudity. Haji even said you could take your kids to see it. Whether or not taking kids to this movie is a good idea, there is no doubt of how much influence it has had on movies and popular culture. This cult classic still draws quite the crowd for good reason: women have the upper hand against those against them, and they are never ever weak. When you think about it, this was not always the case with movies back in the 1960’s.

So Bad It’s Good: Ed Adlum Looks Back at ‘Invasion of the Blood Farmers’

Invasion of the Blood Farmers movie poster

Ed Adlum was the Grindhouse Film Festival’s guest of honor at New Beverly Cinema on September 25, 2012. Among the movies of Adlum’s were showing there on this evening was his 1972 cult horror movie “Invasion of the Blood Farmers.” Many have described this film as being delightfully dreadful, and Adlum is not blind to its lack of quality. Watching it with an audience, however, and hearing Adlum talk about what got him to make movies made this a highly entertaining evening.

Adlum was actually involved in the music business before he decided to make movies, and he was a writer for Cashbox Magazine back in the 1960’s. This determination which led him to do the things he wanted to do came about in his youth.

“When I was a kid, I was one of these ambitious fellas who was gonna show everybody in the East Bronx that I was special,” Adlum said. “Now how that happened is up to the psychiatric profession, but it happened anyhow. I was short, I was not especially good looking and frightened of girls. I was number one in school and you know how that can happen, and I was the kind of person who often said in his own head I’m gonna be something special. So, when you have a motivation like that, all you need is the occasion, and the occasion came along.”

From there, Adlum talked about how he met Jimmy Walker whose band Castle Kings he ended up joining as a guitarist. He went on to say Walker and him made “several really bad” albums after being signed by Atlantic Records and that they eventually split up to do their own things. Adlum then went on to join the army as everyone was in the army back then thanks to General Dwight Eisenhower. Following this, he started Replay Magazine which covered the jukebox and coin-up industries.

When he moved to California, Adlum decided he wanted to fulfill his heart’s desire to make a movie. He came up with the story for his directorial debut while talking with a friend of his named Jackie.

“Why don’t we do something about a planet that’s dying from lack of food and call it Hianus and they all come to the earth in search of a food supply for their planet back home, but they find it in human blood,” Adlum said. “And I stop right in the middle of the floor and I say ‘Jackie I got it, Invasion of the Blood Farmers!’ From that point I went to my friends in the jukebox business and I raised the money. One of the guys that worked with me at Cashbox Magazine named Ed Kelleher and I wrote the script. We made that movie for $24,000 dollars.”

Adlum went on to describe “Invasion of the Blood Farmers” as being “bad good” and that “it is just a hoot which is like saying I don’t believe this picture.” Doing the movie also got him to meet Mike Findlay who ended up directing a film Adlum wrote and produced called “Shriek of the Mutilated,” and they became “fierce friends” as a result.

“Invasion of the Blood Farmers” cannot be mistaken for classic cinema as it has a number of things wrong with it: bad acting, erratic editing and serious continuity problems. Still, none of us could come out of it saying we were not entertained. When all is said and done, Ed Adlum did achieve his dream of making a movie, and in a way this was more than enough. The only thing even funnier than the unintentional laughs in the movie itself is, despite all the blood and gore, how it ended up getting a PG rating from the MPAA. Even in the 1970’s this group proved to be a hypocritical bunch! Some things never change.

Here are some other tidbits of trivia about this movie:

Most of the cast members worked for a six-pack of beer as payment.

It was shot over three weekends and never made its money back.

Cast members Richard Erickson and Richard Kennedy were so bad at memorizing dialogue that they ended up having to read off cue cards.

The production went through eight and a half bottles of stage blood.