Little Shop of Horrors Director’s Cut Fathom Events

I loved this movie when it first came out. The humor is sly, the songs are hum-able and the performances were hysterical. I’d actually read about the changes made to the film before it was released. There was an article in the LA Times back in 1986 and Frank Oz talked very openly about how the previews just lost all their energy and enthusiasm when the originally planned ending was shown.  “Little Shop of Horrors” is based on a Roger Corman cheapo film, that was turned into an off-broadway production and it was getting a big screen treatment. It’s not as if they were hacking away at a classic and deciding that  Rick and Ilsa should end up together. The stinger at the end of the film still kept the biting edge alive, without losing the two characters that we had just spent an hour learning to love.

Tonight’s Fathom event features the original ending and I have to say there was a lot about it that was impressive, but they made the right choice thirty-three years ago. To call this a director’s cut is to ignore that Frank Oz himself could see what was happening to the audience, and that is why changes were made. The whole of the movie would be done ten minutes before the film ended. The originally planned ending plays out like a Joe Dante film. Not that that is a bad thing, but it is so different from the tone that was established in the first two acts. We start off with a great musical that sets up scene and characters in act one. Act two establishes the drama and romance that makes a story worth paying attention to, and then act three turns into a Japanese Monster movie with repetitive buildings collapsing. It might have felt like a bigger film but it is not a better film. I had seen some of this material on YouTube but in black and white. There was supposed to be a special edition fifteen years ago but it got pulled at the last moment.  It is available now so this is really a commercial for the blu-ray.

Everyone in the movie is terrific. Seeing this tonight reminds me of how much I miss having Rick Moranis in a movie. I also could not believe that Steve Martin was ignored for a best supporting actor nomination, he is pitch perfect in his role. Because the songs were from the original stage play, they were not eligible for nomination, with the exception of one original song written mostly for the new ending. “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” may not be a classic, but it was a way to honor the music and lyrics of Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman. Of course two years later, they would be showered with awards for their work on “The Little Mermaid” and the prolific work that follows is impressive.Ellen Greene was so good in this film. She has had a nice career but this most certainly was her crowning achievement and it came early.

This might have been a film I saw with Bob and Susan Gass along with my wife and Dan Hasegawa. I have a distinct memory of talking with Bob about the Greek Chorus of singers and him responding to it because he did not really like musicals. I could be conflating this conversation with the theatrical experience however. I do know that I saw the film again at the home of a Glendale Physician who had a spectacular view from a hillside residence in Glendale. My friend’s sister was house sitting for the Doctor and she invited us to come and look at his home theater. There was a descending screen and a projector that was hooked up to a Laser Disc player.  We looked at his discs and selected”Little Shop” for our evenings pleasure. It sounded great and the picture left VHS presentations in the dust. It was just a couple years later that I made the jump to Laser myself.

 

This is the end of a long week that held some sadness for our family. This seemed just the recipe to get us back on track after the disruption and frustrations. We ate popcorn and basically sang along with the movie. “Suddenly Seymour” and “Somewhere that’s Green” are standouts for me, but I giggled throughout the film at the clever lyrics of Howard Ashman.

TCM Film Festival Day Three

So let’s see if we can get the whole day in on one post rather than spreading it out over several. Saturday is always a densely packed day at the TCMFF. It begins with one of the movies I treasure from my nostalgia bank. A comedy takeoff on my favorite film.

The Court Jester

The film features the clown prince of movie comedy from the 1940s and 50s, the amazing Danny Kaye. Like most people my age, I encountered this movie in reruns on Sunday afternoon movie programs. It is a brilliant take off on “robin Hood” and other swashbucklers.

The movie looks great on the big screen and this is one of the reasons I chose to see a movie I practically know by heart, because I have never seen it it a theater. The color bursts forth in amazing hues and the costumes look lush and detailed. The opening number with Kaye pretending to be The Black Fox and dancing with miniature versions of himself was a riot. The Foxes outfit was reproduced a dozen times for the diminutive actors playing the acrobatic troop that Hawkins once worked with.  Captain Jean shows up in a similar outfit, tailored for a woman and with a slightly different color. This is the start of the little details that make a big screen viewing extra special.

The audience was full and host Illeana Douglas and guest Fred Willard shared their stories about seeing the film and loving Danny Kaye. Outside in line for the next film, I encountered a woman who had a myriad of tattoos, but her most recent ones were the focus of my attention.  If you look closely you will see here on the wrist a Vessel with a Pestle, a Chalice from the Palace, and a Flagon with the figure of a dragon. She definitely is a fan. My fandom will not go so far as to paint my body, but I do have a full post on the film here. I think you will find the review and story there worth your trip.

The Awful Truth

This was a last minute call for me. I’d originally planned on seeing “The Last Picture Show” with director Peter Bogdonovicth , but I decided that since I’d seen it only a month  earlier, I’d look for

something else. My daughter Amanda and I split up at this point and she headed off to see the 70’s classic while I queued up for a screwball comedy that I saw three decades or so before and had only a vague memory of.

This was a chance for me to sit with some of the TCM Party People I know from on-line. Kellee Pratt and her husband Gary were there as was Aurora from Citizen Screen. I saved a seat for my local blogging buddy Michael, and there were a dozen others from the group around us as well. Some of those folks were introduced to me and some were not but all of the group was friendly and full of anticipation.  The excitement was completely understandable because this movie is a delight. As with most screwball films, the premise is a little far fetched and convoluted but once you accept that, everything falls into place. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are married couple who have some secrets that they keep from one another but they appear to be a little innocuous. Grant however lets his suspicions get the best of him and they pursue a divorce that neither of them really wants.

Ralph Bellamy plays the third wheel love interest who complicates the couples reunion. This is a part that he most have done in films a dozen times, including “His Girl Friday” where again his romantic proclivities are thwarted by Cary Grant. I’d just seen Grant in “North By Northwest” a few days ago, and It is amazing how great his range was. The picture at the top of this post was taken by TCM of the line for the film. If you look closely, you will see me giving the “Fight On” victory salute of my Trojan Family.

The Jerk

I saw this movie when it was first released and I thought it was hysterical but a bit of a thrown together piece of work. I must have watched bits and pieces of it over the years so that I knew it intimately. Watching the whole thing once more, it was much more coherent and professionally assembled than I remembered, although it was just as funny 38 years later.

Much of that credit belongs to the director Carl Reiner, who along with star and screenwriter Steve Martin, put together a series of loose sketches (much like they had done throughout their careers) to make a real movie. Reiner was present before the screening for a book signing that went on quite a while and caused a pretty big delay in the schedule.  I was worried I’d not make it in time to get to the next film where I was scheduled to reconnect with Amanda.

Reiner was much like Mel Brooks was, full of stories and very funny. He does digress a bit into some political themes that are prevalent these days. One of the reasons I  want to go to the festival is to get away from that subject matter and it was a little annoying. I was glad when he got the subject off his chest and went back to the film and his admiration of Steve Martin. Host Ben Mankiewicz, while interviewing him had a hard time understanding the baseball cap he had handy. The information that Reiner is not a Colorado Rockies fan, lead to realization that the hat logo had more to do with the guest than baseball. I’ll bet you figure it out faster than Ben did.

I was Mr. Reiner last year at the TCM FF talking about “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid“. At age 95, he has not lost his wit or enthusiasm for working. Apparently he has two other books coming out this year as well.

Best In Show

The least “classic” in terms of date released film I saw at the Festival was the most successful of the Christopher Guest directed improvisational films, “Best in Show”. I suspect some classic film fans would be wondering why this movie is included in the program. It is barely seventeen years old and hardly the sort of thing that would attract this audience. It was however not only well attended but completely booked and I don’t think anyone in the standby line got in.

Since the theme of the festival was comedy, it makes sense to have some of the funniest movies around included in your program. Since the Festival makes a great effort to add value to the screenings with special guests, this film really paid in spades because there were four actors from the film present to share some stories.

John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban and Jim Piddock sat down front and spoke of the process that is used to put these ensemble films together and they reminisced about the making of the film. Poor Bob Balaban had such a sore throat that he could not speak, but he participated with notes that the host or one of the co-stars would read. It seems appropriate that he was the one with a wing down since it was also true when they made the film. He had a large footbrace on his leg the whole time that they were shooting and had to have his slacks altered so that he could hide the fact but still wear the piece. Piddock recalled how difficult it was to play straight man to Willard. He also noted that all of their work was basically done in an afternoon and that there were no dogs present at the location where they shot. Best In Show Actors

We had an interesting encounter with a woman in line for the next movie. She had been in the screeing with us and she and her friend were discussing the film while we waited to get back into the main Chinese theater. She hated the film, and I think she represents many of the fans who would have questioned it’s inclusion. However if you judge by the volume of laughter in the room and it’s frequency, the movie was a success with most of the crowd.

The Graduate

While it may not be from the studio era that most fans of TCM would use to define “classic film”, the rest of the world would certainly concede that this is at least a modern classic. “The Graduate” introduced Dustin Hoffman to the world and the themes of the movie reverberate throughout Hollywood for ten years after the film was released. As hard as it was for me to believe, my daughter had never seen it and I was anxious to get her take on the film.

The Simon and Garfunkel songs that are littered throughout the story are part of the soundtrack of we baby boomers lives. The opening sequence with Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin, being moved without any effort on his part by the people conveyor at LAX, with the blank tile walls behind him, completely forecasts the characters story and ambivalence. Much has been written about the final shots and the tentative smiles and uncertainty on the actors faces, but if you ask me, this was the moment that Mike Nichols earned his Academy Award.

Screenwriter Buck Henry was the guest and his was one of the most interesting interviews of the weekend. Mr. Henry is eighty seven years old and not quite as spry as Carl Reiner or his old collaborator Mel Brooks. He was in fact in a wheelchair, but he did not appear to be infirm. As he was interviewed, there were times when he seemed indifferent to or confused by the questions, but just when you thought he was out of it, he usually made an insightful comment or quip, and I began to think he was really just toying with us.

The fact that Robert Redford walked away from the part as Nichols continued to try and interest him in it might be well known. Henry added to the story however by explaining that Redford’s reason given to the director was simple, he didn’t get it. He also shared a piece of info that I was unaware of , Murray Hamilton was a replacement for an actor who Nichols let go. The actor was very capable but Nichols simply did not think he could play “rich”. The actor was Gene Hackman, perhaps my very favorite actor ever. To me the bigger question was how he could play older. Hackman and Hoffman are pretty close to the same age and they shared rooms together at one point. Hackman moved on to “Bonnie and Clyde” which was not at all a bad trade for him.

The best part of the film came in the car on the ride home that night. I had the kind of discussion with my daughter that film fans always want to have. We had insights and disagreements and intelligent comments to make about a movie that inspired us. She has asked me several times what my favorite part of the festival was. I’ve not said it before but I will put it in writing right here. My favorite thing about this years TCM Film Festival was the forty minute ride home that night, talking to her about a great movie.

rakben

dead_men_dont_wear_plaid_ver1

Steve Martin and Carl Reiner collaborated several times in the late 70s and 80s. Some of their films are silly and some are brilliantly realized concepts. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is both. It is an homage to the film noir of the 40s and 50s, with a Saturday Night Live sensibility. They took clips from more than a dozen classic films and mixed them with new material that was specially created for the movie. Martin rocketed to fame as a stand up comedian, and Reiner honed his comedy chops on improve and 50s variety shows. They seem to have been perfectly combined for this movie.

I saw this movie when it opened in May of 1982. I still have the promo button they passed out at preview screenings proclaiming that opening day was National Plaid Day. It remains very funny but the technology for merging older film stock with contemporary materials is much greater today than thirty four years ago. It still looks great but we are spoiled today by the digital wonders that come from progress. My guess is that Zelig and Forrest Gump would also suffer a little by comparison as each uses a similar technique to this film to tell it’s story.

Rachel Ward was the “It” girl of the early 80s after starring in “The Thornbirds” on TV. She is the damsel in distress rather than a femme fatale here, which she would be two years later in the neo noir “Against All Odds”.  Steve Martin gets to man handle her a couple of times for big laughs in the movie and she was indeed a beautiful woman, although she has no comic touch at all. Reiner himself appears as the butler, and maybe a little bit more, and he hams it up with Martin very effectively. Most of the costars are actually big names from past films who appear for a few brief seconds but are integrated so well into the movie that I hope their families are getting residuals.

Mr. Reiner was honored after the film with a short assemblage of film clips put together by TCM and a nice introduction by actress/author Illeanna Douglas. She proceeded to try to interview him but Reiner was “On” and would not be contained. The 94 year old actor/writer/director/producer was full of jokes, side track stories and assorted foolishness. He was very entertaining but I was occasionally left wondering if he sometimes just lost track of what he was doing and went to a comfort zone.  The big house at the Chinese Theater was packed and the nearly 1000 of us lucky enough to get in gave him a standing ovation greeting that was very sincere.

He talked about his days with the Dick Van Dyke show and was clearly quite proud of his accomplished children, including his director son Rob, his psychologist daughter and artist younger son. He shared George Burns ribald comment with the audience as to what sex was like in your 80s, after all they did work together on “Oh God”, but he had to make sure there were no children in the audience. The analogy was disgusting and funny as heck.  He appears to be in good health and still very amusing with his improvisational comments during the interview.  It was an afternoon well spent and reminds me that I should be visiting my DVD collection more often, where “The Man with Two Brains” and “All of Me” reconnect him with Steve Martin. There are several other films to post about from Friday and Saturday, but I will have to catch up during the week, it’s just too late when we are getting back to do any coherent writing.