category: Cinema

Kelli Maroney + Sherman Oaks Galleria = Love

Chopping-Mall-Kelli-Maroney-Tony-O'Dell-7[1]

Last weekend, I sat down with my old college buddy Dave to watch the classic 80’s slasher Chopping Mall. Chopping Mall starred Kelli Maroney who, of course, was also in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Interestingly, both movies’ interior shots were filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria. The Galleria was used in plenty of other movies, including Night of the Comet which starred… wait for it… Kelli Maroney.

Three movies shot in a four-year timespan at the same mall starring the same actress. Has any other actress/location combo come close?

VHS Memories

VHS tapes

A recent episode of The Projection Booth podcast (one I started listening to because I’ve enjoyed Mike’s Cashiers du Cinemart magazine) focused on the subject of VHS. While most folks have moved way beyond VHS (and physical formats in general), the giant cassettes have made a comeback in recent years with new producers popping up and collectible tapes fetching hundreds and hundreds of dollars on eBay. How popular have they gotten? Enough for this episode to be over four hours long featuring interviews with directors of four separate documentaries in the works about VHS (ETA: a few weeks later, they did a 2 1/2 hour follow-up!). Having grown up on VHS, practically living at Medford’s mom-and-pop rental shop (first West Coast Video, then Couch Potatoes, which existed up until just a couple of years ago) and still owning a pretty sizable VHS collection, I was enthralled by this look back at the history of the format, the huge cultural impact it had allowing people to not only bring movies home to watch but to record content from television, and the recent resurgence the format has seen. One of the movies featured in the episode is Rewind This!, a film whose Kickstarter campaign I tossed a few bucks at a while back. It looks like it’s going to a fun flick, as does the last one featured in the episode, Plastic Movies Rewound. The latter will feature a 30-minute segement on forgotten and virutally unknown alternate formats that go way beyond Beta, Laserdisc, and Videodisc.

The Projection Booth solicited call-in contributions, so I shared my memories. It can be heard at about 42 minutes in, or being the egomaniac I am, I trimmed it down to just my portion so I could embed it here:

In the first story, I discuss my attempts at copying tapes as a teenager. I would rent a bunch of movies on the cheapest day of the week from the local video store and the copy the ones I didn’t have a chance to watch (or that I really liked) using a crappy portable VCR that I’d rent from the public library for $1. Unfortunately, thanks to annoying (but admittedly clever) copy protection schemes like Macrovision, copies would fade in and out making them barely watchable. (Side note: how can there be no videos on YouTube with examples of what copies of copy protected videos looked like?).

In the second story, I talk about Movie Mania at the former Pennsuaken Mart in New Jersey. Movie Mania still exists at the “new” mart in Willingboro, but I haven’t visited so I can’t compare it, but the original was a wonderful place where the most obscure titles could be found and if not found, ordered. Indeed, I special ordered both Anguish and the big box version of Zombie for significantly less that they would have cost me paying “Rental-Only” pricing.

I admit to having some level of nostalgia related to VHS, but it’s not so much for the format itself. After all, the movies released on VHS were rarely letterboxed (at least until near the end of the format’s lifecycle) and the quality was not-so-hot compared to the formats that replaced it. What I am nostalgic for is the community that surrounded the VHS era. I practically lived at West Coast Video (and later, Couch Potatoes) and any money that I earned that didn’t go to CDs from Tunes went to renting movies. And rarely did I rent the blockbuster of the day. Instead, I was renting catalog horror titles–the weirder the better–or old, mid-80s WWF tapes. Usually the local video shop didn’t hassle me about renting R-rated films at 15-years-old, but every so often I’d run into an overzealous new clerk that was adamant about being an upstanding citizen.

There was also the thrill of visiting video shops in new towns or, when I was in college, making a trip to TLA Video in Philly since it was near where my dad worked. Their selection blew my mind and started to introduce me to the more obscure titles by foreign directors that I loved. I’d watched Peter Jackson’s ultra-bloody Dead/Alive probably two dozen times on the screener copy my friend Dave gave me, but it wasn’t until TLA that I was able to see his earlier work like Bad Taste or the sick Meet the Feebles. Likewise for the harder-to-find (at the time) Argento and Fulci films and even more obscure arthouse flicks I was just starting to get into.

I won’t lie: I love being able to stream movies from Netflix at will or being able to watch random Weng Weng movies in full on YouTube, just like I wouldn’t give up my MP3 collection and music streaming subscription for anything. But I still appreciate physical formats and, even more, the community surrounding and experience of finding, renting, and buying movies (and music) at brick-and-mortar stores. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sort of mini-resurgence of video stores in a few years the same way new record shops have started popping up. But, for now, I admit to longing a bit for the Friday night trip to the rental store to stock up on videos for weekend viewing.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a bit of an urge to revisit a lot of the old media that’s in my basement. For a while, the Normal Bias project has been underway, but I think I need to revisit my old VHSes. Perhaps a video series?

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 3

Seen

Confessions of a Superhero

A touching (and ever-so-slightly exploitative) look at the mere mortals behind the superhero characters on Hollywood Boulevard. With Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, you can sense that this is probably a spot they’ll be in for a while, despite all their best efforts. While Wonder Woman’s story isn’t overly sad, you can sense she’s destined for bigger and better things (since the movie, she’s had bit roles on Party Down, True Blood, and New Girl).

Heard

Miles Davis: Get Up With It

Like anyone else who’s ever spent any time in a college radio station, I went through a heavy Miles Davis period when I was starting to get into jazz. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew were, of course, on heavy rotation, but I tried to dig into some of the lesser-known Miles albums from various points in his career as well. Somehow, I missed Get Up With It, a double-LP of super-electic electric recordings from 1970-1974. Even if you’ve heard his other electric-era recordings, you’ll be surprised over and over again with Get Up With It.

The two most notable tracks are the 32-minute “He Loved Him Madly,” a dedication to the recently deceased Duke Ellington, and the supremely bonkers “Rated X,” a fiercely funky assault on your senses. The latter is particularly ahead of its time, sounding a lot like the intense electronica-infused jazz we’ve seen coming out of Poland in the last decade (a la Pink Freud, Robotobibok, etc.). (The live version on the Miles Davis In Concert album isn’t as good.)

Read

Fire Monks coverFire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch

A super interesting look at the California wildfires of 2008 and how the monks of Tassajara (which is connected with Suzuki Roshi’s San Francisco Zen Center) worked to defend their land even with little help from professionals. Really engaging and a fascinating examination of how “beginner’s mind” works under extreme pressure.

Don’t miss this Flickr set with photos from before, during, and after the fire by Mako, one of the five monks that fought the fire from beginning to end.

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 1

This is going to be my attempt at an irregular feature here on the site, where I’ll occasionally post a list of one movie, one book or article, and one piece of music I’ve recently consumed, along with some commentary.

Seen

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman

While this documentary won’t change the mind of someone whose views are set about “radical” activism, it will no doubt show that there is a big difference between groups like Al-Qaeda and organizations like the ELF/ALF. And it does make one wonder about the “#1 domestic terrorist threat” being an organization that has never physically harmed a person. (That said, their tactics are certainly not ones that I would ever choose to use, but I can understand the thought process behind them.)

There is a bias to the documentary, but even so, it does give a legitimate voice to the victims of the activists’ actions such that the film doesn’t feel like a propaganda piece. Worth watching.

Heard

France Gall: Baby Pop

A while back, I asked on Quora, “What are some amazing upbeat ye-ye albums?,” looking for music similar Chantal Goya’s amazing songs from Godard’s Masculin/FĂ©minin soundtrack. It took a while, but I finally got a bunch of great suggestions from Brie Larson.

I dug in this week and checked out France Gall’s 1966 album Baby Pop. It seems to have been the trend for the most successful ye-ye singers to be pretty young women that didn’t necessarily have the most amazing vocal range, but could carry a tune and look innocent and naive while doing it. Gall fits this role: you can hear some inconsistencies in her vocals, but the songs are catchy as all get-out and downright fun.

Read

Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man

I recently finished this book I received through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a tale of homelessness as told by one that lived through it: stories of violence, spiraling depression, and a healthy dose of quirky characters. Land of Lost Souls gives us a glance into the everyday lives of the people we pass on the street, often without a second thought.

Though the book’s chronology jumps all over the place, making it hard to get your bearings on your place within Cadillac Man’s life, the structure turns out not to be all that important. What is important are the individual stories, like the touching story of Penny, a 19-year-old runaway who Cadillac Man develops both a fatherly and sexual relationship with before helping to reconnect her with her family. That sounds creepy, but it’s more that it’s just how things go in that environment.

Recommended.

(Cadillac Man reads a selection from his book in this CSPAN video from a couple of years ago.)

Bring me Killdozer

Random text file I found on one of my external drives dated 8/7/2008 with a list of movies and brief descriptions of “dvd-r’s to buy”:

SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE DVD 1987 chuck connors thriller
NIGHT OF THE DEMON DVD 1980 gory bigfoot horror UNCUT!
SKATETOWN USA DVD 1979 patrick swayze scott baio
FANTASTIC ANIMATION FESTIVAL DVD 1977 rare cult classic
A VACATION IN HELL DVD 1979 priscilla barnes tv movie
KILLDOZER 1974 DVD clint walker tv horror movie
HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE DVD barbara stanwyck tv horror
RECORD CITY DVD 1977 oddball comedy cult classic
PINBALL SUMMER DVD 1980 rare teensploitation comedy
SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY DVD bizarro cult classic

Seriously, those are some I need to get. Killdozer!