Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Meet Me At The Wrecking Ball - A Blog With A Cause

"Is that the worst word of the new culture - 'blog'?"
- Jerry Seinfeld on The Late Show With David Letterman 10/29/07

Actually, I think it's one of the best.

This post is going to be a bit different from my usual array of riveting reviews and looney lists - this time I have a cause. I rarely write about things local, except for mentions of the theatre I work at part time (The Varsity), but it has come to my attention that a historic house not far from where I live in Chapel Hill, NC is in danger of being demolished very soon. How this pertains to Film Babble is that this house was used as a film location almost 40 years ago. The house is the Edward Kidder Graham House (named for a former UNC President who died in 1918) located on Battle Lane at the edge of the UNC campus and the movie it was used in was THREE IN THE ATTIC (Dir. Richard Wilson, 1968).

Haven't heard of it? That's okay, I hadn't either - It isn't available from Netflix having never had a proper DVD release (I found online that some outfit called Must Have Films is selling DVD copies of it but they don't look quite legit) and VHS copies are fairly hard to find. After some phoning around I found a shoddy old videocassette copy at a local video store (a building surely to be demolished soon as well) and viewed it anxious to see some Lyndon B. Johnson era shots of my hometown. Through the awful picture full of drop-outs (horizontal white streaks) and the incomprehensible muffled sound I was able to make out the Edward Kidder Graham House as well as many shots of the UNC campus, surrounding neighborhoods and the Alpha Tau Omega House on Franklin Street which was used prominently in a party sequence.

The movie itself is honestly a pretty schlocky 60's sexploitation picture. Made by American International Films, a company that specialized in low budget fringe films that would appeal to teenagers, it is by today's AMERICAN PIE standards a fairly lame affair - though one not without its kitschy dated charms. James Dean look-a-like (and somebody who studied Dean's every move) Christopher Jones finds himself locked in a sorority house attic (The Edward Kidder Graham House stands in for Ford Hall as UNC doubles as the equally ficticious Willard College For Men and Fulton - A Women's College) after 3 college girls ( Yvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Thrett) find out he's been triple timing them. As Paxton Quigley, Jones' voice-over narration promises a look at the "groovy subculture of today's female" and he says "you've heard of the sexual revolution...well, I'm probably one of its first casualties" but this is pretty grandiose talk coming from someone decked out in what looks like the JC Penny Jim Morrison line - fluffy white shirt, love beads and yes, leather pants. No such social sexual commentary or satire is really presented - just dialogue like this between Quigley and girlfriend #1's (Mimieux) father, played by Richard Derr, who bursts in on them living in sin:

Mr. Clinton: "What kind of a man are you?"

Paxton Quigley: "Well, I think I know...I know where it's at."

Mr. Clinton: "What?"

Paxton Quigley: "I know my way around."

Mr. Clinton: "Are you one of those potheads?"

Yep, that's about the level of insight in THREE IN THE ATTIC. There was potential as Roger Ebert notes in his 1968 review that it could've been a "near GRADUATE" but the film makers motives were just as cheap as its budget. Essentially a series of love montages hanging on a bare narrative thread this movie still has some lure as a curio - fans of college cult films * will delight in its pre-ANIMAL HOUSE sensibility, cinéastes will enjoy the notion of what direction James Dean's career might've gone in (or at least looked like) had he lived through to that turbulent time, but for this blog's purposes Chapel Hill residents will celebrate THREE IN THE ATTIC as a snapshot of the town in the late 60's and a portrait of a house worth preserving and restoring.

* It is most certainly a cult movie - Joe Bob's Ultimate B-Movie Guide gives it 4 stars and says of it - "one of the weirdest flicks of the sixties" (Joe Bob Briggs, 2000).

Postnote #1: There was actually a sequel entitled UP IN THE CELLAR (1970) also known as THREE IN THE CELLAR which also had Judy Pace in it. It was a little of a bigger deal with Larry Hagman and Joan Collins but since it was filmed in New Mexico I didn't seek it out.

Postnote #2: For more information and pictures of the Edward Kidder Graham House and other historic houses in Chapel Hill please visit :

The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill

Flickr: Photos from chapelhill.preservation


Also this interview with Preservation Society of Chapel Hill Executive Director Ernest Dollar is worth a read:

Independent Weekly: News: Q&A: Ernest Dollar

More later...

2 comments:

clamnebula said...

Hey Dan,
I once heard that some organization at UNC was so displeased with the way 'Three in the Attic' turned out (because of the nudity, sex, etc) that they forbade filming on campus for decades, up until the time that 'Patch Adams' shot scenes there. When I worked on 'Immortal', we could film scenes on Franklin St, but we couldn't go across the street and shoot stuff on the school's property. Makes me want to get a copy of the film and see what all the hoo-ha was about!
-Neb

Binge Cafe said...

hey film babble/Daniel,

Saw your post on alt-ch. Have you ever seen this blog? http://endangereddurham.blogspot.com/
Gary works to preserve structures all the time in Durham so you might want to check this out. That movie looks hilarious. The house should be saved regardless.

--eleni