Saturday, May 23, 2020

That Time THE SHINING Trailer Blew My 10-Year Old Mind

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING.

But what I want to share in this post is something that happened the weekend after that film
s release when as a 10-year old I went to see BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN (AND DON’T COME BACK!). To the best of my memory, I went alone with my Mom dropping me off for the movie at the Ram Theatre (a truly wretched theater) in downtown Chapel Hill.

There I was sitting through the trailers munching on popcorn or candy (I can’t remember) when a shot of two elevator doors in a hotel lobby filled the screen. As creepy music plays, the title THE SHINING, and “A Stanley Kubrick Fim,” ascend from the bottom of the shot, followed by credits for Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, then the declaration that the film is based on “Stephen King’s Best-Selling Masterpiece of Modern Horror.” 

As the music gets louder and more ominous, the credits get repetitive – the title again goes upward and Kubrick’s name is re-stated. Moments later, gallons of blood begin to pour out of the sides of the elevator doors. The blood continues to flow in mass quantities enough to move about furniture in the lobby. The trailer ends with the camera lens being covered in blood, and with me scared out of my 10-year old mind.

This was the trailer before a Charlie Brown movie!

I was waiting to see the shenanigans of Snoopy and gang and got treated to an ocean of blood. Good grief. 

I remember being so shaken by the big screen bloodbath that it was hard to pay proper attention to the light-hearted animated matinee I came to see.

These days, the trailers are often programmed to match the genre of the movie that they supporting. So if you are going to an action movie, you’re likely to see trailers for other action movies proceeding the main feature. But back then it seems they just threw whatever they had up on the screen, not caring if they freaked out kids who just wanted some Peanuts™.

In the 40 years since, I’ve seen THE SHINING many times on the big and screen, and I’ve revisited the trailer a bunch of times which, of course, is so less frightening than I remember, but still packs a bloody punch.

I wonder if trailers for BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN ever played before showings of THE SHINING. That’s one thing I can think of that would even the score.

Another would be for me to watch a double feature of both movies. Maybe then I could finally make peace.


More later...

Friday, May 22, 2020

Fred Willard: A Film Babble Blog Tribute

Last weekend, comedy great, and lovable goofball, Fred Willard passed away at the age of 86.

Willard, who specialized in playing characters that were oblivious doofuses, was a reliably hilarious presence in many TV shows and movies including Fernwood 2 Night, Real People, The History of White People in America, ROXANNE, Roseanne, King of the Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond (three Emmy nominations), ANCHORMAN, Modern Family (one Emmy nomination), WALL-E and, oddly, The Bold and the Beautiful (a Daytime Emmy win).

That is an extremely incomplete overview of his rich career (go to IMDb for his complete credits and you’ll scroll on and on), especially since I was saving for now his wonderful run in the seminal series of Christopher Guest comedies WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1996), BEST IN SHOW (2000), A MIGHTY WIND (2003), and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (2003), and MASCOTS (2016).

Although it was a Rob Reiner film, I consider THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) to be the first of these largely improvised films as it features a number of the cast members that would appear in one of more of the later movies - Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley Jr., Paul Benedict, and Willard.

From his role as Jerry Hubbard (his doltish Ed McMahon to Martin Mull’s Johnny Carson – the smarmy AF Barth Gimble) on the ‘70s talk show spoof Fernwood 2 Night (later changed to America 2-Night), in would be easy to assume that Willard was a straight man in these films. This is untrue as you can see in this clip from SPINAL TAP in which he steals the movie from its stars as Lt. Bob Hookstratten:

Willard has less than two minutes of screen-time in the comedy classic, but that was just enough for him to make a mark while Spinal Tap themselves fall into the background. In a way, despite that they said very little, his co-stars in that scene are his straight men.

Willard had a much larger role in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN as Ron Albertson, a travel agent who’s never left his hometown of Blaine. Willard’s Ron is an aspiring entertainer along with his wife Sheila, and in a great scene they encounter Eugene Levy as Dr. Allen Pearl, also an amateur performer in line to audition for a show put on by director Corky St. Clair (Guest).

Showing off his improv skills, Willard quickly fires off a string of wisecracks aimed at Levy’s dental profession: “Give it your best shot. It won’t be the first shot you ever gave - hope it doesn’t leave Corky numb like most of us - it’s like pulling teeth to get a discount from him - hey, why don’t you give some caramels to the little girl - future customers, Doc!” During this bit on the DVD commentary, Guest and Levy talk about being very impressed with this run. 

“I had no choice but to let go and surrender to Fred’s will - to the point of letting him talk me into wearing those sad, unattractive track suits in our audition scene when I just wanted to look good for one second in the movie. I couldn’t say no.” - Catherine O’Hara 

Willard’s next performance in a Guest film is one of his most memorable, dog show announcer Buck Laughlin in BEST IN SHOW.

Buck doesn’t appear until 45 minutes into the film, but once he appears he all but takes over the movie with such screwy color commentary as “I went to one of those obedience places once... it was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts,” and “to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”

Even though Willard’s part in A MIGHTY WIND was much smaller, but again he stole the show. He played the bleached blond manager of The New Main Street Singers, who once appeared in a sitcom called Wha
 Happened? I’ll let him tell you the story: 

Not being a regular viewer, I was unaware the Willard made a lot of appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Kimmel paid homage to the man earlier this week and presented a montage of Willard’s work on the program which you can watch here, and a second segment in which 
Willard’s celebrity friends share memories of working with him.

To get a great sense of Willard’s comic talent and as just a friendly guy you would want to hang with, I highly recommend this compilation of his guest shots on Late Night with Letterman, and The Late Show with David Letterman from 1982-2007: 

There are way too many great moments in the career of Mr. Willard to recount here – these are just a few of my favorites. I’ll leave you with this achievement that I haven’t seen mentioned in many obits: Willard was the one and only live action actor to appear in a Pixar movie. He played Shelby Forthright, the CEO of the Buy-N-Large Corporation, in WALL-E (2008). 

That’s pretty damn cool. 

R.I.P. Fred Willard 

More later...

Monday, May 04, 2020

Some STAR WARS Day Musings

Every May 4th, my former neighbors would put these inflatables in their yard
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that, “Of the nine STAR WARS movies, I think only four of them are good. I’ll reveal which ones sometime soon.”

Since it’s May the 4th (as in “May the fourth be with you”), which has been branded as STAR WARS Day, it’s as good as time as any to reveal those four films from the franchise, but I have to say that my answers are pretty boring.

Firstly, I’m talking about the nine entries (or Episodes as their called in each movie’s opening crawl) that make up the Skywalker Saga. I’m not counting expanded universe offshoots such as the Ewok TV movies, the animated THE CLONE WARS, ROGUE ONE, SOLO, or The STAR WARS Holiday Special for that matter. I’m clarifying this because some folks brought up a few of these titles in the thread under my Facebook post.

So here’s my boring answer: the four films in the series that I think are the only really worthwhile Episodes are: STAR WARS *, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI, and THE FORCE AWAKENS. Basically the ones that have Han Solo in them (you could say he also appears in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, but that’s just a cameo). 

Pretty obvious, huh? I’m discounting the prequels as I hated them (as many fans do), and the last two (THE LAST JEDI, RISE) because while they were passably entertaining, they will doubtfully be considered as classics in the decades to come.

*As I’ve written before on this blog, I can never think of the original 1977 series starter by the revised title it was given four years after it’s release. You can read about why, in this post: It’ll Always Be STAR WARS, Not A NEW HOPE To Me (December 13, 2016).

Unsurprisingly, my choices come from growing up with the original trilogy, and favoring the later day comeback (THE FORCE AWAKENS) that most captures the spirit of the original trilogy.

Happy STAR WARS Day people! I’ll leave now with this question: when Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 made an appearance on The Muppet Show (February 1980 – just a few months before THE EMPIRE STRIKE BACK’s release), was that canon?

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