Eric Caidin: Los Angeles Legend, Hollywood Cultural Treasure and My Friend

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Got the stupid phone call earlier today. I had just woken up. My cats hadn’t even switched positions from where we went to sleep the night before.

I did the same thing that I did when I got the phone call that Sherman Torgan died. I was so dead silent that the person on the other end had to check if I was still there. In fact, it was the same person who told me in both cases.

I argued with my friend: “Are you sure? This isn’t a rumor or a mistake?” I knew it wasn’t. “You’re absolutely positive? This CAN’T be true. This is not someone we can afford to lose. We really need him.” Which was a mixture of the oral historian/archivist/scholar in me speaking but the Film Friend saying: I really need him. I’m going to miss this man so fiercely. He changed my life. Who will I see and hug now at film events? Who can I giggle with in that way we did?

My friend on the phone, who had his own extremely intimate relationship with Eric, was good with me. But he assured me that it was not a mistake. I said that maybe we brought it on by talking about people we had lost over the weekend. Was it our fault? “No, Ariel, it’s not our fault. He had a heart attack. We are not responsible.”

I still feel responsible. If I hadn’t brought that topic up last Saturday, would Eric still be with us? I know I’m not responsible. But I also keep wanting to wake up from some stupid nightmare and have this be false information. However, after seeing an article already published in Los Angeles magazine…I guess it’s not somnolence-related.

I wish all of you could have met Eric Caidin. I’m sure many of you did, perhaps for more than 20 years. I can only claim to have been Film Friends with him for 13-14 years. But my first introductions to Grindhouse Cinema were through him. And I had no idea what the term meant. Like zero clue.

Original storefront for Hollywood Book & Poster

Original storefront for Hollywood Book & Poster

Eric Caidin owned and ran Hollywood Book & Poster in the very center of Hollywood for years. In fact, it was only within the last year that it closed (due to raised rents, go figure). The plan was for HB&P to relocate to a highly popular spot in Burbank for themed boutiques, certainly one that would have been well-suited to Caidin’s years of hard work and skilled curation of motion-picture themed collectibles. As a woman who has grown up in this city and watched as places like Book City, C.C. Brown’s and other signature Hollywood Blvd landmarks disappear, this was sad. But I was also excited for their new future since I believed in the “Caidin Touch.”

If you watched Eric at a Convention or at a Q&A, if you had him hand you a flyer for a Kiddee Matinee at the New Beverly or any of the umpteen thousand projects that he did aside from running that shopyou would see something that we are lacking in 2015: THE ULTIMATE SHOWMAN.

Eric in his

Eric in his “milieu” at a convention! Always on & always “on it”!

He didn’t do a little bit of everything, he did a LOT of everything. And he knew about everything. While kids need google now and barely anyone remembers using real encyclopedias or card catalogs, Eric Caidin was a walking encyclopedia. And not just on horror films or exploitation- but on all kinds of cinema/pop culture. And on wrestling?? Expert!! And I. Love. Wrestling. Eric and I had so many conversations about the squared circle. In fact, almost every time I saw him- New Beverly, Noir City, running into him at random film screening- if there was some random wrestling thing (mainly Mexican Wrestling, but a good deal of other stuff too) that he was involved in, he would tell me about it and ask me if I wanted to go. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and I hate that it is, but I am sure as hell sorry that I never watched wrestling with Mr. Eric Caidin.

A favorite personal Eric Story:

Many years ago, I’m down at Comic Con to present on a panel. As usual, I go by the Hollywood Book & Poster table to say hello and chill out and have some laughs with Eric. The day goes on, and Caidin says:

“Hey- you wanna go to Mexico with me tonight and get some wrestling masks and go to a match?”

UM, OBVIOUSLY. So the hall closes, we get into a van, park at the border, get a cab into Mexico. The match was a bust, we spent about an hour driving around TJ with Eric, laughing and listening to him talk to the cabbie, trying to figure out where there might be some Lucha. There was none. We went to a stadium and there were some guys outside who talked to us, told us there was a bullfight? No lucha. We got back in the cab. We returned to the main drag.

“Oh well. So much for that. Got this GREAT place to eat though.” So Eric Caidin took us to a place called “Tacos Not Drugs.” Still the best molé I have ever eaten. I don’t know what happened to the pictures that we took, which is sad. They had a “Tacos Not Drugs” stand-up with places for you to put your face. What a night.

But Eric was a Los Angeles Film Community Raconteur, in the very best sense of the word. Every time I saw him at a film event, I was overjoyed at being in his presence and at getting to bask in his experience and knowledge. Because he was one-of-a-kind and he genuinely loved film.  I spent a few hours at the final party of the Noir City party in 2014 listening to him tell me great stories that just made my jaw drop. And I just kept hugging him and asking him: “How do you even exist? Are you writing these things down? These stories are so fantastic?” And he just shrugged and told me another, while patting his fabulous film-related tie. Another thing- I loved Eric Caidin’s ties. NO ONE COULD EVER ROCK THAT THREE STOOGES TIE LIKE CAIDIN. And no one should ever try. End. Of. Story.

This tie was the best ever. No one could wear this like Caidin.

This tie was the best ever. No one could wear this like Caidin.

We joked about gangster pix and decided to try to take a gangster picture together that night. It didn’t quite work, but we had such a great time.

Eric Caidin- the bandit!

Eric Caidin- the bandit! With another AMAZING Three Stooges tie!

My Film Friend <3

My Film Friend ❤

I suppose when you hear of someone close to you dying you need to process it in certain ways, right? I want to remember the times that I had with him and our fabulous personal relationship, but that was personal.

No one reading this will know the singular joy I felt when I saw him at festivals or events. And I don’t get to do that ever again. That’s fucking painful. He gave great hugs. I like good hugs.

I always brightened because I recognized a Fellow Traveler. And by that I mean someone who engaged in the world of cinema for the Right Reason (and yes, there is One Right Reason): because you love and enjoy it and it makes you happy. It entertains you.

Many people knew Eric without “knowing” Eric. He was one of the founders of the Grindhouse Cinema screening series at the New Beverly Theater where he would show up, always wearing that baseball cap and that jacket that he loved (which was probably one of the 10 ugliest pieces of clothing that has ever been invented), and introduced so many forgotten film titles with Brian Quinn. This much-loved film series still continues and was an education for many cinephiles over the years. Before there was Cinefamily and their cult-screenings, before Cinefile even existed with specialized sections, there was Grindhouse night at the New Beverly. The only thing in LA that was comparable was Mondo Video but….that’s a whole other thing and that was a video store.

Grindhouse night at the New Beverly was one of the most flavorful and unique things that Los Angeles repertory theater culture has ever had. Sherman Torgan knew that, Michael Torgan recognized it, and it remains there today, albeit in a slightly changed capacity. But Eric Caidin’s influence on the minds and eyes of so many audiences in the Los Angeles area is hard to gauge. It’s expansive. To give you a slight idea, here are a few images from past calendars:

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Speaking from a media archiving standpoint, Eric Caidin was an exceptional person. He curated ephemera in a remarkable manner for fans and special interest groups for many years and was a specialist in this area. His masterful ability to engage “lost” Hollywood personalities and recenter them within a space that made them feel special was a gift that not everyone has. Because of his own love, admiration and fandom for the work that he was presenting, he was able to show respect for the materials showcased and the people that he interviewed or who came to his booth during the multitude of conventions that he would attend. Whether it was Rowdy Roddy Piper, Vampira or Ann Robinson, Caidin was a scholar and a gentlemen…albeit in a Monsterpalooza baseball cap most of the time.  But really- who is the arbiter of what scholarly or gentlemanly aesthetics should be, anyway? The man was a rock star and we will always remember him as such.

In 2015, when fandoms seem to be more about the “haters” and which fan item is better than another, Eric Caidin never pursued such folly. Thus his cultural power and ability to gain love from us made him legend. This icon who celebrated media so brightly and spent his life sharing that adoration with others is gone. And that sucks.

Men like Eric Caidin don’t “just happen.” He programmed the works posted above and was completely jazzed about the recent slew of Kiddie Matinees that he had going at the New Beverly. He handed me a flier from one of them and talked excitedly about how I had to come. “All in 35mm! You’ll love it, Ariel. It’ll be a great afternoon!” and then started telling me about the other ones that he was planning.

Eric Caidin was the most joyful Talker I’ve ever met not standing on the ballyway.

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Eric Caidin attended the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival this past weekend and passed away after having what I have been told was a lovely meal with some of my other most dear and closest Film Friends. One of the things I have come to cherish about my years with Eric was seeing him at the Festivals- TCM, Noir City, AFI, you name it. We’d dish, talk about what we’d seen, who we thought was good, all the filmy things. It was good to talk to him because there was no ridiculous drama. It was great and I felt like I was talking to an adult. All we talked about was what was important: film content, quality of print, similarity to other films, quality/calibre of performance, things that are so very valuable in a conversation. He would inevitably bring up something I hadn’t heard of. I would inevitably forget it and have to ask him next time what it was that we were talking about the last time we talked. Sometimes he’d remember, sometimes not. But such is life.

Something in me says that “if he was gonna go, at least it was after a fabulous weekend of seeing film noir and Q&As with Norman Lloyd and Jon Polito, and being with loved ones. That’s exactly the way I’d wanna go.” The other part is saying, “dammit, what was the last thing/movie we talked about?” and is terribly sad that there won’t be a “next time” refresher for whatever it was.

Thank you Eric Caidin. I still can’t believe you are gone. This is going to take a while.

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Why We Watch: Theatrical Attendance, Archiving and Individualism

It has been a whirlwind last few weeks. Things have been moving so quickly that I haven’t slowed down enough to be able to put both feet on the ground! Either that or I’ve been so thrilled by all the fantastic things that have been happening that I am in a permanent state of 5 feet above the pavement. I’ll let you know which one it is when I know. Which may (fingers crossed) be never…

Exciting things? A life-changing AMIA Conference in Savannah, GA which included meeting Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi. Participating in a truly kick-ass small gauge workshop where I learned so much. Attending a fabulous Home Movie Day recently, and a new archiving/metadata project that I’ve been busting my ass on. I’m loving EVERY MINUTE. The latter of these things was yet another case of a colleague in the archiving community reaching out, too. I swear to reels and sprockets if it wasn’t for film preservation and the folks I know and have met in the last few years? I would be lost. L-O-S-T.

Admittedly, something has been bothering me. I have tried not to let it get to me too much because I have all these other things going on but… I can’t stop thinking about it. So here is me. Talking about some things. And I’m not going to bullshit. And I’m not going to beat around the bush. But I am also not here to trash-talk, get personal or nasty. This is not a gossip piece. With that said, let’s get the initial stuff out of the way so we can talk about the REAL issues.

By now many people have probably seen the blog written by Julia Marchese, former employee of the New Beverly Cinema. You may recognize the name of this theater as the one that I have written about several times . Without getting into details or reposting the blog (go ahead and find it yourself if you need to) her article discusses how she felt that she got the raw end of the deal in her recent “dismissal.” While I found her article problematic from a working professional’s standpoint, I think I found the public response even more disturbing. Much of the blind support and anti-theater sentiment came from people who had never met her and/or had never even visited the New Beverly. This felt weird to me.

Do I feel bad that someone, anyone lost their job? Absolutely. But did I think that it was news in the same time period that Home Movie Day was happening (a great film preservation event) or when such fascinating pieces are being written about Christopher Nolan and INTERSTELLAR‘s exhibition changes? Not really. So I was ready to just blow it off. But then it happened. Not once, not twice but over and over. Within the few articles that I read, Julia was referred to as the “heart and soul” and “public face” of the New Beverly Cinema, either by the author or within the comments. How an employee of 6 years could be either of those things for a theater that is 36 years old made me feel even more uneasy.

These phrases and this structure of characterization is what I REALLY wish to explore. I wish to center my discussion on what I see as a kind of posturing, and let me reiterate: it is not endemic to this situation nor to this person. I have seen it before in other situations. I’m sure we all have. But my issue is as follows: anytime someone is built up with their own personal importance emphasized before that of their institution’s or what their institution does, there is a major problem. Especially if that person is not considered to be a major figure within said institution. Not only can this cause unrest and poor work relations in a given work environment, it’s not a healthy way to present any company or team atmosphere. I can only speak from where I sit and this is why sharing credit and community recognition has always been one of the greatest assets to the moving image archiving community. It tends to prevent situations like this. But….not 100% of the time. As Billy Wilder wrote, “Nobody’s perfect.”

From my experience, it is antithetical to our primary goal as a film preservation community to peacock, especially if you have a significant attachment to a company- be it educational institution, regional archive, studio or movie theater. What I have seen within my own community (and yes, Virginia, there are politics in the most altruistic of film preservation worlds) is that those folks who see themselves as an archivist/preservationist first and then an individual are generally far more successful and usually become the central touchstones of this magical world I am part of. That has said worlds to me as I train to become the woman I want to become. Thus I get awfully suspicious when I begin to see any kind of cult of personality being built around someone who has stated that they are tirelessly working for the betterment of the film community on their own.

Now let’s get into wording and some basic reality. Here is a cold, hard fact: the heart and soul of a movie theater will always be the films it shows. It will never solely be a person. What a theater shows creates its personality, its individual culture, its ambience. A programmer is a good portion of that, which is why people like Michael and Sherman Torgan’s development and creation OF the New Beverly is SO VITAL TO BE RECOGNIZED. In addition, Phil Blankenship’s Saturday Midnight series at the New Beverly was a major part of its personality. Brian Quinn and Eric Caiden’s Grindhouse Series. The guest programmers. Hell, even my series added a little bit (I like to think). My point is: content creates character

When I go to the Heavy Midnights series at the Cinefamily, I’m not going specifically to hang with the programmer (sorry, Phil!). I go to see the incredible and rare off-beat movies shown. When I go to the American Cinematheque, I don’t attend the films because I want to chat with the folks I know that work there. It’s a nice perk, but I go to see the movies. There are some incredible programmers in this town. The film events going on are really unbeatable. But am I switching my schedule around and looking at bus plans so I can get to the Echo Park Film Center to be hip? Not even close. I’m doing it because that place is an amazing and dynamic part of LA Film Culture. I get to see cool shit. Really, isn’t it all about seeing cool shit?

Archives work in the same manner. What we collect, how we process and care for the collections, our rules and regulations and our interactions with other professional organizations (including locations of exhibition) help to define us. While we may all have our own individual identities as archivists, projectionists, exhibition specialists, I firmly believe that we are also part of larger systems. Not only are we part of the businesses or organizations that employ us, but we are also tied in through an umbilical-cord-like-network, an over-arching community called FILM. We answer to it as our primary boss. If Mama Film wasn’t there…neither would we be.

What we are not is regimes. If you’re curious, my stance on the New Beverly format issue has not changed. I’m not going to alter my researched and valid personal position that a theater should be equipped with everything from digital to 16mm. And I’m not going to change my opinion about the way in which the New Beverly transition was conducted. I don’t think it was professionally done nor was it respectful. But I highly object to the repeated use of the word REGIME, in reference to either the Torgan family or Tarantino.

Neither of them are tyrannical rulers or fascists. Let’s get real, people. This is a damn movie theater, not the Third Reich. Regime?? Just stop.

 

I would like very much for us to think about why we go to the movies at all. During the Depression, people went to get a sliver of happiness from the horrors of the world. As Hollywood legend Norman Lloyd notes, “They were a wonderful escape. People would go into the theater, in this darkened cavern, and it took them out of themselves. They could fantasize about what happened on the screen, about those beautiful stars that existed then.” I like to think that we still do that. I know that I do. It’s why I went into preservation work. So that the little babies that my friends are having right now can experience what I experience. Big screen magic of beautiful (or beautifully told) stories.

Yes, I returned to the NEW New Beverly last night. I went to go see the two George C. Scott pictures. And I had a great time.

I spent some time soul-searching this week. Clearly. I deeply explored ideas of self-promotion and individuality, love for the medium and exhibition landscape, ideas of preservation. I had major thoughts about the evolution of Los Angeles film spaces, too, since many of the theaters I attended as a little girl are now gone. Even the Egyptian Theater is itself a new iteration- it’s the American Cinematheque. At some point I got all Emma Goldman up in my head, angry at anyone who would try to personally claim ownership for a media environment when it should belong to us all…but that passed. I just put on some punk rock and remembered that DIY archiving is totally a thing and that calmed me down. I just started working on a database. It’s the Ariel Zen.

I had thought that boycotting the New Beverly was going to be my answer but it’s a really stupid answer. Here is where I stand. As someone who puts film above almost everything else in life (including many human relationships), I feel much more comfortable going back there now that I know that I will be able to be in a climate that is more film-centered than personality-centered. My biggest concern? What’re you playing, man? What’s on the marquee? Last night was pretty nice. I was able to breathe easy, enjoy the films, laugh too loud at the damn cartoon that no one else was laughing at (it’s a cartoon, guys!!), got to see some people who I genuinely adore, and watch some rarely screened pictures.

Also, as I was saying to someone in the lobby, one of my favorite things about being in the archiving/preservation field is that I get to learn about new media elements or historical facts on a regular basis. This also happens in exhibition. And that’s just a joy and a pleasure. I saw some trailers last night for films that I have NEVER heard of before. I must see MOVIE/MOVIE. That film looks awesome!!! 

The print for the first film, RAGE, was pretty gnarly, but as someone who’s familiar with 35mm, I know that watching them in this condition is important for me to do so I may learn more about analog and see what I can suss out myself. Is that discoloration due to film stock? Is that a base scratch? Is that due to bad printing? To be honest, this is great practice for me! RAGE does exist on Warner Archives and I’ll bet that their DVD is in better condition but….I’ll take big screen over DVD any day.  The audience reaction alone was worth the price of admission!!!!!!!!! And I’ve seen FAR worse prints. Definitely worth a watch so hey- there’s my plug for Warner Archives! Baby Martin Sheen! OMGZ!! The second print, THE SAVAGE IS LOOSE was simply gorgeous (and a much better film, I might add). I cannot stop thinking about it. Such an incredible, bizarre and eerie film. Absolutely loved it.

I can only speak for myself. But from what I have gleaned, I get the sense that the one thing that Michael Torgan and Quentin Tarantino share is the fact that they want films to keep playing at the New Beverly. They may have differing ideas on methodology, but I think that this mutual drive for exhibition and the strong desire for films to be seen is something that needs to be recognized in both men. This is something to be respected. I see this in my own field in the people who fight tooth and nail to keep their archives afloat. It’s not easy. And things are changing all the time. I don’t want to be prescriptive here. I’ve just come to some resolutions over the last week that may make me less than popular with friends but make me feel ethically better with my field of choice and with my self.

I’m not going to be an apologist for anyone or their actions. In fact, I’m staying wholly clear of that. But I also want to examine the idea that maybe we should be deciding for ourselves the ways in which we consume moving image media. And I do believe that it is important to support local theaters, and 35mm and 16mm exhibition. What I am absolutely sure of is that I would not go to a movie theater simply because it is owned by someone famous. I would not go there simply because it is run by a friend or one of the most amazing folks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, although I admittedly did do that on more than one occasion so….yeah.  Point being, I WOULD go there because it has movies I want to see. I know my reason for attending the theaters I attend.

But at the end of the day, I guess it really is a personal question to be answered: why do you watch?

Smiles, Hugs, and Power: Jamaa Fanaka, You Will Be Missed

When I met Jamaa Fanaka, I was just discovering the term “Grindhouse.”  I had just gotten myself this film-collector-projectionist boyfriend, and he knew everything about 42nd St and the cinema culture of that area. I have him to thank for my appreciation for the world of exploitation and, really, for my further exploration of film archiving which is now my career, but…I digress.
At any rate, we attended one of the showings of the Penitentiary films at the New Beverly Cinema and all I knew was that Mr. T was a featured performer. That was where my familiarity began and ended with Jamaa upon entrance to the theater. Leaving the theater that first time it was more. So very much more.

Penitentiary 2 (1982) had Mr. T within the cast. By the end of the evening, The A-Team was the LAST thing on my mind.



Not only had I been introduced to the world of Too Sweet and the madness of Fanaka’s prison outlook, but I had also been inducted into the Fanaka-verse. No small feat, my friend!
He talked. And he talked. And he talked. This was no Q&A. It was simply an A. But for a newbie like me? And a Grindhouse audience like that? Back in the day when folks had had a bit to drink or were still sipping their adult beverages surreptitiously in the back of the theater? It kinda worked.
Ladies and gentlemen, the man had SOUL. The man had ENERGY. He had that certain thing that few people on this earth have: storytelling ability.

Yep, his stories were sometimes batshit insane. Did he know that? Yeah, I think so. But he knew *exactly* how to provoke a response.
After all, isn’t that what he DID for a living and as an artist?? To an extent, isn’t that what all artists are? Provocateurs? It is just to what extent they manage to proke you. Ozu may illicit soft and calm responses from you as a viewer, while Fanaka…not so much.
Many people find his films problematic, and that’s fine. But he was pretty successful. He is still the only filmmaker to have written, produced and distributed three feature films while still enrolled in UCLA film school, and Penitentiary (1979) is the single most financially successful piece of the all the L.A. Rebellion films.
Fanaka himself could also be difficult on a professional level. Stories abound, and some former peers approach him tentatively in certain situations. I will readily admit that Jamaa Fanaka was not your standard filmmaker and he was not your standard personality. He was what my mother and my grandmother called “a character.” Jamaa was Jamaa. But on a personal level, Jamaa Fanaka may have been one of the most passionate and endearing men I have ever met in my life.
The night I met him at the New Beverly, he hugged me and called me “darlin’.” I remember the hug. It was so great. He was a big, great man! Much taller than me.

His talk had gone on for way longer than it should have and Brian (the moderator) tried to cut in politely but…that was just Fanaka at the New Bev. Kinda like Sinatra at The Sands: they just worked together; they were macaroni and cheese, pie and ice cream, etc. Jamaa and his parents (!!!) and whole set up left after the films, and my boyfriend and I were cleaning up around our seats (we liked to do that- it’s nice to do at movie theaters!) and we saw that Jamaa had left a few Penitentiary shirts on the seat. WAY too big for either of us. They were XXXXL. But we looked at them, looked at each other, and Fanaka had left so…I now have a Penitentiary nightgown.
Yes, I wear it. With pride.
A few years later, I find myself back in school after a long absence. Another master’s program, same theme, different struggle. Still film, only now I’m gonna be an archivist, not an academic.
I saw this great class called L.A. Rebellion taught by Allyson Field in conjunction with a film series to match. Looked pretty cool, so I enrolled. IT WAS AMAZING. As the class progressed, I looked at the syllabus, and there was my friend’s name, in glowing letters, for multiple films: JAMAA FANAKA.
I was beyond pleased. The night that I took one of my girlfriends to see Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975) which had a great Q&A with him, I ran into him in the parking lot under the Hammer before the show.
“Remember me?” I asked him, “I’ve come to see you a few times at the New Beverly. You’re great. I love your stuff.”
“Ohhh yeahh!!” He enthusiastically said, smiling wide and hugging me tight, “How are you doing??? Great to see you!!”
I doubt he remembered me, but that hug was the greatest thing ever. Just a big bear hug from this guy who loved to tell stories about his life and other people’s lives and give it all *meaning.* It had meaning to me.  

I wrote about that film in our L.A. Rebellion blog. I did so because I enjoy the film, but much of it was because of what he revealed in that Q&A. Welcome Home, Brother Charles may seem to be a ridiculous film to a great many people, but Fanaka’s intentions have never been ridiculous. His love for the medium, passion for filmic history and his respect for everything entailed within is almost intoxicating. You could feel it sitting there in the theater. He may have seemed silly to some people when he got off-topic sometimes, but a man who sits up there and states, quite simply, “If you have the cure for cancer, but no one hears you or listens, what good is that? Film is by nature a mass audience medium…” knows what he is doing with a film camera. He’s trying to reach others; he has a message. I find hope in Jamaa Fanaka, and I find joy in his big beautiful grin.
Losing Jamaa Fanaka is a really sad thing and it is a loss for a number of reasons. He was a filmmaker who, regardless of how you felt about Penitentiary 3 (1987) or Welcome Home, Brother Charles, really made something of himself and showed young filmmakers (especially filmmakers of color) that they can actually *do* it. He had some of the most amazing passion and drive of anyone I have ever met and that, to me, is what makes you a success. It isn’t a number #1 blockbuster, it isn’t $1,000,000. Those things are nice, but if you can achieve things based upon your own love-for-the-work? That is more than all the money in the world.
When I saw Jamaa speak at the L.A. Rebellion series, not only did I see a look on his face that said “Hell yes, I’ve made it!” But I also saw a look that said “Hell yes, I’ve made it to a place where people *respect* me.” These are two different things. When you deal in the kind of genre works that Fanaka has been known to work in, it is sometimes difficult to garner that kind of respect. Yet he was sitting up on that stage discussing classic cinema from the 1940’s and 1950’s in the Q&A about Welcome Home, Brother Charles and people were finally listening. Or, if they had listened before, it seemed to this viewer that Fanaka was registering that they were hearing his educated perspective. Fanaka was not a man to be underestimated. Sadly, I feel that sometimes much of his fanbase did.
I am heartbroken that we have lost our fountain of strange, creative energy that was Jamaa Fanaka. But I think if we were to do so, it was best that it was after he was able to experience what he did with L.A. Rebellion. I wish you all could’ve been there to see his face. I wish I had known it was going to be the last time I would. I would’ve asked for one last hug.

March Madness at the New Beverly Cinema: The Whole Bloody Affair

Standing in line tonight I had an infuriating conversation.

“Yeah, I only went to Grindhouse and Kill Bill. But I came to Kill Bill yesterday and today, and I’ll be coming some other days too. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan,” the young man said, nodding at me wildly, trying to assure me of his fandom.

My eyes widened. They must’ve gone fiery. “No. You. Are. Not,” I calmly informed him, “if you were a ‘huge’ fan, you would’ve been to at least a few of the other shows that he programmed this month. You would not have just attended the films that he directed.”

The young man fumbled a bit and came up with a few reasons that he couldn’t be at the other shows during the month. Work, life, and so forth. Now, I will readily admit- not everyone is as big of a cinephile as I am. Very few people are. I know most of the ones in Los Angeles, and I treasure them like they are my Holy Grail. However, this specific argument upset me.

I’m not going to blame this particular gentleman. For all I know, he could have been insanely busy, and these occasions very well could have been the only times he was able to come to the New Beverly. However, what he is bringing up is an issue that I take issue with. This month we had a very special calendar. One that was very carefully and lovingly put together by Quentin Tarantino himself, as it was his birthday month.

Now, whether or not you are a fan of Tarantino, there is one thing that you cannot deny no matter how hard you try: the man LOVES film. When someone loves film as much as he does, there is a better than average chance that in a month of programming movies, there are going to be at least a couple of great choices. In addition to this possibility, even if you dislike every film on the roster, the chances of you getting to see some of them again, in actual print format, on a big screen…? Well, I don’t think I have to tell you the likelihood of that. So, if you’re into rarities, you got that going for you too. And, for those out there who are fans (and this is what really gets my goat), this month of movies is essentially serving as a microscope onto HIS films. Each film shown this month had something in it that was directly related to his own work (aside from the pieces of his own work that he showed). For me, that was the true gift. All the kids out there complaining about the fact that Quentin hasn’t done any commentaries or doesn’t take pictures with fans or assorted other excruciatingly shallow comments missed the point of the festival: this was his commentary track, guys.

I saw a plethora of great films this month. I saw a double feature of Blume in Love and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, with a Q&A with Quentin and Paul Mazursky himself. Not only did these films floor me, but they were perfectly programmed.

Paul Mazursky, 1969

While Bob and Carol will fill your heart with joy and hope for relationships and teach you that marriage CAN work and that human beings CAN properly communicate with one another if they wish to, Blume in Love will disturb the hell out of you, and teach you how one person’s ego can completely ruin a relationship to the point of disaster. Blume is fascinating in its dark horrific complexity where Bob and Carol is equally fascinating in its comedic intricacies.

Paul Mazursky, 1973

I got to put another notch on my Clint Eastwood belt and see Escape From Alcatraz (I have a goal which is to see every film either starring or directed by Clint Eastwood on a big screen- silly, I know, but whatever. It’s my dream, lemme have it!!) alongside this INSANE film called I Escaped From Devil’s Island. What can I really say about Devil’s Island except that any movie that has alternative male sexuality, native nymphomaniac women wielding coconuts as weapons (and no tops), a prison camp narrative, and random bits of stock footage shark sequences pretty much automatically has my heart. That movie don’t fool around, no way, no how.  And will I ever get to see such a beautiful print of that again? Nope, I seriously doubt it.

William Witney, 1973

And then, of course, there was Rod Taylor night…the night that so many of my friends were looking forward to and I was so very interested in. To be frank, I had only a peripheral knowledge of Taylor. I knew him slightly, but so many people whose opinions I valued so very highly were so very very excited about this event that I knew I had to attend. Once again, my lovely cineaste-cohorts were not mistaken. While I felt a bit embarrassed about not knowing more about the actor and yet being excited about the night, I was more excited about learning what I had been missing. See, I’m not one of those people who will fake it if I don’t know something or haven’t seen something. I will come right out and tell you, here and now, I have never seen Jaws. Go ahead, make fun if you like, but my first time seeing it will be on a big screen dammit, and I. Will. Have. A. Blast. In any case, I figured that this could only be another case of me getting to know a new person in my life! So, I strapped on my Rod Taylor MAN-boots, and went to the double of Dark of the Sun and Hell River. While I greatly preferred Dark of the Sun, Quentin’s intro to the films and his enthusiasm for Taylor was catching. I was an instantaneous fan, and a few days later at stupid o’clock in the morning, I found a Rod Taylor film playing on TCM, and I totally watched it.

Jack Cardiff, 1968

I saw so very many things this month from Tarantino’s programmed calender. I watched Richard Franklin’s Road Games (1981) along with Sydney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes (1971). I finally got to see Stone (Sandy Harbutt, 1974) and enjoyed the living HELL out of the moonshine double-feature of White Lightning (Joseph Sargent, 1973) and Last American Hero (Lamont Johnson, 1973).

While I didn’t see everything, I saw quite a bit of what was offered. While I didn’t like everything I saw, what I liked, I loved. I think my favorite part of the whole deal was that for a month straight not only did I see my film-friends at the movies (who also seemed giddy at the chance to see rare films on the big screen) but we were all having fun. The main theme in all of these films was a kind of energy that is endemic to the Tarantino product. Each film projected held some kind of spice that Quentin has used to build his own works, and not in some “rip-off” way as I used to believe. I also do not believe it to be simply homage either, but that is due to tonight’s viewing of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.

I will readily admit that I was never a huge Tarantino fan. I always adored him for Rolling Thunder Pictures and was forever grateful for his help in making Wong Kar-Wai a “film household” name. I always respected his film knowledge and I always admired his passion for cinema as it seemed as gargantuan and as intense as my own. While I have often gotten made fun of over the years for my obsessive devotion and outspokenness in regards to the Seventh Art, so, too, have I heard people knock him for the very same thing. But in my world there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting seriously excited about something that you love dearly and that gives you so much joy .

In any case, suffice to say that I certainly liked his films a lot but didn’t love them. Except maybe Jackie Brown. For some reason, I really loved that one. But that’s a whole other blog entry for another time. My fandom was basically predicated primarily on his self-achieved academic success and only partially on cinematic product. Things have since changed a bit. And this is where his March programming at the New Beverly fits in.

As I moved through the month with my friends and we cheered and clapped and laughed our way through the films, I noticed other things besides the fact that there were certain running themes of moonshine, racing cars/motorcycles, Dyan Cannon, and prison escape. There was cinematic tension to be sure, but I also started recognizing elements that Tarantino had taken from these particular types of films (and sometimes exact films) and used for his own- the “spice” I mentioned earlier. Many people have seen this as a kind of “lifting” or “borrowing,” which would ultimately mean that a Quentin Tarantino film is nothing but a collage. People accuse him of being nothing but a rip-off artist. Years previous to now, I might have agreed. But after having seen many of the films being paid homage to and worked with, I see that that is not at all what Tarantino ends up creating in his own pieces. Even by placing actual set-pieces that are almost identical mirror-replicas from the original source (ie the fight scene in Kill Bill between Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman in the snow is shockingly similar to one in a film called Lady Snowblood) it does not mean that the film itself is a “rip-off.” In fact, to me, it is the exact opposite. While that scene may end up becoming part of the history of that piece, certainly, it does not cause the initial piece of cinema any harm nor does it mean that the new cinematic creation is carrying all the little bits and pieces of meaning from the “first draft.” After all, no one got angry at George Lucas for “ripping off” Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces with Star Wars, did they?

What Tarantino manages to do is something that I have written on many times- he creates a kind of cinematic palimpsest; something that only someone who truly loves the originating work can do with any modicum of success. Now whether you like/love/hate/feel indifferent towards his own films, his meticulous ability to create new and exciting media while reworking older visuals and themes is to be respected. There is indeed much within Tarantino’s film content that may indeed seem familiar. OK, fair enough. But to oversimplify the work and say that his films are mere pastiche is to underestimate the original content and downplay the effect of the newly created feature. I have many compatriots who are not fans. To each their own. My take is that, regardless of personal feelings on the content, one should be able to respect the construction. And as far as that is concerned, Tarantino just keeps getting better every film he makes.

What happened this month for his birthday celebration that was so very fabulous was that he revealed that construction- he told his New Beverly audience what goes into making a Tarantino film. This was quite a bit different to the last festival he did at the New Beverly, which was the Grindhouse Film Festival, back in 2007. That was another one that knocked my socks off. In fact, I went to so many shows, I couldn’t remember the exact number! My ex-boyfriend reminded me that I only missed 2 out of 25. It was another awesome engagement, but that one was focused on celebrating the release of the film Grindhouse (2007), thus they were all GRINDHOUSE features. This month? It was a slow build-up, and you HAD to be there. If you missed it, then you missed out.

As a cinematic architect, Quentin Tarantino built up the entire program this month in accordance with showing the grande finale which was Kill Bill: the Whole Bloody Affair. The last films I saw before I saw Kill Bill were the films contained in the triple martial arts feature: Avenging Eagle (1978), Duel of the Iron Fist (1971), and Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1973). I believe that the first two films were the very first Shaw Brothers films I had ever seen in my life, although I cannot say for certain. Going to college in Santa Cruz, I have to admit that there were several times I found myself hanging out with young men who would light up a joint and toss on a kung-fu movie, while I sat there amused on the couch, drinking a beer. In any case, I was totally consumed by the ones I watched at the New Beverly. Unlike those lazy college afternoons, I was sitting in my favorite movie theater watching an incredibly colorful print and engulfed in some pretty intense storylines regarding honor, friendship and respect. Avenging Eagle was undoubtedly my favorite (and not just because the stars were super hot). This film got me due to the fact that the narrative had a wild amount of humor intermixed with the drama and the physical dynamics that were truly on a different level than anything I had seen (at least recently). It was shot in such a way that the camera work itself seemed balletic alongside the intensely beautiful martial arts.

What I remember noticing as well was that each fight told its own story. Being a noir scholar, I felt that these fight sequences were not dissimilar to the way that noir cinematographer John Alton used to talk about physical darkness in film: he said that there was more contained within and more fullness/usefulness to shadow than there was in light. Thus he used more dark. If you see any of his films, they are some of the BLACKEST films ever committed to celluloid. Now, I’m definitely an action girl. I dig me some Die Hard, some Commando, some Lethal Weapon and many more. But what action films seem to do and martial arts films do not is weave the action directly into the narrative. Martial arts films create a very significant and almost sacred space for the action to take place in. Within the films we are used to, the action simply is part and parcel of the film, just as most films are shot using light as a method of focus. Alton’s theory of using darkness to flip things around was significant. It said: read this film differently- this is not your standard film, with your standard everyday narrative. And, indeed, Alton’s films were most definitely not standard fare. Watching these Shaw Brothers films and seeing these action sequences spoke to me on that same level.

I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to see Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, to be honest. It sold out in no time flat. I was gut deep in the middle of writing something for the Film Noir blogathon when they went on sale, and totally missed out. To be honest, I wasn’t that upset. I thought, “No big deal, so there’s gonna be s’more gore, in color, it’d be cool…but I missed my chance at a ticket. Oh well!” I got lucky. And I am so very very thankful that I did.

New Beverly Cinema, March 28, 2011

I would like to point you towards two lovely write-ups that have been done on Kill Bill, as they are smart, succinct and perfectly written. They also go into quite different arenas than I will. However, I think they deserve to be read, as they assist me in my argument on why this version of the film is so wonderful. The first, from Mr. Beaks at Ain’t it Cool News, is a beautifully composed piece that essentially posits: “Shorn of commerce-conceding baggage, turns out KILL BILL is a masterpiece after all.” The second, from Todd Gilchrist over at Cinematical, discusses all the things that were done correctly in this updated version and the things that he feels were not necessary. Both pieces say much of what I feel on the subject and are exceptionally written. In addition to those pieces, however, I have a few thoughts that I would like to share.

I like to refer to myself as a feminist film theorist. People bristle when I say that…I could care less. But I’m that chick that has a raging hard-on for horror films, action films, Giallo, pre-code and noir and finds very little that is “anti-women” in any of it. I don’t think violence inflicted upon a female in a film is, in and of itself, misogynistic. You have to really prove to me that there is misogynistic intent. Then again, there are so many films that are furiously angry towards women in such a way that it cannot be immediately understood. To me, those are the most dangerous pieces of media. Then again, it’s a very tricky area with lots of fine lines. That said, I would like to argue that Kill Bill:The Whole Bloody Affair is, by and large, one of the strongest pro-female films I have ever seen. Indeed, I feel that Tarantino himself is an incredibly pro-female director. Unlike many filmmakers who divest their female characters of all their agency (and yes, this does include some female filmmakers sometimes) Tarantino’s modus operandi is to instill as much power in his ladies as possible. Powerful examples of this (aside from basically every female character in Kill Bill) include the characters played by Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997),

Pam Grier as Jackie Brown...The New Beverly showed several trailers of her early films during March; films that clearly influenced the way Tarantino chose to portray women in film

Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Death Proof (2007), and both Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Melanie Laurent as Shosanna/Emanuelle in Inglourious Basterds, the brave and talented projectionist who, essentially, wins the war through her actions in the film

The empowerment that the women in his films receive is, by and large, more effective than the empowerment that I have seen any women receive in “chick flicks.” But then again- perhaps Kill Bill is just my kind of Chick Flick. Tarantino uses the Kung-Fu rhetoric within Kill Bill to establish and discuss the reclaiming of power within one woman, played by Uma Thurman.

Uma Thurman as The Bride/ Beatrix Kiddo

He leads us, through several different time shifts, through her multiple rebirths. He shows her powerful as a well-oiled machine and as helpless as a newborn baby and aligns us with her each time through her direct address. And just at the point in the film when she is the most powerless, when she has been stripped of all possibilities of escape and the world at large thinks she has been, literally, laid to rest…she is reborn yet again through her inner strength that she was trained to translate into outer strength. Now…seriously…how new-age-y does that sound, right? But that’s what happens. And it’s damn BLOODY. Holy CRAP.

The devastation of the Crazy 88 in The Whole Bloody Affair takes on a whole different meaning than it did before. The additional footage and the fact that it was entirely in color made the scene completely seamless. By repairing the color consistency and removing the black and white shots, the whole thing reads more like the gore-filled ballet of beauty it was intended to be.

Just as I noticed that the Duck hood ornament from Deathproof was the same one featured prominently in the trailer for Convoy showing right before Five Minutes to Live (Bill Karn, 1961), I realized that many of the elements that had been featured in the martial arts triple feature were the ones focused upon in Kill Bill. Honor, integrity, physical dexterity/ability, and (most importantly) revenge. However, placing it within western confines and the female spectrum lent it a uniquely new flavor. While Tarantino clearly used the original Kung-fu films as part of the original thematic parchment, the strong female iconography was the other main layer he put on top, in addition to the other, more aesthetic ones (the anime section, the graphic violence, etc). In total, his Kill Bill palimpsest reflected the Shaw Brothers title card that he slated at the very beginning of the picture, but also each of the additional filmic influences, from Lady Snowblood to The Searchers. Through this combinatory tactic, Quentin Tarantino created a new product that we know as Kill Bill and is best seen as Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.

If one were to look closely at Deathproof or Inglourious Basterds or his other works, you could see the same kind of architecture. They are all cinematic palimpsests: layered parchments that reflect the past but have new stories written upon them. Cinema itself is like that, a kind of self-reflexive medium, so it is no surprise that Tarantino’s work would constant reflect and refract its own history. But his twist is that it is not simply mirroring, it is creating as well. And to me, that is impressive.

I know that what I learned this month was that I really don’t need any damn commentary for a Quentin Tarantino film, because I needed to know about Tarantino films, I learned at the New Beverly Cinema. Thanks again guys for an amazing month. See ya in the front row soon!