Posts Tagged ‘American Grindhouse’

My Favorite Year

In Film on December 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I try to go through life with equal amounts optimism, realism and pessimism. That said, this past year was something special. Here’s a brief re-cap of 2011, take one.

February saw the limited theatrical release of my documentary American Grindhouse, after nearly a year of film festivals both in the United States and abroad.  On July 27th, Kino/Lorber Films released the DVD with our jam-packed and lovingly assembled wealth of extras. With all of the criticism that the film receives (some of which I agree with) I can safely say that it’s the movie that it was meant to be; A documentary that contextualizes the business of exploitation in American cinema. A sort of pop-film history lesson that never goes too deep, but rather acts as a gateway drug for exploitation movie newbies.

It’s one thing to get a movie made, but it’s something else entirely to get it seen all over the world. Thanks to my best friend Danny Greene for making it with me and Andrew Goldenberg and Garrard Whately for their help in the final stages of the editing and sound mix.  If I learned anything while making this (and there were dozens of harsh lessons), it’s that to describe a movie as Grindhouse isn’t fully accurate.  It’s not a style, nor is it a genre. It is, however, a word that boils down a 20th Century phenomenon when filmmaking and film viewing was dangerous. Grindhouse is a word that we associate with battered-up old prints with missing film reels and optical pops and hisses on the soundtrack — something that audiences may be having limited opportunities to experience in the future — as studios begin getting rid of their aging prints (and no longer striking new ones of older films) and moving steadfast into digital projection. (So perhaps these films are even more important now, than they were when we started making the doc?)

Grindhouse is about embracing the flaws of physical film exhibition, relishing in missing frames at the end of a reel change and how some of these films (and their tattered appearance) reflected 20th century America.  I accept the g-word and I love that it turns people on to old films that they should see anyway, but just know that it means more than a bad movie on faded film stock and started well before (and reaches far beyond) 42nd St memories. Thanks to everyone who sought it out and/or watched it completely on accident.

By the spring, I became involved with DistribPix and their release of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann. For this release, I worked with the fantastic DistribPix team and helped produce interviews with adult film legends Eric Edwards and Georgina Spelvin. As a major fan of Radley Metzger/Henry Paris, it was a pleasure to work on this release and meet him during the commentary recording of Naked Came The Stranger. Around the same time, our retrospective pieces for Subkultur Entertainment’s DVD release of The 4D Man was released in Germany. Featuring interviews with producer Jack H. Harris and former Miss America (also cinema’s first Catwoman), Lee Meriwether. Our partnership continued with a retrospective documentary on the making of Dinosaurus! and with the first official German home video release of Kinji Fukasaku’s Message From Space. Interviewing Sonny Chiba for this release was a major highlight of my year. Thanks to Stephanie Paris for her sublime camera work and to Atsuko Kohata for conducting the interview. Stuart Galbraith IV helmed the Japanese production for me and snagged interviews with Kenta Fukasaku, special effects director Nobua Yajima and model creator Shinji Hiruma. I have the feeling that this is not the last Japanese-languae documentary that I produce. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sonny Chiba discusses making "Message From Space"

As summer rolled around, some of the work that I provided for Shout! Factory and Severin Films were released. First up, was our contributions to Bloody Birthday, The Baby and The Stunt Man. These simple featurettes were fun and a great chance to continue working with David Gregory – the man responsible for getting me started with Dark Sky Films and producing the DVD or Spider Baby back in 2007.

With as much fun as it was to contribute to these releases, my greatest sense of accomplishment came with Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-ray release of The Women in Cages Collection, for which I was able to delve deeper into the story behind the making of two of my very favorite films, The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage. It’s been a life long duty of mine to get the oral record of filmmaker Jack Hill on all of his films and present them to his legion of fans. For nearly 10 years now, I have been cataloging his photos and making sure that his legacy is documented, and it has been a pleasure to meet actors and colleagues who have worked with him over the years. One of my favorite experiences while working on the The Women in Cages Collection, was to seek out some of the actresses that I’ve always wanted to meet; Teda Bracci, Candice Roman and Anitra Ford.  It’s been nice to see this presentation so warmly received by fans and ending up on a few Best Of 2011 lists for the year. It was made by a fan and for the fans.

Anitra Ford discusses her role in "The Big Bird Cage"

Besides this project for Shout!, I was fortunate enough to helm a duo of featurettes for the company on their DVD release of  Take a Hard Ride and to produce the commentary sessions for Streetwalkin’ and Too Hot To Handle. Working with Streetwalkin’producer and director team of Joann Freeman and Robert Freeman was an absolute treat, and I strongly encourage any indie filmmakers out there to listen to their commentary track. It’s inspiring and completely honest. I also had a great time moderating the commentary on Too Hot To Handle, so here’s hoping that this is not the last of Cheri Caffaro DVD releases that she and I can contribute to…

Cheri Caffaro is "Too Hot To Handle"!

Considering all the projects that I worked on in this year, it’s the work I’ve done that must wait until 2012 that keeps me excited. Projects that are ready and waiting for release and others that are snowballing into larger and more involved than originally planned. Thank you, 2011. I’m not asking to repeat or even top you in 2012, just please keep my rent paid and my dog from going hungry.


Truck Turner

In Film on June 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm

“You don’t look like cops, but you smells like trouble.” – Dorinda Johnson

In 1973, Jonathan Kaplan walked into the office of Larry Gordon, the Head of Development for American International Pictures, with no idea what fate had in store for him. Fresh from his directorial successes with not one, but two Soft-core comedies for Producer Roger Corman (Night Call Nurses and The Student Teachers), and the prison riot flick The Slams for Roger’s brother Gene; Kaplan was suddenly on his way to building a successful career as a director  – and AIP wanted him to direct their next movie; Truck Turner. The film begins when Truck and his partner Jerry (played by Alan Weeks) are hired to nab resident pimp, Gator Johnson (Paul Harris) for skipping bail. After the two bounty hunters approach the man, a fight ensues and the flesh-peddler bolts. During the lengthy chase, which includes several cars and a bar fight, Gator is accidentally killed. Forced into taking over her husband’s prostitution business, Gator’s widow Dorinda (a scene stealing Nichelle Nichols) vows revenge and offers a bounty of her own to anyone who can kill the man responsible for her hubby’s demise.

With Truck Turner, Kaplan delivered one of the most outrageous blaxploitation films of the seventies; a fast paced, thrilling and gut-bustingly funny action picture with a strong heart and respect its urban audience. It’s no surprise that both black and white audiences have  slowly discovered it since its release in 1974, through home video, DVD and television. And no-doubt, the velvet smooth presence of Oscar-winning singer/musician Isaac Hayes in the leading role more-than helps. But what is surprising, is that Truck Turner was almost never a blaxploitation film at all, and that three established Hollywood tough guys were originally considered for the lead.

Jonathan Kaplan as Scotty, standing behind Paul Bartel in Joe Dante and Alan Arkush's "Hollywood Boulevard" (1976).

During the meeting with Larry Gordon (who is now better known today as Lawrence Gordon, producer of such films as Field of Dreams, Predator and Watchmen), Kaplan was told that the film was going to star either Robert Mitchum, Ernest Borgnine or Lee Marvin.  The prospect of working with any one of these legends stunned and excited the young filmmaker, but the biggest shock was yet to come. When he was asked to return for a second meeting (Kaplan still didn’t know if he was going to direct it or not), Gordon informs him that not only was he hired – but that Isaac Hayes was now the star. However, it was up to Hayes to approve of the young director. “I suddenly went from being considered a young soft-core filmmaker, to being young, talented and black”, jokes the director. “I went into this meeting thinking it was going to be either one of these three actors, to learning it was now Isaac Hayes and that I was on my way to his house to me him!”

Love Conquers All: Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes) and Annie (Annazette Chase)

“He couldn’t have been a nicer guy”, Kaplan continues during his interview for American Grindhouse. “We had a lot of the same music tastes and had similar ideas about what the film should be.” Those ideas would be about the depiction of violence in the film and most importantly the relationship between Tuner and his fresh-out-of-prison ladybird, Annie (Annezette Chase). While Truck Turner is certainly a thrill-a-minute action film,it’s the tender contrast of Hayes and Chase’s relationship that really makes it memorable. In a scene near the climax Truck, knowing there is a bounty on him and fearing for Annie’s life, stuffs her purse full of unpaid merchandise in a department store. Ensuring her safety by getting her arrested, Truck tips off the sales clerk and has Annie hauled off – having no idea of Truck’s selfless act of chivalry.

Released near the end of the blaxploitation boom, (which began respectively in 1970 with Cotton Comes To Harlem and essentially ended in 1975 with Paramount Picture’s Mandingo – one of the grandest of all misguided attempts from Hollywood attempting to cash in on the successes of exploitation filmdom) Truck Turner intentionally strays away from the  realism of Superfly or The Mack, and instead goes for broke with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. In many ways, this film predicts the comic value found in urban/ethnic stereotypes that would later find their way back into pop culture with Keenan Ivory Wayan’s I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988.

When looking back at all the greats (Coffy) and not-so-greats (Black Shampoo), Truck Turner truly stands out on its own during this era. This is due in large part to Hayes’ one and only starring role and Kaplan’s sensitivity as a director. The following year, Kaplan proved his chops yet again, by helming one of the greatest “hicksploitation” films, White Line Fever. Showing that he is just as capable of handling the struggles of working class truck drivers as he is with pimp chasing, gun-toting bounty hunters. Since then, Kaplan directed one the greatest teen movies of the 1980s, Over the Edge and Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning performance in The Accused. He continues today, working primarily in television.

And if you still need a reason to see this film, feast your eyes (and ears) on this collection of  amazing scenes featuring Nichelle Nichols’s scenery-chewing banter. According to Kaplan, most of her dialogue was ad-libbed.