This streetcar pauses, yes it does, in fond remembrance of Forrest J. Ackerman: publisher, memorabilia collector and the only man in history capable of wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a set of fake Vampire choppers, while losing not a speck of credibility in the process. He was a true renaissance man . . . possibly the only interesting one in the last fifty years . . . and an even more genuine ecumenist of film. It is much more a comment on the times than on the man that he will no doubt be missed in some segments far less than he deserves.
At the risk of alienating a fellow blogger . . . and that is truly something I have no wish for . . . I'm going to do something that I may have been asked to do by mistake; namely use this blog, at this hour, as a vehicle of promotion.
Here's the story: A few days ago, I received an email from Ed Howard, proprietor and author of Only the Cinema, alerting me to his upcoming Blog-a-thon centered on the pre-1938 output of one Howard Hawks, and asking that word of it be cast from these pages, as far as it could go on its own steam. My immediate thought was that this had obviously been sent to me by mistake. Not only is this blog read by no more than a thimbleful of readers, at best, but my own track record along the blog-a-thon trail has, let us say, not been one that would cause other bloggers' hearts to soften with gladness at the prospect of my involvement in their projects (I may, in fact, be the only individual in the blogosphere who has been asked . . . on two separate occasions . . . not to participate in these clambakes). But then I saw that notice of Ed Howard's impending Hawks fiesta had been posted on a blog that I'm connected with peripherally (and believe me, they likes it peripheral), so I figured I would err on the side of the implausible, risk a possible Cease & Desist order and assume that the request for a plug was righteous and not a momentary lapse of reason.
All the relevant information on this Blog-a-thonic bacchanal can be found here, but essentially what we're looking at is an event set to transpire over the course of two weeks (January 12th to the 23rd), and focused exclusively on those films directed by Howard Hawks prior to his 1938 celebration of human chaos, Bringing Up Baby; films such as Today We Live and Tiger Shark and Barbary Coast (named here solely to link this post with the above image, taken during its production). And even though I know it's the Kiss of Death in some quarters, I heartily recommend that all film bloggers who read these words (one . . . two . . . three . . . ) participate, and do so with the greatest of relish.
Now, in order to ameliorate whatever damage my endorsement has wrought to the fortunes of this endeavor (for I genuinely wish it, and its host, well), I will at this moment solemnly vow to forego any intention I may or may not have had to explicate my pensées on the director of Trent's Last Case and his formative years of combat in the auteur arena. I will officially keep my mouth shut for the duration. Thus, it is hoped, will I have done my part in ensuring a more vast and better-affiliated body of contributions.
As a shifty way of generating content here (you may well ask what other ways I have resorted to, and I would be forced to say none other), I thought I should tackle, uninvited, the ongoing, viral Alphabet Meme that's been bouncing around the blogosphere recently . . . BUT . . . I elected to give it a slight and admittedly self-serving twist.
For the purposes of this edition, I chose my passel of favorites from among American films made outside our cinema's industrial sector, Hollowood. In other words, the films I selected have to have been made in the United States, by filmmakers residing (if not in every case born) here, but they could not have been either financed, produced or distributed by any well-established film production entity (the whole range of them, from MGM and Warner Brothers, to Monogram, PRC and American-International). To make the task all the more nightmarish for myself . . . and, once again, to pump-up the word count here . . . I decided to drag things out inordinately and make it an ongoing project; which means I'll be writing (cue coffee-spewing) a teeny-tiny bit about each film, one at a time, over the course of twenty-six entries (for you usenet denizens, that's one entry for each letter). And if I want to get cute I could follow up at the end with some nonsense about Brakhage's 23rd Psalm . . . but don't hold your breath waiting for it, because at the rate my brain cooks up half-respectable sentences, I'll more than likely be at this for over a year before I ever get to the letter L (and that's my idea of optimism).
With that, let us begin.
Like many of Robert Frank's films, About Me: A Musical drifted from its initial concept to an inevitable destination: "My project was to make a film about music in America", he announces at the start. "Fuck the music. I just decided to make the film about myself."
One's heart may sink upon that declaration, particularly if one has previously beheld the king-size narcissus pool whose shallowest end such intentions always seem to land in once they fall to the earth, regardless of the filmmaker (additionally, the participation of veteran exhibitionists like Hugh Romney, Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg in this film positively spells doom from the outset). I mean, so much of America's alternative film movements, and there have been many over the long decades (just take your pick), found themselves shepherded by artists directing their gaze inward with such immense, usually unwarranted fascination, that you can very often read their chroniclers/critics preoccupation with formal properties as the half-embarassed rescue mission it sometimes is . . . virtually imploring readers to keep their eyes on the light and figure show; and, pleeease, pay no attention to that self-involved structuralist baring his or her utterly lackluster soul behind the curtain.
But over the course of its thirty minutes, About Me proves an altogether pleasant disappointment to viewers whose expectations may have been schooled in the ways of Su Friedrich (or even Ross McElwee), as it leaps nimbly between staged scenes of an actress portraying Frank (casting reflection on his life and work and what it all means), to musical performances ranging from Indian ragas to a band of nouveau-bohos working their fringy way through Bacharach and David's Baby it's You; to prosaic cinema verite snippets and the film's conclusion of what might be the most charming man-on-the-street interview ever filmed. And if you're one of those people who thinks the musical, as a form, represents the direct antithesis of personal expression in cinema . . . a propostion instantly reduced to dust the moment Busby Berkeley walked upon a soundstage. . . you could not find a more graceful refutation if you picked up a camera, went out on the street yourself and looked high and low for it.
"You put some chords together, and you like the way it sounds. It means something to you. It's always therapy, but it doesn't solve anything. It's making wishes. It's like hoping the world's flat, hoping there's a heaven. You got your vest on, you're walking up to the crowd, you're getting ready to blow yourself up." -- Emitt Rhodes