Wes Craven resurrected horror genre, repeatedly


WES CRAVEN, who died Sunday at age 76, reinvigorated the horror genre, more than once. In the 1970s, when America was mired in Vietnam and Watergate, he tapped into the misanthropic zeitgeist with two grisly benchmarks, “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have cravenEyes.” In 1984, after the disappointments of “Deadly Blessing” and “Swamp Thing,” he came screaming back with “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which introduced Freddy Krueger, the fire-scarred boogeyman with switchblade talons. Because he didn’t own the screen rights to his own creation (New Line Cinema did), he couldn’t stanch the flow of increasingly ludicrous sequels. Hence, he was ever on the lookout for a new, even more lucrative franchise. Enter Ghostface in 1996, and the postmodern “Scream” series written by Kevin Williamson.

Here’s the first of several interviews I did with Craven. Published in late 1984, upon the release of “Elm Street,” it found the director in an unusually candid mood, especially about his strict Baptist upbringing and failed attempts at breaking free of the “horror director” mantle.

by Glenn Lovell

It never fails. When people meet Wesley Earl Craven of Cleveland, they comment on his “professorial” demeanor, his gentle, reassuring manner of speech, his tweedy wardrobe.

Obviously Craven teaches Latin or the humanities at some posh prep school, right?

Hardly. Wes Craven, as he’s known in film circles, makes horror movies.

Not your run-of-the-mill stalk-and-slash fare. Craven’s goose-bump specials ‒  “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” among them – aren’t as easily shrugged off. They tap into our primal fears of being hounded by backwater cretins, cackling bogymen, religious zealots ‒ even Satan himself.

Craven’s grim, single-minded shockers are the stuff of which recurring nightmares are made. At their most creepily effective, they play with and often blur the lines between troubled sleep and disturbing reality. Brian De Palma (“Carrie”) and Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) have explored similar terrain, but Craven got there first.

It makes sense, then, that Craven’s latest, the $3-million “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” is an ambitious blend of Cocteau and Dali, a surreal gambol through Slumberland. It’s about a trio teenagers who are pursued through their sleep by a ghoulish, fire-scarred handyman named Freddy Krueger.

According to a spokesman for New Line Cinema, the film’s distributor, “Nightmare” has made more than $8 million since its first regional release Nov. 9, an excellent take for an independent movie.

Craven, speaking fronightmarem the roof of his Santa Monica home, called his latest “sort of a horror fantasy – not the typical slash-and-splatter thing.” To those who persist in lumping it with the “Friday the 13th” bloodbaths, he replied, “Mine is more psychological. It also has to do with generation conflict (between Ronee Blakley’s stuporous mother and Heather Langenkamp’s frightened yet resourceful daughter).

“As a lot of my films do, ‘Nightmare’ uses the cliches of the genre, but in the end they’re somehow turned on their head. I think it has a lot to do with my different philosophical approach to the genre.”

In Craven’s case, a unique worldview is at work, a philosophy born of a still-vivid fundamentalist Baptist upbringing and a strong, formal training in the classics.

If the 45-year-old Craven (educated at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Wheaton College in Illinois, Billy Graham’s alma mater) looks professorial, it’s probably because he taught humanities at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, N.Y.

It was while at Clarkson that Craven oversaw a $3,000 student film titled “The Investigators.” Described as a “takeoff on Mission: Impossible,” the film was shown to students and townspeople and realized a profit of $4,000. “We pasted it together with glue,” laughed Craven. “But that was it ‒ I caught the fever. I was 29 and had a wife and two kids, but I dropped everything and went to New York. It had a devastating effect on my life.”

When Craven gave himself over to full-time moviemaking, he was dumping a lot more than a teaching job: He was turning his back on his strict religious training.


“I came out of a very religious background,” he recalled with difficulty. ”As fundamentalist Baptists, we were sequestered from the rest of the world. You couldn’t dance or drink or go to the movies. The first movie I paid to see was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I was a senior in college. . . . My whole youth was based on suppression of emotion. As they say in psychological circles, my family never got in touch with their rage. So making movies – these awful horror movies, no less — was, I guess, my way of purging this rage.”

Though he might have seemed bit old to be rebelling, that’s exactly what Craven did in New York in the late ’60s. He grew his hair to his waist, divorced his Baptist wife and did post-production chores on Time-Life documentaries and 8mm porno loops. During that period, he met kindred spirit Sean S. Cunningham, who would direct 1980’s Friday the 13th.

“We got offered a job by Hallmark Releasing Co. They wanted to have a real slam-bang horror film. They offered us $50,000. John said we could make it for $40,000 and split the rest. They liked our ideas and ended up giving us $90,000. We made ‘Last House on the Left.’ ”

Shot in grainy 16mm and released in 1972, “Last House” has earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million. Craven’s inspiration for this tale of kidnapping and torture? Would you believe Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”? “I very consciously used the same medieval morality tale about a father taking revenge on the shepherds who raped his daughter. It was sort of a modernization of the story.”


Beyond this, Craven and Cunningham (who produced) wanted to make “a grabber . . . a film that showed things that had never been shown on screen before. In a sense to show violence as it really was, rather than in a cinematic way. We just forged into a whole new area where people had not gone before, because of taste or fear of not getting the right rating.”

Craven achieved his grim goal with a vengeance. Last House freaked out the public and the critics (who called it “vile” and “pornographic”). The film also further estranged Craven’s family in Ohio. (“My brother said, ‘I can’t imagine where you got those thoughts.’ ”) And though he sought to move into adventure and satire, Craven was immediately typed as a low-budget horror filmmaker, a label that still makes him wince.

Worse, Craven wasn’t allowed entry into what he calls “the club.” Members in good standing include John Carpenter (“Halloween”), De Palma, Bob Clark (“Black Christmas”) and even his old buddy Cunningham. These are the
filmmakers who have made the jump from low-budget gore to big-budget prestige pictures.

“I felt I had made my mind-blower, and it was time to move on. But for a period of two and a half years I couldn’t get financing for anything. How could we have made a hit film for 10 cents and not have somebody knocking on our door, saying, ‘Here’s a million dollars’?”

Craven figures he picked up $100,000 in residuals on ‘Last House.’ When that was gone, a friend advised, “You have to make another Last House.” Craven replied, “I can’t. People turn away from me when they find out I made that movie.” The friend persisted. “Get rid of that Protestant guilt. Don’t be ashamed of what you do well.”

So Craven made “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977), a compact little horror tale about an inbred family of Mojave Desert cannibals. Typically, filmdom’s professor of gore came up with the plot at the New York Public Library while thumbing through “The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mayhem.” A gruesome 17th- century account caught Craven’s eye. It had something to do with a Scottish clan that preyed on and pickled unlucky wayfarers.

Between “Hills” and “Elm Street” there have been three TV movies (including “Stranger in Our House” with Linda Blair), three scripts “in development” that went nowhere, and a couple of films, “Deadly Blessing” (1981) and “Swamp Thing” (1982).

“Deadly Blessing,” starring Ernest Borgnine, allowed Craven to share firsthand fears of religious fanaticism; “Swamp Thing,” about a reptilian superhero, was his chance to “do something gentle and fun-loving and positive.”

Yes, “Elm Street” ‒ with its stalking specter and screaming teens ‒ is a return to conventional fright, Craven acknowledges. “But this time I really let my imagination run free. Maybe this will be the one that gets me into ‘the club.’ I’m tired of being out in the cold. I certainly don’t want to do another slasher or man-with-a-knife type of film. I’m talking to some people now about an island castaway movie – a ‘Lord of the Flies’ with girls. I know in my heart I’m ready for something new. I’m tired of being ‘the granddaddy of the slasher film.’ ”

Modesto Murders: Spooky Hitchcockian Twists?


Ghost of Hitchcock Haunts N. Calif. Crime Scene?

By Glenn Lovell

You need look no further than this week’s grisly headlines – “Five Dead in Calif. Home,” “Man Arrested for Killing Lover, Their Child, Three Others” — to be reminded of what Alfred Hitchcock never tired of saying: Evil resides where yBatesou least expect it; it bubbles forth from the seemingly normal … everyday. It’s as American as pie a la mode — and tract-house suburbia.

This is certainly the case in Hitch’s sinister “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Psycho,” both set in northern California. “Shadow of a Doubt,” about an avuncular serial killer, takes place in Santa Rosa; the rundown Bates Motel in “Psycho” is located on a lonely stretch of highway leading to the fictitious Fairvale, situated (if you follow the film’s markers) somewhere outside Fresno.

This week’s mass killing, the latest in an alarming increase in multiple homicides, took place in an innocuous, beige-and-white two-story home in Modesto, 90-some miles north of where the Bates Motel and mansion would be located. Santa Rosa is a bit farther: depending on the traffic, maybe a 2 ½-hour drive.


Martinez and crime scene

Obviously the killers’ M.O.s. and their crime scenes are very different. And yet, the mother-fixated Norman Bates, and the alleged Modesto killer, Martin Martinez, share spooky similarities. Both are 30ish, dark-complexioned, disarmingly boyish. Also like Bates, Martinez is suspected of matricide, which, according to the psychiatrist in “Psycho,” is the “most unbearable crime of all.” Besides Martinez’s physician girlfriend and their six-month-old daughter, the Modesto victims included the the girlfriend’s six-year-old daughter … and Martinez’s mother.

In a macabre twist worthy of a Hitchcock thriller, Martinez was arrested in his hometown of San Jose, exiting a mall theater. He was with his father. No word on whether they saw “Ant-Man” or a horror film titled “The Gallows.”

When told of Martinez’s arrest, his Uncle Ernie recalled a “kind, good-hearted person,” adding, “He didn’t even have a parking ticket.”

Sound familiar? It should. The jailed Bates, finally eclipsed by Mother’s personality, coos in voice-over, “Why she wouldn’t even harm a fly.”

Robin Williams “obsessed” over screen swan song


Slightly more than a year before he took his own life in August 2014, Robin Williams reported to a Nashville movie set to play a closeted gay husband battling, among other things, severe depression and a lifetime of self-deceit.

In retrospect, Williams’s Nolan Mack may be seen by some as a sad harbinger of what lay ahead.

Nolan — a shy, alRobinmost painfully withdrawn banker — is the principal character in “Boulevard,” opening in the Boston area on Friday. From all accounts, the low-budget drama was a labor of love for the actor, known to champion chancy indies, like “One Hour Photo” and “The Night Listener.” Williams suggested key changes to the script, originally set in Los Angeles and titled “Santa Monica Boulevard.” He also approved the casting and the final edit. He fought for Nolan’s intense coming-out scene (to an ailing father). It was cut, then, at Williams’s insistence, restored.

“Nolan was a more dramatic role for Robin,” said the actor’s widow, Susan. “He poured his heart and soul into the film.”

“Boulevard,” promoted as Williams’s “final dramatic performance,” costars Kathy Baker as Nolan’s wife and Bob Odenkirk as his best friend. Newcomer Roberto Aguire, 27, plays a runaway-prostitute who sparks long-suppressed urges.

Fittingly, the film is “more about letting go than coming out,” said director Dito Montiel, whose “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” (2006) caught Williams’s attention.

“When Robin and I talked about [‘Boulevard’],” recalled Montiel, “we agreed that it was more a love story between husband and wife. How do you let go of someone you’ve been married to for 40 years? How do you say goodbye to the love of your life?”

Indeed, Williams was concerned that the film might appear to vilify Nolan’s wife, Joy (Baker), and asked for rewrites to beef up her character. “He wanted the final fight between Nolan and Joy expanded,” said the film’s screenwriter, Douglas Soesbe. “As a gay man who came out late in life, I wanted to write a story about a man who was outwardly contented but came up against a situation in which his passion just could not be contained anymore. Robin, I think, responded to that, to the humanity of the story, the simple emotional undertow.”

While some who worked with Williams on the production could not recall periods of depression or symptoms of what was later reported to be the onset of Parkinson’s disease, they said there were indications that something was troubling the actor. He appeared thinner and more introverted than usual. Also, he “really obsessed” over the smallest detail on a film that cost a small fraction of one of his studio productions, said Montiel, who often found himself, at 2 or 3 in the morning, discussing a problematic scene. “Because we shot so much at night we’d have midnight lunches. And Robin would say to me, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ So we’d walk for an hour or so trying to figure the scene out.”

Baker and Aguire chalked up the weight loss to his near-compulsive bike riding.

“I was nervous about meeting [Robin],” admitted Baker, whose credits include “Edward Scissorhands” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” “I was afraid it was going to be the funny, always ‘on’ Robin, and that he was going to be a distraction. . . . And here was this quiet . . . respectful . . . almost fragile man.

“But I never for a second thought he had anything physically or mentally wrong.”

Baker called Williams “a true professional” — generous to a fault. “He said after every take, ‘Did you get what you want? Do you want to do it again? You want something else?’ I wouldn’t say we did three or four takes on anything. He was totally prepared. We never stopped because he didn’t know a line.”

Aguire also found Williams uncommonly generous. A key sequence, set in Nolan’s bedroom, took them until almost daybreak. They had been working 12 hours straight and Williams showed signs of fatigue. “We had shot all his coverage, he was completely done. Then the camera turned to me. I expected him to either leave or phone it in.”
Now repeating his lines off-camera, Williams proved “as vibrant, alive, as he was in any of his takes,” Aguire said. “It just blew my mind.”

Susan Williams joined her husband in Nashville. Though she has yet to see the completed movie, she described her visit to the set as “incredibly moving,” adding in her e-mail, “I’ll never forget the bedroom scene when Robin got in bed quietly next to Kathy and said, ‘I love you, Joy.’ It was the most tender, touching, and sad scene.”

Seven months after principal photography had wrapped, Baker bumped into Williams again. They were in Vancouver — he was doing “Night at the Museum 3,” she was doing “The Age of Adaline.” They had dinner. He was quiet, but, as always, solicitous of fans who asked for photos or autographs. They talked about work, their families. Again, there were no signs of depression, which made what happened that much harder to fathom.

When Baker heard that Williams, suffering from acute depression, had committed suicide, she said she refused to believe it; she thought it was an Internet hoax. Once it was confirmed, she had her husband drive her to the beach, where she sat and watched the waves. “I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t think what to do,” she recalled. “I just wanted to go to bed or be with others who knew and loved him.”

If Williams had confided in her when they met in Vancouver, talked about his debilitating depression, what would she have told him?

“Oh gosh, I wonder if I would’ve presumed to say anything, other than how much I loved him and how I would want him to take care of himself,” replied Baker after a long pause. “I just can’t imagine the pain he was in. That’s the worst part — to think about the terrible pain and how he managed to hide it from people.”

This story was written for the Boston Globe. Glenn Lovell can be reached at glovell@aol.com.

Omar Sharif: Fallen Idol … or Most Interesting Man in the Room?


“If I could obliterate the past, I wouldn’t … I think the word ‘regret’ is stupid. It’s an absurd word — this regret.”

By Glenn Lovell

Omar Sharif – the Egyptian actor with the dark, deep-set eyes and smoldering Valentino looks who appeared opposite Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence and Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice – died today in Cairo of a heart attack. He was 83.

At his peak, in the 1960s, the international star supped with Hollywood royalty, boasted more than one Beverly Hills address, and landed the much-coveted lead in David Lean’s epic soap opera “Doctor Zhivago.”sharif

In March 2004, I sat down with Sharif in a San Francisco hotel suite to discuss his roller-coaster career, from the seemingly overnight success as Arab leader Sherif Ali (in “Lawrence”) to a then-nomadic existence as perennial party guest and professional gambler. In keeping with his reputation, he proved a most congenial host, gracious and refreshingly candid, even when it came to enumerating his many career gaffes.

Following close on the heels of an Oscar nomination (for “Lawrence”) and Golden Globe wins (for “Lawrence” and “Doctor Zhivago”), he received some very bad career advice — “my own!” he laughed — and segued from one stinker to another. Indeed, he did five back-to-back duds, including ”Che!” and ”MacKenna’s Gold,” and was sentenced to what he called 30 years of “terrible, horrible, ridiculous films. Not one decent film in 30 years! Or one decent part!”

At first content to just take the money and live the life of international bon vivant-gambler in Paris and Monte Carlo, Sharif finally said, “Enough!” The turning point came when his grandchildren began making fun of his movies. “So I decided not to do these things anymore, to wait until something good came up. And if nothing good came up, I decided I wouldn’t work again.”

Sharif’s self-imposed exile lasted five years — until 2003, when he received the script for “Monsieur Ibrahim,” a French coming-of-age story with a strong brotherhood message. Sharif, then 71, played the title character, a grizzled Muslim shopkeeper who tutors and eventually adopts an orphaned Jewish boy (Pierre Boulanger) in ’60s Paris.

The actor who couldn’t find good work for so long also appeared that year in Disney’s “Hidalgo.” His role? Sherif Ali’s grandfather, he remustache_sharifplied with a booming laugh — “an old Arab prince” whose daughter takes a shine to star Viggo Mortensen.

In the wings — but, sadly, not meant to be — was a sci-fi’er called “Cyber Meltdown,” loosely based on the Gilgamesh legend. It would have reunited him with good friend O’Toole.

“I have beautiful dialogue in ‘Hidalgo’ — it’s really the second part in the film,” said Sharif, in San Francisco after receiving lifetime-achievement salutes from the Venice Film Festival and the American Film Institute. “But it was the ‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ script which brought me back. I thought it was time for me, a respected and loved person in the Middle East, to make this statement that it is possible for us to live together and love each other.”

Sharif was known for his very public brawls. At the time he was on the cover of a number of tabloids for head-butting a casino security guard. He said, without a hint of sarcasm, that he was alarmed by the amount of hostility in the world. “The rage of hatred is amazing,” he observed, stirring a cup of tea.

”The world has become a violent place, and the cinema reflects the world. I think this violence stems from the fact that making a living, feeding your belly, is getting to be more and more difficult. Everybody’s in a struggle, a race with the other guy.”

The boy in “Monsieur Ibrahim” is initiated into sex by neighborhood prostitutes, who couldn’t be more loving or romanticized. Such stereotypes didn’t bother Sharif. ”I had the same experience the boy has,” he volunteered. ”My first sex was with a prostitute in Pigalle. I was 15, like the boy in the film. But I was not as bold as him. I was shaking.”

Sharif said he identified with the philosophical Ibrahim. He liked to party and hold court — he had a permanent stool in a hotel bar in Paris — but, he was quick to add, “I never overdo it … now.”

A world-class bridge player and a legendary raconteur who had supped with Hollywood royalty as well as the real thing, he was invited to all the best functions.

“I enjoy conversation — I don’t know how to lie,” the actor said, winking. “I like people. I was born in a country which has monuments and stones. I don’t need to look at stones and monuments anymore. I need to know people and talk to them.

“I’ve always been very welcome in this country. Which is amazing because when I first came here I was an Egyptian from ‘Nasser-land,’ and Nasser was a big enemy of the Jew.”

Even more amazing, he was cast as Jewish gambler Nicky Arnstein in William Wyler’s “Funny Girl,” starring a then-25-year-old Streisand as Brice. “I made ‘Funny Girl’ during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt — with my Egyptian passport.”Sharif_in_Lawrence_of_Arabia

Needless to say, ”Funny Girl” didn’t play in Sharif’s homeland. Nor did “Doctor Zhivago,” because Egypt and Russia were allies and the movie was based on political dissident Boris Pasternak’s novel.

Returning to his Hollywood contract days, Sharif flashed that famous gap-toothed smile and continued, ”At first the idea of my playing Arnstein was a big joke. But then Wyler said, ‘Why not Sharif?’ and everybody was stunned. . . . I had a ball on ‘Funny Girl.’ It’s probably the film I enjoyed making most. It was the first time I wore proper clothes, instead of Arab robes or running around in the snow.”

But it was the films for Lean — ”Lawrence of Arabia” and ”Doctor Zhivago” — that strangers asked about. ”Lean was a big influence on my life. I spent five years with him. Lean was a perfectionist, and I was a great admirer. I was like his son. . . . People ask, ‘Isn’t it disappointing that you’ll never top ”Lawrence,” one of the great films of all time?’ I respond, ‘It is better to do one good thing than to do nothing.’ ”

Even in his 70s, Sharif was a presence to be reckoned with. Why couldn’t he find strong character parts? He would, for instance, have made a great villain in a James Bond thriller.

”What character part? What nationality?” he demanded. ”It’s got to be something Middle Eastern or Oriental. If they need an old American actor, they can get an old American actor. I’m not a box-office draw. Hiring me does not make people go to the cinema. I’m an addition to the stars, but I don’t sell the picture.”

Sharif blamed his under-utilization on his accent, which, because of his early education at French and English schools, has always been an indefinable amalgam.

”I am the only foreign actor in the world who is foreign to every place,” he said with a laugh. ”When you’re young and a box-office draw, they make concessions and cast you in the weirdest things. I played a German officer in ‘Night of the Generals.’ I played Archduke Rudolph of Austria in ‘Mayerling.’ I played Genghis Khan.”

And, of course, he played the morose but charismatic Sherif Ali in ”Lawrence of Arabia.” (Horst Buchholz, under contract to Billy Wilder at the time, was Lean’s first choice for the role.) Ali’s introduction — as first a shimmering mirage, then a slowly growing figure on horseback — qualifies as one of the greatest entrances in screen history.

”When they told me, ‘Come up and be tested in the desert,’ I went. Remember, I was already a star. I had made 25 films in Egypt. I was married. I had a beautiful home. I had a child and was planning more.

”I often wonder if it was a good thing or bad thing that I made ‘Lawrence.’ I wonder if my life would not have been happier had I stayed in Egypt. . . .”

At this, Sharif caught himself. Such ruminations ran counter to his reputation as a vagabond-like citizen of the world.

”If I could obliterate the past, I wouldn’t,” he said. ”I think the word ‘regret’ is stupid. At 71, do I regret decisions I made when I was 30, when I may have refused a film because I had a toothache? I was a different person under different circumstances. It’s an absurd word — this regret.”

Glenn Lovell can be reached at glovell@aol.com

Luis Valdez & “the Vicissitudes of Hollywood”


by Glenn Lovell

Luis Valdez, the acclaimed filmmaker-playwright best known for “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba,” was born in Delano, Calif., less than five miles from the San Joaquin Valley town of McFarland. Valdez saw his first movies in McFarland and, later, helped organize farm workers there. He would have been the perfect choice to direct Disney’s “McFarland, USA” (now on DVD and VOD), about a Chicano cross-country team and its initially skeptical coach, played by Kevin Costner.

Yes, but then the emphasis/perspective would have been different: the film would probably have been more about the high-school runners and their parents than the fish-out-of-water Anglo coach who struggles to fit in … andVH104ValdezHighlight2, in typical Hollywood fashion, saves the most troubled of the kids from themselves.

In short, with Valdez at the helm, “McFarland, USA” would not have been another in a long line of white-savior movies that includes “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer and “The Blind Spot” with Hilary Swank.

“Sure, I would have loved to direct that (film), among many others,” replies Valdez from his Teatro Campesino office in San Juan Bautista. “The story of McFarland is a familiar reality, my reality. I grew up there. It’s an old, traditional farming community, not some foreign country … But it’s not surprising that Hollywood would continue to do the white savior thing: that’s long been a through line in these types of movies.”

That said, Valdez has nothing but praise for the Disney release, directed by New Zealander Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”). “I found it to be a wonderful film, positive and inspirational. The reality of the southern San Joaquin Valley is, of course, multi-layered … No single film can deal with all the relevant issues, but I was impressed by the final screen updates that many of the track members went on to college and then back to teach in their community.”

However, the movie industry overall continues to “lag behind” when it comes to cultural diversity, Valdez contends. “The impression is that Latinos or Chicanos are all recent arrivals, and (filmmakers) don’t take into account that we’ve been here as long as thLaBambae state has existed … If you can’t see past the ethnicity, you don’t see that.”

In 1987, Valdez followed up his screen adaptation of “Zoot Suit,” inspired by the Sleepy Lagoon riots of 1944, with a biopic about Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens. It was produced by Taylor Hackford for Columbia Pictures and starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, who died in a plane crash in 1959. “La Bamba” earned over $100 million worldwide. Not a bad return on an $8 million investment. “Depending on how you define Latino films, it’s a track record that stands to this day,” says the director. “Robert Rodriguez has done some wonderful work and his films have grossed quite a bit, but they’re not strictly speaking Latino films.”

With “La Bamba” in the can, Valdez met with Hackford and new Columbia boss David Puttnam.

“We were feeling pretty good and we just sat around discussing ideas. And they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’ So I pitched them an idea for this thing called ‘Tortilla Curtain,’ which was a comedy. I got the green light. They approved it on the spot. ‘Yeah, go write it.’ I felt pretty happy about that. Then, when my wife Lupe and I were in London promoting ‘La Bamba,’ we learned about Puttnam’s resignation.” (It’s generally held that Puttnam was given the boot for ruffling feathers.)

Dawn Steel replaced Puttnam, who had produced “Midnight Express” and “Chariots of Fire” and was known for chancy, offbeat projects. Steel canceled Puttnam’s projects, including “Tortilla Curtain.”

Valdez next worked on “Old Gringo,” developed by Jane Fonda from a Carlos Fuentes’ novel about the disappearance of writer Ambrose Bierce. Valdez saw Bierce as “this weird Anglophile” and wanted Peter O’Toole for the role, which eventually went to Gregory Peck. After a disagreement over the script, he was “paid not to direct the film” and replaced by Argentinean Luis Puenzo. The film, released in 1989, was a critical and commercial flop.

Valdez was then set to adapt the Rudolfo Anaya novel “Bless Me, Ultima.” The prime backers: Jose Menendez and Carolco Pictures. While scouting locations in New Mexico, he received word that Menendez and his wife had been murdered by their sons. “After that, our film project fell apart,” he recalls ruefully.

“It’s just part of the vicissitudes of Hollywood,” says Valdez of his premature retirement from movies. “Because ‘La Bamba’ made money people assume there were a lot of offers. There weren’t. But I’ve had a fairly typical run in terms of things that have almost been made but weren’t for one reason or another.”

Valdez isn’t bitter. He doesn’t have time to be. His latest play, “Valley of the Heart,” workshopped at El Teatro, moves to San Jose Stage Company in September. Set in Cupertino in 1941, it’s a star-crossed romance between a Mexican-American ranch hand and the Japanese-American daughter of a soon-to-be displaced rancher. Also, “Zoot Suit” was just revived to cheers at San Jose State University. A multimedia fusion of drama and documentary, the new production was directed by son Kinan Valdez.

Does Valdez, who’ll turn 75 later this month, have another movie in him? “I’m interested in taking ‘Valley of the Heart’ to film. I think it would make a wonderful movie. It’s epic because of World War 2, but it’s also an intimate love story. Some people who have seen it on stage have said it’s ‘like watching a movie.’ ”

“Black Sunday” Deserves CG Retrofit


by Glenn Lovell

Reassessment time —

Just re-watched John Frankenheimer’s 1977 “Black Sunday,” based on Thomas Harris’s first bestseller and co-starring Robert Shaw as a glum Israeli commando and a rambling, beady-eyed, typically unchecked Bruce Dern as a Vietnam vet-turned-Goodyear blimp pilot-turned Palestinian pawn.

I remember interviewing an exhausted Frankenheimer at the time. I also remember all but dismissing this superior espionage thriller-cum-disaster epic. I mounted my high horse and accused the director of exploiting national paranoia stoked by what seemed daily airline hijackings.

In a later interview Frankenheimer — who died in 2002 at age 72 — confessed that the film’s failure took its toll on him emotionally. “WblackSunhen ‘Black Sunday’ didn’t hit big,” he said, “it told me that the movie god was not smiling on me that year. There was a lot of disappointment and depression, and I started drinking — heavily.” He added, “It didn’t perform to everybody’s expectations, which was that it would be bigger than ‘Jaws.’ It came at the end of the disaster-movie cycle … We just came out at the wrong time.”
Where immediately following 9/11 did Frankenheimer stand on terrorist thrillers? Years earlier he had directed the ultimate Cold War thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate.” “It would be irresponsible to do (a ‘Black Sunday’) right now — I’m just sick of it,” he told me in what would be one of his last interviews. “These are tricky times. I don’t think anybody really knows what to do right now.”
Wish I could take that “Black Sunday” review back, John. Despite the grainy but then-state-of-the-art blue screen work for the Super Bowl climax, you were right: it’s one helluva ride — grim, coolly observed, suspenseful (thanks in large part to John Williams’ nerve-jangling score).
Check out “Black Sunday” on DVD. Given current events in the Middle East, this ambitious, intricately plotted nail-biter couldn’t be timelier. Paramount and producer Robert Evans should consider doing a CGI retrofit a la “Star Wars” and re-releasing this all-but-forgotten gem.

Brando Estate Holding “One-Eyed Jacks”?


by Glenn Lovell

Good news for Western fans who have had to make do with that washed-out bootlegged copy of Marlon Brando’s “One Eyed-Jacks,” directed by and starring the Method legend as a reformed outlaw loosely modeled after Billy the Kid.

According to  Stevan Riley, writer-director of the terrific new Brando doc, “Listen to Me Marlon,” the Bone-eyed-jacks-life-magazinerando estate has found the negative for the 1961 Western and plans to digitally restore and color correct the cult film for DVD release.

“One-Eyed Jacks,” an adaptation of “The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones,” began as a script by Sam Peckinpah (later fired and replaced by Calder Willingham). Stanley Kubrick, the original director, fed up with all the delays, asked Brando, “Remind me, Marlon, why are we making this film?” Brando replied, “Because I’ve already paid (contracted costar Karl) Malden $200,000.” With that, Kubrick threw up his hands and left.

With a famously indecisive first-time director at the helm, the film became the very definition of “troubled production.” It went significantly over budget (from almost $2 million to a then-staggering $6 million) and the scheduled 12-week shoot doubled in length. The film was shot by veteran cinematographer Charles Lang Jr. (“Ace in the Hole,” “The Magnificent Seven”) brandoin Mexico, Death Valley, Monterey and, for the scenes in which Brando’s Rio licks his wounds, a never-more-ravishing Big Sur.

Scorsese and Tarantino are on record as calling “One-Eyed Jacks” their favorite Western. (It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Johnny Depp, Brando’s close friend and costar in “Don Juan DeMarco,” someday mounted a remake.) Said Brando’s daughter, Rebecca, “I think it’s wonderful that the film is going to be re-released. It shows another side of my father, the side where he is a good director. I think it’s great.”

Brando’s original cut reportedly ran five hours. It was whittled down by Paramount to 2 hours, 21 min. Fingers crossed that the canisters from the vault hold the director’s cut.

Richard Corliss (1944 – 2015): Critic as everyman


by Glenn Lovell

Richard Corliss, TIME mag’s longtime film critic, has passed away at age 71 from a stroke. He was easily one of the most authoritative yet least pretentious reviewers to occupy the aisle seat. Unlike pundits Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, known for their labyrinthine tangents, Corliss conversed easily with the reader as reliable friend. And thanks to TIME’s notorious space constraints, he mastered the pithy, precisely crafted three- to four-graph review that still somehow left us feeling satisfied.

I always found myself flipping through the back of TIME to get Corliss’s take on the latest by Scorsese (he loved “GoodFecorlissllas”) or Richard Linklater (ditto “Boyhood”), and he never disappointed in either erudition or analysis, cynical disdain or clever wordplays. Along with Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times, he was one of the only critics to sound off against the obscenely bloated “Titanic,” writing, “Ultimately, Titanic will sail or sink not on its budget but on its merits as drama and spectacle. The regretful verdict here: Dead in the water.” (He also slammed the Coens’ brilliant “Fargo” as mean-spirited, but, hey, we all have our blind spots.)

And when something caught his eye, he sang it praises like no one else. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” he wrote, “towers over the year’s other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If good directors accept Tarantino’s implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in.”

Corliss, writing in Film Comment, on the depressing state of his profession:

“The long view of cinema aesthetics is irrelevant to a moviegoer for whom history began with ‘Star Wars.’ A well-turned phrase is so much throat-clearing to a reader who wants the critic to cut to the chase: What movie is worth my two hours and six bucks this weekend? Movie criticism of the elevated sort, as practiced over the past half-century by James Agee and Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr — in the mainstream press and in magazines like ‘Film Comment’— is an endangered species. Once it flourished; soon it may perish, to be replaced by a consumer service that is no brains and all thumbs.”

You can sample many of Corliss’s reviews at RottonTomatoes.com

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015): “Sidetracked” by Spock in 23rd Century


Leonard Nimoy died February 27 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a nasty residual, he said, from a lifelong nicotine habit. In memory of the actor-director-author, best known for the pointy-eared, maddeningly logical Mr. Spock from the planet Vulcan in the “Star Trek” TV series and several “Star Trek” movies, here are excerpts from an interview on the set of “Star Trek IV,” shot at San Francisco Studios and Monterey Bay Aquarium.

by Glenn Lovell

Between takes on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” Nimoy ‒ sans Vulcan ears ‒ talks about the “Star Trek” legacy, his excitement over the latest installment and the long road to acceptance as a bankable filmmaker who also occasionally dabbled in theater (“Six Rms Rv Vu,” “Vincent”) and TV commercials (Hallmark, Western Airlines).

This afternoon on a San Francisco sound stage Nimoy looks more like an Ivy League literature professor, dressed as he is in sleeveless sweater and gray slacks. He refuses to do interviews in character. “He’s very particular about spock3that,” whispers a member of the crew. “He never does interviews as Spock.”

Unlike others who have been eclipsed by their screen persona (Sean Connery’s James Bond comes to mind), Nimoy has used his popular typecasting as the inscrutable Spock to gain a foothold in other areas of the business. He agreed to “Star Trek II,” only if Paramount granted “other creative opportunities.” The Emmy-nominated role in “A Woman Called Golda” followed. So did the opportunity to direct “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”

Some have called this blackmail. Nimoy chooses to look upon it as a shrewd career move. Directing, he says, has always been his first love. Why not trade time in front of the camera for the pleasure of working behind the scenes?

“What people tend to forget is, I’ve been around a long time,” he continues. “I was working on a Hollywood soundstage in 1950. My first movies were ‘Queen for a Day’ and ‘Francis Goes to West Point.’ I even appeared in Republic’s last Saturday-matinee serial, ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere.’

“Directing for me is unfinished business. I started out wanting to direct, as far back as 1960, when I was enrolled in a director’s training program at MGM. But then we did the ‘Star Trek’ TV pilot and the series sold, and my career as a director was sidetracked by my success as an actor.”

Nimoy’s TV credits as director include episodes of “T.J. Hooker,” “The Powers of Matthew Starr” and “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery,” a show on which fellow directors Steven Spielberg and Jeannot Szwarc (“Supergirl”) also apprenticed. “But this picture is my biggest challenge. It’s the most physical ‘Star Trek’ in terms of size and scope. It’s major motion picture time, folks! But there’s almost more texture to this one, a greater range of emotion and humor . . . And we’re dealing with an important, timely issue.”

The environmental/ecology aspects of the new “Star Trek” came to Nimoy as he read a chilling study by Edward O. Wilson called “Biophilia” (Harvard University Press, 1984). It predicts that, if the current rate of pollution continues, the Earth stands to lose 10,000 species a year by 1990. Nimoy sought corroboration from scientists at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he conferred with the school’s dean of natural sciences, Frank Drake.

The research was passed on to Nicholas Meyer and producer Harve Bennett, who will share screenwriter credit with Nimoy. The completed script was hand-delivered to Roddenberry for the final OK. Roddenberry, according to Nimoy, said, “It looks so good it scares me.”

“Gene always meant for ‘Star Trek’ to be more than another science fiction series,” says Nimoy. “He meant for it to be a comment on the human condition ‒ a way of looking at the 20th Century from the perspective of the 23rd. I think the new ‘Voyage Home’ does this better than any of the others.”

Nimoy describes the first “Star Trek” movie, directed by Oscar-winning veteran Robert Wise, as “frustrating ‒ a carefully crafted piece of work that focused on everything but the characters.” The next two movies, in his estimation, “returned the family of characters . . . So we’ve continued to improve with each one.”

But even with the save-the-whales plea, “Voyage Home” is a lot lighter in tone than the others, Nimoy wants it known. “It’s a lot more of a romp, like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ We zigzag a lot with this one. And Spock is on screen a helluva lot more. He’s alive, but there’s a question of his mental capacity. You’ll see Spock evolve into a three-dimensional character this time.”

Postscript: In all, Nimoy directed six theatrical features, including the hit comedy “3 Men and a Baby.”

“Steve Jobs” Comes Home


by Glenn Lovell

Call it a homecoming —

Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle — known for “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — is in the Bay Area shooting that still-untitled Steve Jobs biopic scripted by Aaron Sorkin from Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography. In mid-January, the company cordoned off Crist Drive in Los Altos, home to “the garage” where Apple was founded in 1976. Last week, principal photography moved to, among other spots, De Anza College’s Flint Center on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino.

The always natty Jobs — sporting green bow tie and double-breasted blazer — unveiled the original Mac at Flint Center in 1984.

Michael Fassbender is standing in for the Apple guru, a role originally linked to Leonardo DiCaprio and (a dead ringer for Jobs) Jobs3Christian Bale. Seth Rogen costars as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the brainy Sancho Panza to Jobs’ big-picture Don Quixote

For the De Anza campus shoot, the production is looking for enthusiastic local extras, 18-40 years old, who will cheer on cue as Fassbender’s Jobs addresses an Apple convention. Must have ’80s hairstyles and clothing. Production is also looking for vintage cars, 1983 or older.

Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston and Jeff Daniels are set for juicy co-starring roles.

De Anza Film/TV students had the opportunity to serve as extras on Saturday, January 31, 2015, on the ‘Danny Boyle Project,’ ” said De Anza film prof Susan Tavernetti. “The ‘crowd scene’ shoot took place from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the Sunken Garden adjacent to Flint Center.” Though student extras weren’t paid, De Anza’s F/TV Department received a donation — “$10 a head.”

A production company synopsis provides insight into the film’s approach: “(Jobs’) passion and ingenuity have been the driving force behind the digital age. However his drive to revolutionize technology was sacrificial. Ultimately it affected his family life and possibly his health. In this revealing film we explore the trials and triumphs of a modern day genius, Steven Paul Jobs.”

Beau Bonneau Casting in San Francisco (415-346-2278) is handling paid-extra gigs.


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