Saturday, December 10, 2011

When a film geek visits me in Los Angeles

A variety of people will probably come visit us in Los Angeles. Each person will bring their own interests and things they want to do and see in the city while they are here. Certain individuals might be interested in food, architecture or museums. Yet, some, like my first visitor David, want to see movies. I can related to that. While I like doing other things when I'm in a large city, one of my favorite things to do is to watch movies. A lot of movies. Some people might think it strange to go to another city and watch movies when you can see them later on DVD, but that's one of the things I love to do when I go places. If I'm in a city where I can see things I wouldn't normally get a chance to see, I really go wild.

That just happened since my friend David is the same sort of person as me--he loves movie history, culture and film. He recently flew in from Tulsa for a visit and we went on an epic film geek binge that included film-related sightseeing during the day with nights were dedicated to the activity that film lovers like to do just about more than anything else: watch movies! Below is the detailed description of what we did on David's visit to Los Angeles.

Day 1: I picked David up at the LAX around 3pm and we make our way back to our apartment to rest and then go have a falafel at this Israeli place I like. Then it was off to see a double feature of The Last House on the Left and The House on the Edge of the Park at New Beverly as part of their Grindhouse film series. As we made our way past the line of people waiting to enter the theatre, David spotted Clu Gulager standing in line. Gulager, a character actor who got his start in 1950s television has a connection to us--he's from Oklahoma. David remembered selling him tickets to see movies at Eton Cinema when Gulager was living in Tulsa in the early 1990s. After we made our way through the lobby, we approached Gulager as fellow "Okies" and talked to him for about five minutes. David scored points with Gulager due to his being Cherokee as Gulager pointed out that "Clu" means "red bird" in Cherokee. I'm not sure if that is true or not. A very friendly man, he comes to the New Beverly a lot and sits in the center of the front row.

The reason these two films were chosen on the double bill was because both have David Hess as a menacing villain. Hess passed away recently and this night was a tribute to him. Before The Last House on the Left started, three actors from the film took the stage to tell stories of filming the movie and about Hess himself. Marc Sheffler, Martin Kove and Fred Lincoln talked about Hess in varying detail, with Sheffler being the closest to him through the years. Evidently, they remained very close. The film itself is a raw, violent, intense and infamous 1972 movie from Wes Craven [it was his first movie] notorious for its brutality on screen. I hadn't seen it since the early 1980s and it is indeed a nasty piece of work and is essential viewing for horror or genre fans. There was a remake recently, but I'm just guessing that the original is still the better.

The House on the Edge of the Park is a not-so-great 1980 Italian rip-off of The Last House on the Left with even more Hess screen time as he and a buddy go sadistic on some middle class party goers for no real reason other than its fun to rape, torture and abuse strangers. Filled with so much nudity and sexual violence, it was like those legendary Cinemax soft-core films they programmed in this era, except with way more sexual violence. Any male coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s know exactly what kind of Euro, sex-drenched movies that Cinemax put on the air late Friday and Saturday nights. This is that sort of movie. The House on the Edge of the Park isn't for the squeamish or easily offended and evidently had over ten minutes edited from it when it came out in the UK. We saw the unrated print with wall-to-wall nudity, grindhouse style.

Day 2: We got a fairly early start of it and drove to the Hollywood Forever cemetery that is only a few miles from my apartment. It's bigger than I expected and we didn't have a map of the graves so we just kind of wandered around on foot and in the car until we saw gravestones with names we recognized. I had a macabre photo taken standing next to the grave of Johnny Ramone, not because I'm a huge Ramones fan, but for the fact we were in a cemetery and thought I should have at least one photo of me and a tombstone. Douglas Fairbanks had one of the most amazing ones there with water, swans and his own private grounds [see photo on left]. Other people we came across: Fay Wray, Cecil B. DeMille [not as outlandish as we thought it might be considering the films DeMille produced] and Mel Blanc. Blanc had the best epitaph we saw with the simple and very appropriate: That's All Folks.

After a quick lunch at Village Pizzeria on Larchmont [where David spotted Nicholas Brendon ["Xander" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two days of David's visit and we've spotted two actors. David spotted them both so he's eagle-eye out here!] sitting a couple of tables over, we made our way up the winding Mulholland Drive to look at the stellar views of the Los Angeles sprawl and the Hollywood sign. The lovely haze of smog thinly covers the city and the Hollywood Bowl can be seen in the lower right of the photo I snapped with my iPhone. After our drive we went to Burbank to see a taping of Conan O'Brien. Guests were Michael Moore and Ellie Kemper. We had perfect seats right in front of Conan's spot on the monologue and a direct shot to the interview desk and chairs. Cameras are prohibited, so no photos of our taping. It's great to see how fast-paced the actual taping is in the studio. What you see on TV is pretty much what happens on the soundstage. We did get to walk across the Warner Brothers lot and it is huge! We are thinking of heading back to Burbank for a lot tour on Day 3.

After Conan, we sat in traffic for awhile, making our way downtown to watch a film print of the 1978 Richard Donner movie Superman. The screening was at the amazing Million Dollar Theatre [built in 1918 by Sid Grauman] and that's the first time I've gotten to see a film there. I'd been in it before, but no movie. The heat was not on, so let me say that the Million Dollar Theatre gets extremely cold on a December Los Angeles night. I bet it was in upper 50s. Jack O'Halloran and Marc McClure from Superman ["Non" and "Jimmy Olsen"] were there for a fun Q and A and the gist of their talk was very pro-Richard Donner and not-so-much Richard Lester. O'Halloran called Lester a "cartoon director" at one point. Ouch. I haven't seen Superman since I was nine years old when the film came out. It is a fun movie, but seems a bit long in places. Maybe that was due to the fact we'd been gone from the apartment for coming on twelve hours and my ears and nose were frigid from the lack of heat in the theatre?

Day 3: We started the day with a morning hike up to Griffith Observatory. It's a steep incline, but offers some great views of the city and that old Hollywood sign that is one of the most recognizable images in American film lore. I'm not big on hiking, but it's not that long a climb and the views of the sign, observatory and the urban sprawl make up for any exertion. I haven't yet gone to the observatory when it was open, for either the exhibits or the telescope, as I always find myself going there in the morning.

After a lunch at a Thai place called Jitlada where I had a spicy lamb jungle curry, we made our way to Burbank for the second day in a row to take a 2 1/2 hour studio lot tour of Warner Brothers. We got to see filming of a show on their "Anytown, USA" lot that can be made to resemble any midwestern small town. They were wetting down the street for a scene on a show I've never watched called Heart of Dixie. The coolest things that the tour guide pointed out for that spot was a faux bank that was robbed in Bonnie and Clyde and the parking meters on the street were used for Cool Hand Luke when he was jailed and then sent to prison. Both David and I wanted more film references, but the guide liked to point out television connections since the Warners Brothers lot is 80% television production. We got to see the soundstage of Two and a Half Men and spotted Johnny Galecki and Simon Helberg hanging around outside stage 27 as they rehearsed Big Bang Theory. One of my favorite things about the tour was seeing the prop department and how they reserve various items. David and I both got excited to see a couple of items that will be used in the upcoming Django Unchained movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. Check out their label in photo below for a stuffed bird that they want to use.

Our only screening of the day was at the Cinefamily for the documentary Corman's World. I'd seen this before a few weeks ago at LACMA and wrote a review of it here if you want to refresh your memory. This is a highly entertaining documentary that looks at Corman's life and his body of work in low-budget and exploitation cinema. Director Alex Stapleton was there for a lengthy Q & A to top off this great free event. Free!

That's it for part one, stay tuned for part two of this day-by-day detailed description of what happens when a film geek visits another film geek in Los Angeles! We've got lots of films left to watch, tours to take and sights to see.

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