Sunday, February 26, 2006

Damn damn damn!

Darren McGavin has died. Yes, I know Don Knotts has died too. And that's a huge loss to the comedy world. But I was always less into Andy Griffith than Kolchak, the Night Stalker, whose show was a direct inspiration for The X-Files. What a bummer. But both men were in their 80's, a long healthy life we should all hope to have. Ah well. So long.

Update, Monday evening 2/27: Good grief! The Reaper really cut a swath over the weekend. In addition to McGavin and Knotts, we lost Dennis (McCloud) Weaver as well as the brilliant science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. What up? Maybe this would be a good week to stay indoors. I'm gonna go hug my dog or something.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Biggest lamers on net found!

A bunch of goofballs with too much time on their hands have launched the website to protest in the most petulant fanboy fashion the casting of Daniel Craig as James Bond. While I thought Brosnan was a fantastic Bond (his movies not exactly canonical, though), it's pretty pathetic to slag an actor, particularly when no one has even seen a frame of film he's shot yet. Much of the website is a pretty uncool exercise in character assassination against Craig himself, most of which appears to be motivated by the fact he doesn't have Brosnan's male-model looks. They also mock a lot of the roles he's already done, as if versatility in an actor is a liability. As anyone's who's seen Munich or Layer Cake can tell you, Craig's acting skills should not be in doubt. And however "odd-looking" these webdweebs think Craig is, I'd bet he's probably handsomer than they are. They do not, of course, post pictures of themselves nor identify themselves by name. There's nothing like having the courage of your convictions, eh?

This kind of stupid bullshit is fanboyism at its worst. So who cares if these dinks boycott Casino Royale? Millions of people will see it anyway, and those with brains will know not to judge Craig in the role until they've actually, like, seen him in the role. And as for Craig not being good-looking enough for the role...since when was that the criterion? Connery and Brosnan were handsome and tough, Moore had the handsomeness but no depth (never a hair out of place on that man).

But it might interest these folks to realize that Ian Fleming himself (you know, the guy who wrote the Bond novels, which I bet no one associated with this dickless "boycott" has read) didn't exactly see Bond as a Calvin Klein studmuffin. Fleming described Bond as looking something like musician Hoagy Carmichael, whose photo is to the left there. One can imagine heads exploding over at the guy's mother's basement offices if a big-nosed guy like this was cast as double-oh-sebbin.

While I bemoan the departure of Brosnan — hell, I bemoan the shittiness of the last three Bond movies overall, plus the producers' idiotic choice to turn down Quentin Tarantino's offer, which, had that movie been made, would have racked up more box office than all the previous ones combined — I'm open to a newer, rougher, tougher, nastier Bond who will fuck people up and not mess around. Hell, Craig has already broken two teeth in a fight scene for the movie. If that isn't throwing yourself into your role, I don't know what is. I kind of wish he'd leave them unfixed, just to piss these guys off more.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Annihilator title revision, thank ghod

As I just couldn't get over how much Annihilator sounded like some Dolph Lundgren movie from the 80's, I've finally figured out the title I like for the documentary — and it was staring me right in the face, from the very first newspaper headline about the crimes. The actual title for the movie will now be Bloody Work: The Unsolved Mystery of the Servant Girl Annihilators. That still allows for the actual killers' media names to be part of the title without any risk of sounding cheesily Dolphish.

Of course, it's just like me to have changed my mind on the title after dropping 27 bucks to register domains under the old one. There's a Homer Simpson moment for you. Well, hey, I can still use those domains. You can rest assured my usual filmmaking skillz are just a teensy bit less disorganized than this.

I'll continue posting kewl historical info about the crimes here over the next few weeks, and this blog will still be the home of my production diaries when that begins as well. I intend to have an official movie site up soon, too.

Feeling very auteurish and stuff right now!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

If he builds it, will they come?

Just read this article from News 8 Austin about developer David Cuddy and his elaborate plans to build several sound stages on about 250 acres of land near Neiderwald. It's great, in that the Austin area does need full-fledged state of the art production facilities of the type Cuddy plans. The Austin Studios in the old hangars of what used to be Robert Mueller airport are, like so much else in the Austin filmmaking "industry," pretty half-assed. But the immediate concern is whether facilities like this will actually lure a few productions to this area for a change. There's a lot the city and the state need to do to get studio and quality indie productions happening here again. Right now, there is simply no work. Is part of the reason we don't get more projects shooting out here the lack of first-rate sound stages and post houses? Could the construction of some bring in the work? I'm rooting for Huddy. It's cool to hate developers in Austin, but not when they're developing something kickass. You go, bud.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Annihilator: The first murder

So this ought to start you off with a little taste...

From the Austin Daily Statesman, January 1, 1885, comes the first of many news reports abut the serial killings that were to be attributed the "Servant Girl Annihilator" (or "Annihilators"). The body of Mollie Smith, a "light-colored mulatto" about 25 years old, was found "nearly nude" by an outhouse roughly fifty paces outside the bedroom where she had been sleeping with her commonlaw husband, Walter Spencer. The assailants — and there were probably two here — first bashed poor Spencer's face in with some kind of heavy object, either a brick or metal pipe. Mollie was then dragged outside; she apparently put up a heroic struggle, but she wasn't heard to scream (there were other people asleep in the same house). This indicates the assailant probably was covering her mouth while dragging her outside. Spencer came to some time later, noticed Mollie missing, went for medical help himself (his facial bones had been cracked up pretty good by the blows), but didn't find Mollie's body until the morning.

A number of interesting questions about this event. For one thing, a bloody axe was found on the floor by Mollie and Spencer's bed. Since Mollie was still alive when she was being dragged out of the house, she wasn't killed until she had been taken out by the outhouse. Where she was killed...with an axe. (One out-of-town newspaper reports she was so hacked up her body was falling to pieces as it was being lifted into a casket, but that can't be confirmed and is probably an example of the kinds of lurid reporting you see in Victorian era newspapers.)

This suggests the killer either went back inside to leave the axe on purpose, or, perhaps, went back inside to do something else (subdue another victim? look for valuables?) and left it behind either uncaringly or accidentally. But moreover, it strongly suggests two assailants. Spencer was not hit with the axe but some other object. The axe had definitely been brought to the scene by the assailants; everyone living at the house testified no one there owned an axe. So whatever the other object was that struck Spencer, it must have been brought and taken away, since there were no reports of another bloody weapon on the scene. So, if there were only one assailant that night, we're left with the spectacle of a man dragging the thrashing, panicked Mollie outside while covering her mouth to stifle her screams, and simultaneously schlepping a big axe and whatever he hit Spencer with. Seems implausible. Two men that evening are more likely.

Spencer recovered, only to be arrested as a suspect then released. (No one really thought he did this or any of the subsequent murders.) There were other arrests, other suspects, and more ghastly killings to come.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Announcing Annihilator!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with blah blah blah. I'm really excited. Today I officially announce my next film project, the feature documentary Annihilator: The Unsolved Mystery of the Austin Axe Murders.

Two things about this project have me super-excited. First of these is that I have always, up till now, pursued narrative filmmaking projects, and I never really thought of myself as a "documentary filmmaker." But then I realize that the distinction is meaningless. If you're a filmmaker, you're a filmmaker. Period. There's nothing carved in stone that says a director can only pursue one area of the filmmaking art. Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese made documentaries, and Scorsese has also made a concert film and (in one admitted lapse of judgment, though I imagine the check was wonderful) a Michael Jackson music video.

The other thing is that it's amazing to think that virtually no one in Austin today knows that this city had its very own Jack the Ripper, who went about his nasty business a full three years before Jack did. (Some armchair sleuths think that the murderer — murderers? — who came to be called the "Servant Girl Annihilator" fled justice overseas and picked up his old trade in Whitechapel, but I find that doubtful.) The more I've read about these killings, the more my filmmaker's bells have been going off. What a fan-fucking-tabulous subject for a documentary. There was simply no question — Holmes is on the case! I'm officially underway on my research, and as writing and shooting commences, I'll post updates here. This will be one kickass movie. If I do say so myself. I can't wait to get it made. I can't wait for you to see it.

Addendum: I admit there is something about the current working title that sounds a bit like a PS2 game or a Dolph Lundgren movie. "Servant Girl Annihilator" was, in fact, the name given the killer(s) by writer O. Henry, living in Austin at the time. As there is strong evidence that at least two killers were involved in some of the killings, I considered Annihilators plural, but thought that didn't sound quite right. The Servant Girl Annihilator just sounds like some bad imitation-Argento cheapass Italian horror movie, and The Austin Axe Murderer is too bland, like an episode of some History Channel show. Any readers with better suggestions will find me receptive.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cake and Ice Cream of the Dead

Yoiks! To think Saturday has almost passed and I didn't notice this on IMDb until almost midnight. Today was George A. Romero's birthday! Happy 66 to the Zombiemeister! Here's a filmmaker who's a legend in his field, and spent years being chewed up and spat out by that ultimate zombie of all zombies, the Hollywood system. I'm happy to see him back in the saddle making movies again, even if it's late in life.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dumbest thing this week

Can't this guy figure out the concept of "turn it down"?

This week on that reality-TV hit, Fundies vs. Hollywood...

Funny bit in IMDb's news today. That gay cowboy movie is actually doing decent business in Montana, a state so red it's almost infrared. Here's a lengthy quote to spare you clicking over.

Contradicting predictions by commentators that Brokeback Mountain would not attract ticket buyers in red-state strongholds like Montana, the film has actually performed strongly in many of those areas, distributor Focus Features has maintained. (Fox News commentator John Gibson remarked: "I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on." His colleague Bill O'Reilly has opined that the film has received critical praise because the media "want to mainstream homosexual conduct." And he predicted, "They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana.") However, the online magazine Salon today (Thursday) quoted the manager of the Wilma Theater in Missoula as saying that the film grossed $33,006 in its first four weekends there — "one of our best starts for a movie we've ever had." In the conservative town of Kalispell, the film opened last Friday with $3,656. In the town of Whitefish, it took in $2,312 and beat out the three top national draws, including the No. 1 film, Big Momma's House 2.

Hilarious. The piece then goes on to debunk the notion that Hollywood is a town populated entirely by librul fudgepackers, by mentioning that some observers think there may be enough homophobes in the Academy who'll refuse to watch their Brokeback Oscar screeners that the film may be denied its universally-expected Best Picture statuette. It could happen. Then again, it's not like the Weinsteins have a high-profile nominee they can steal it for this year, the way they stole Spielberg's Best Picture for Saving Private Ryan.

Back with other religious-right-goes-nuclear news after the break. (Commercials zapped by BlogiVo.) Welcome back. As you may have heard, fundamentalist hand-wringer Donald Wildmon and his organization of angry-email-senders The American Family Association have been crowing over NBC's cancellation of the series The Book of Daniel, which they didn't like for its (in their words) "depiction of a pill-popping Episcopal priest, his unbelievably dysfunctional family, and a recurring appearance of a ‘Jesus’ character described as ‘sardonic’".

Now, here's the thing. As much of a godless liberal as I am, I happen to be all in favor of the right of Wildmon and Co. to try to get a show taken off the air if they thought it portrayed Christians in an insulting way. Just as I think African-American groups, or gays, or Jews, or Wiccans, or Hispanics, or atheists, or any group who feels they're being maligned, stereotyped, or attacked in a TV show should do the same thing. And just as I think the producers of The Book of Daniel ought to have the right to continue to create their show and seek either a more supportive network, or go via Internet distribution, or DVD, or otherwise, if they feel that criticisms coming from a special-interest group are unjustified and their show's cancellation unfair. That's the fugged-up thing about freedom of speech: it applies to people who don't see eye to eye with you, too! know...I seem to remember something. Remember back before Mel Gibson released his Catholic snuff film The Passion of the Christ, when the Anti-Defamation League was expressing concerns that the film might be anti-Semitic? Remember that? And wasn't it, if not Wildmon himself, certainly right-wingers cut from the same cloth, who were attacking the ADL for expressing their concerns about the movie's depiction of Jews? Hmm? I seem to think it was.

So what's good for the (Christian) gander isn't necessarily good for the (Jewish) goose, it would appear. Ah well. Double standards. Where would religious fundamentalists be without 'em?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Moira Shearer

This will only probably mean anything to classic movie fans, but dancer Moira Shearer has died. Shearer was the star of The Red Shoes, a fantasy/romance film by seminal British filmmakers the Archers, better known as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell and Pressburger made 17 movies together, most of which rightfully belong on the list of Greatest British Films Ever, and their works ran the gamut from exciting action adventure (The 49th Parallel, The Battle of the River Plate), to romantic melodrama (Black Narcissus, I Know Where I'm Going!), to far-out artsy-fartsy experimentation (The Tales of Hoffman). The Red Shoes is considered their masterwork, a movie Martin Scorsese calls one of his all-time favorites, and one which Kate Bush named a whole album after. And it's in a genre that few "serious" filmmakers worked in in those days: fantasy.

Yes, on the surface, it's a straightforward romantic-triangle movie about a ballerina, the Svengali empresario who makes her a star, and the composer whose music makes her dance. But its overtly melodramatic elements go down convincingly because of the overt inclusion of fantasy. The 17-minute ballet sequence is one of the most famous setpieces in history, a dazzling display of color and pre-CGI visual effects that is still wondrous to look at in the post-Peter Jackson age. Indeed, the whole movie is thought of as having some of the finest use of Technicolor in all cinema. (The Archers also delved into fantasy filmmaking in Hoffman and Stairway to Heaven.)

I remember, ten (choke! gasp!) years ago, going to see a whole lineup of Powell/Pressburger films with my friend Hollye at the now-closed Texas Union Theater, as part of a retrospective program UT-Austin's film program was running. To see these old movies on a theater screen — The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, now one of my all-time favorites, was also one of them — is the kind of privilege that just doesn't come along any more. It's just one more awesome thing that no longer exists in this town, that those of us who have lived here for years have come to lament.

Moira Shearer was 80. But the few films (with the possible exception of the badly dated Peeping Tom) she made with the Archers are timeless. I think I'll pop the Criterion DVD of The Red Shoes in my player tonight. And if you consider yourself a classic movie fan and haven't seen it, you really ought to add it to your Netflix queue.