I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Vista Theatre in this here blog, probably because I haven’t gone to it nearly enough times. It’s in Los Feliz, technically closer to me than the other cool theaters in Los Angeles, and yet here I am counting on one hand the amount of times I’ve gone there.
But now I can use two hands because I went there back-to-back over the weekend and I think I’ll go over there more now. What happened, dear reader, was that I was scared away by the parking situation; you’re looking for parking on side streets in a residential neighborhood and Parking Enforcement is ever-roving so you can’t even pull some slick shit or you’ll get a piece of paper on your windshield wiper and there you’ll be, approaching your car with dread while a part of you still hopes that what you’ve got there under the wiper is a flyer or menu — anything!
Did I ever tell you one of my greatest accomplishments in fucking up was going to Beverly Hills to throw myself at the mercy of the court over a ticket only to come out and realize my street sign reading comprehension was not strong that day and now I had a parking ticket to contend with? People walking past me had no idea why the chubby Mexican-American was applauding himself in the middle of the sidewalk, but he sure did.
So yes, parking fright. But now I know what to do — show up for the latest showing possible. Which come to think of it makes total fucking sense considering the only time I feel comfortable driving in that city — or any city! or any town! anywhere! — is late at night. Driving in Los Angeles during the day is a genuine waking nightmare for me while driving in L.A. late night style is one of my favorite things to do.
And thanks to these fuckin’ Nerds, I was able to arrive at the Vista around 11pm and find parking and get in line for a 25th Anniversary screening of The Rocketeer, the latest monthly midnight show by Nerds Like Us. Yeah, this is the one about the guy Cliff Secord who finds the jet pack (created by Howard Hughes — and I’m still upset that The Aviator skips over this whole chapter of his life) that enables him to take to the sky without burning his ass, dealing with mobsters and Nazis and a sorta/kinda Errol Flynn. Yup, 2016 is the 25th Anniversary of its release, and it’s also the 25th Anniversary of Me Wondering When Is The Sequel Gonna Come Out.
Yeah, The Rocketeer was my shit then and it’s my shit now but it ain’t no shit movie and if you think that then you, my non-friend are shit. OK, that was too much. I don’t get that upset about someone not sharing my love for a film, I just feel sorry for them. Because while they complain about there not being Rocketeer action, they’re inadvertently forest/tree-ing themselves out of so much more to enjoy.
They’re unable to take in, say, the 1938 Los Angeles settings and enjoy this sorta-idealized universe with the classic cars and where people listened to the radio instead of watching television and you dressed to the nines to take your lady over to the South Seas Club where Jan from The Office sang sadly from out of a giant clam shell and everything was Art Deco as fuck (the Art Deco movie poster for this film is among my favorite things evaaaaarrrr) and it’s a world that one gentleman may kinda secretly want to transport yourself to, were it not for the fact that as an oily Latin he would have to change his name to Eric Franklin Carson and try to Anglo that shit up and hope they give a shit about the suspiciously brown-skinned gentleman so long as he can keep playing that bass while giving us that swing! Wait! Where was I? Oh yes, these poor unfortunates who cannot enjoy The Rocketeer for what it is, and instead only concentrate on what it isn’t.
What it is is a throwback to serials of the 1930s and 40s without ever having to duplicate them — in other words, this isn’t some Grindhouse type deal (not that there’s anything wrong with that), this is more of a Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars game being played here, where the filmmakers were clearly inspired by entertainment from the good ol’ days, took that retro sensibility and made something modern out of it — albeit a modern film that takes place in the past. Huh? Wha? I don’t…OK.
I’m trying to be the one posting about The Rocketeer that doesn’t use the term “gee-whiz” and would you look at that? I failed. But I’ll throw in this instead and pretend the previous sentence doesn’t exist: Sincerity. Fuckin’ film is sincere as fuck. No snark and only small traces of irony in this smooth rolled cigarette of a film, you can take a puff and not worry about any of those additives and instead enjoy the pure richness of the smoke.
I was originally going to use a marijuana simile up there but I want to keep in spirit of the time period, and back then there were many more who believed the cheeba would turn you into a piano-playing werewolf or at the very least, made you associate with Negroes. Speaking of which, I hate when this happens but I do sometimes wonder about Secord and his hot girlfriend Jenny Blake and Peevy his mechanic/best bud and his buddies at the awesome Bulldog Cafe (it’s awesome!) and I wonder how many of them were not fans of my Black brothers and sisters. I mean, I don’t think there’s a single African-American in this film, or I wasn’t looking hard enough.
Remember, this was back when America was great and you didn’t need the Internet to hide behind, you were allowed to be open about hating on anything non-White or Christian or whatever with your fellow Joes, Jims, Janes, and Jennys (oh no, not you too, Jenny!) Whoever runs the Bulldog Cafe at least seems to be OK enough with mi gente because that place proudly proclaims tamales as one of its specialties (and besides, someone has to wash the dishes, am I right?) but I won’t eat Tamale One in that motherfucker unless my colored friend over here can join in.
So I’m cool with this sequel I’ve heard talked about, where the new Rocketeer would be a Black woman. It would at the very least, piss off all the assholes out there — but I like to imagine that my fellow Rocketeer fans carry ourselves a far more civilized about that kind of thing, rather than your average foam-mouthed rabid Ghostbusters fanatic who just couldn’t stand vaginas rubbing against the crotches of those jumpsuits.
The special effects are not embarrassingly dated, more like impressively dated; the flying effects are nice and I’m particularly a fan of some of the model work here, like everything involving that Nazi zeppelin — no, not for what it stands for, I’m just saying watching it blimp around over the L.A. skyline still looks impressive, and watching that Nazi aircraft go up in flames is pretty awesome too. Speaking of flaming Nazi blimps, I’m still trying to figure that one shot where Cliff and Jenny are standing on top of it and in the background the blimp is beginning to explode section by section, causing the giant walls of flame to get closer and closer to our hero and heroine; it doesn’t look like two different shots blended together, it looks like they set up those blasts for real and even if they told me that those charges were only set up so far, I’d still be nervous about standing anywhere in the vicinity.
(Of course, the greatest special effect in the film is Jennifer Connelly as Jenny Blake, who has one of my favorite filmic introductions ever with that wolf-whistle-worthy shot of a stocking being pulled up one of her lovely gams before finally ending on a close-up of her face. And I can wolf-whistle here because this is 1938, back when women knew their place and weren’t all about wanting to be treated equal — HA! Equal? As in the same as Men! HA HA! The kitchen is *that* way, honey!)
Before the screening they had a costume contest; the winners were a couple dressed like Cliff and Jenny, and a dude dressed like Dick Tracy — and that’s a double feature for your ass right there! I sat a few seats down from a lady who had a Rocketeer helmet and she was cool with me taking a photo of her, as were Cliff and Jenny.
They either showed us a DCP or Blu-ray at this screening (I’m betting on the latter), and while I’ve would’ve loved to see a 35mm print of this again, I was just happy to see it on a big screen in a packed house of fellow Rocketeer fans. There was even more cheering and laughter here than when I saw it back in June ’91; I hoped/expected the crowd to cheer when mobster Eddie Valentine says that “I may not make an honest dime…” line and sure enough they did — as did I — and it felt so good. It’s such an awesome moment in a film full of them, this film with such an innocence and hope to it that watching it now in these dark and hopeless times it gave me a little jolt of Hey, Maybe We’ll Be OK and I know that’s bullshit but I love those little moments in life.
That line, which I won’t totally give out in case you haven’t seen it, is a patriotic line and it’s a fictional character in a movie about flying jet packs and giant Aryan assassins and yet I find more sincerity in it that all all the campaign rallies and speeches from the past year. I wonder how many people cheered so loudly in that theater when he says it for more than one reason; not just because we see a character make a turn not expected, but because it’s said with a kind of unabashed justified pride and it doesn’t come off like FUCK OFF YA’LL THIS IS MURICA but more like, shit, man, we ain’t fuckin’ Nazis, bro — they’re the bad guys! Shit, I don’t even believe in Good Guys or Bad Guys anymore except in movies. It’s all a matter of perspective and what side of the ocean you happen to have been born in, I’m afraid. What’s that line in Zero Effect? “There are no good guys or bad guys. It’s all just a bunch of guys”? I used to think that was a stupid line.
I noticed a small poster at the box office for a midnight screening of the 1983 Scarface and I thought Hmm…and so I went back to the Vista the following night to catch Scarface on the big screen — no, not the original Howard Hawks joint, this is the one with Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami, U.S.A. and rises up to the top of the cocaine mountain and proceeds to snort All The Cocaine.
This screening was being held by the 35mm Secret Movie Club, and I’m sorry that I just blew the secret but there you go. It’s pretty cool; monthly midnight screenings of a classic film on 35mm. The ticket prices are higher than your average cineplex stub — $20 general, with student discounts and you can also get a discounted price if you use the Venmo site — but that all goes to help cover the cost of renting the print. This screening of Scarface left many an empty seat in comparison to their other screenings (which based on these videos, had far better attendance), so charging extra probably helped make that nut.
So you RSVP the Club via e-mail, and I figured it was similar to a midnight screening of The Room — just so the people behind the screening know how many to expect. But you’re actually put on a list, and since I didn’t put my name on the list but rather the name of the blog, that’s who I had to ask for upon seeing said list. The gentleman in the blue suit outside the theater manning the table and hosting the screening (I’m sure he’s the dude in charge of this) asked for my name and I had to point it out on the paper, this “Exiled from Contentment” bullshit, and he said it was “an intense name”.
When he said that, he was being friendly but I detected maybe a bit of worry in the voice? I wanted to assure him with an energetic upbeat response like: “Oh, it’s not meant to be intense, it’s the name of my blog. I came up with the name and the blog during a down period in my life, and even then, I was kinda poking fun at my situation. But out of context, yeah, I’m sure it does sound intense and yes I’m by myself on a Saturday night and yes I’ve been told I have an angry face which probably adds to it and being alone + angry face + intense e-mail name = Brooding Loner, but I’m actually OK, and I’m more of a solitary guy anyway and I’m happy to be here and I’m sure it’s going to be a good time tonight thanks for having this!”
But what I heard myself saying in response was: “Uh-huh.”
He asked me for my actual name and I gave it to him and he was very nice, as I’m sure you would be when faced with a Brooding Loner because most B.L.s own guns and you know how *those* assholes do. So I found myself overcompensating with smiles and cheer to convince him I wasn’t one of them — was I trying to convince myself DUN DUN DUN
So before the film, the gentleman in the blue suit comes out, welcomes us, tells us about some upcoming films, asks us to vote on which potential films should be the next ones screened, and then he tells us about knowing someone who worked on Scarface as an assistant editor. According to this guy, Brian De Palma shot everything with 5 cameras and ended up exposing over a million feet of film, and this guy knows because he had to sync all 1 million feet of film for the editors. The way this guy told it to him, he still sounded exhausted from the experience.
That’s very interesting to me because in interviews De Palma always seemed like he was big on Hitchcock’s approach to filmmaking, which is to say, have every shot in the film planned out and composed to get a certain effect. And I remember in Julie Salomon’s book “The Devil’s Candy”, it was brought up that because De Palma shot that way, there was very little one could do with that footage other than change the pacing.
My best guess is that De Palma does shoot that way but he also doesn’t find anything wrong with covering his ass, and I’m sure even if he is pretty sure he only wants a scene shot a certain way, who’s to say he doesn’t shoot it in various different paces or tempos — and who’s to say he doesn’t shoot a bunch of takes either?
So the film begins, and I can tell by the soundtrack (and the Focus Features logo) that this is the 2003 re-release version, which is the same movie only the sound has been remixed and some of the sound effects have been replaced or edited differently. Personally, I prefer this mix; I’m usually a purist (see my Facebook complaint about the new sound mix on the Sorcerer Blu-ray) but I always felt the only thing not over-the-top about this over-the-top movie was the sound. I remember watching this for the first time on VHS; we had just purchased a surround sound system and I was getting spoiled on watching movies with thundering bass and crisp dialogue and sounds coming from behind. And here comes Scarface with Giorgio Moroder’s awesome synth music setting me up for something awesome, and it was — until that tension-filled sequence early on in the Sun Ray Motel, as Manny sneaks up to the door with that MAC-10 submachine gun while a few feet away in the bathroom Hector the Chainsaw Wielding Colombian is about to give Tony Montana the Angel Hernandez treatment and I’m on the edge of my seat ready for some fucking retaliatory ownage about to happen.
“AHORA TU!” shouts Hector the Chainsaw-Wielding Colombian.
And then we see the glass-shuttered door to the motel room split in half by Manny’s MAC-10, only, uh, only I’m not hearing any serious rat-a-tat coming from that weapon. I’m hearing something akin to a sheet of paper being torn right beside my ear while someone drop dishes on the floor a few feet away. This is gunfire? I asked myself as this happened — and I would ask myself again anytime someone fired a weapon during this film. OK, sure, I acknowledged. It was always kind of a secret bummer for me, even though I was a fan of the movie. Even my first time watching it on the big screen (December ’02 at the Egyptian Theater with a Steven Bauer Q&A) in a 35mm print featuring an impressive four-track stereo mix, it would bring the enjoyment down a tad when they busted out that sub-1960s sound effect library for the gunshots.
But they fixed it with the new (well new in ’03) mix, so now when Manny gives that door a 9mm knock-knock, it sounds like it should: Fucking Awesome. The first time I heard it, I was like “Wha…?” and I wasn’t sure until a couple seconds later when Manny then ventilates Grace Zabriskie’s Cracked-Out Colombian Cousin aka “Marta” and I was like Hell Yeah That’s What I’m Talking About!
I’ll be honest, they did fix some things I would’ve preferred unfixed — like that weird moment during the final shootout when they cut to a close-up of a long-haired assassin who has just been shot up by Tony and he’s clearly dead as he slides down the barrier, glassy-eyed and slack-jawed and yet he gives out this loud “AUUUUUUGGGHHHH!!!” That’s gone in the new mix, but hey, it’s a fair trade for some awesome gunfire and an opened-up more detailed-sounding music score. That’s the peace I’ve had to make after I tried and failed to make Fetch happen by having Dead Guy Goes AUUUUUUGGGHHHH become the new Han Shot First.
(They also took out the funny “AYYYY!” yelp Tony makes after he’s hit in the shoulder by a bullet during the same shootout, replacing it with a more theatrical “AAAAH-AHHH”)
You want to hear something fucked up? Well, you can’t — because this is a blog with written words, not a podcast with me saying shit. Anyway, I’ve never seen the original 1932 Scarface starring Paul Muni. I will fix that someday. No, really, I will. I have, like, 50 movies on my DVR, 200 DVDs, and 800 DVD-Rs, and dozens of movie files on various flash and hard drives — but I’m sure I’ll get to that movie soon.
But I’ve seen this on VHS twice; the first time in ’95. It was one of the first films I bought on laserdisc and suddenly friends were coming out of the woodwork asking me to dub it on tape for them. I’ve seen it on the big screen about, let’s see — Egyptian, New Beverly, Magic Johnson, Arclight, Brea Plaza, Vista — six times, at least six times if I’m missing any other screenings. It’s good times, dude — an over-the-top glorious three-hour spectacle of foulmouthed excess full of “chicas, champagne, flash”, early 80s pre-Miami Vice style (the role of Miami played by Los Angeles), endlessly quotable dialogue by a recently sober Oliver Stone who still had plenty of residual coked-up vibes to spare, Brian De Palma’s pitch-perfect operatic direction, and lots and lots of beautiful fine white COOOO-FUCKIN-CAINE! and it never got boring for me. I’m beyond/beneath being able to tell you if a movie is good or bad — I can’t tell you if Al Pacino’s performance is genuinely good or not, for example — just that I got entertainment value out of it, and holy shit am I always entertained by this film. The history of my Scarface viewing, by E.F.C., lady and gentleman!
Something that never fails to amuse me is whenever Tony goes to visit his mother. She’s played by Puerto Rican actress Miriam Colon and she’s definitely better at the accent than Pacino; everything she says is tinged with Cubano but her words are as clear as Crystal Geyser. On the other side of the accent spectrum, Tony Montana’s all EY FAH KJOO MANG JOO FAHK WEETH MEE JOOR FAHKEENG WEE D BESS and I’m thinking maybe that garblespeak is a result of his mixed-up upbringing with his American dad taking him to Bogart movies? Or maybe it’s because Colon’s character Mama Montana has been alive longer so then she had more time to improve her English over the years? But that’s assuming that when they’re speaking English to each other, De Palma’s not pulling a Red October for the audience so in reality they’re speaking in their native tongues — which would then mean that when she says “Five years. Cinco anos.” she’s really saying “Cinco anos. Five years.” and now I’m even more tired now than when I started this shit.
Mama Montana tells Tony that it’s Cubans like him who make their people look bad, those who work hard and obey the laws and speak English without sounding like half-a-stroke-victim. There’s also another part in the film where a Cuban-American fed angrily tells Tony something like “You make a real Cuban throw up” and I guess stuff like that is the filmmakers trying to cover their asses so people don’t walk away thinking this is a representation of your average Cuban in the United States. But my favorite example of Ass-Covering is the disclaimer that they wait until after nearly all the end credits have rolled up and you know the name of every one of those awesome songs they blasted at the Babylon Club and even then it’s like ten seconds. It’s cool because that means the many ushers around the world came away from that movie knowing #NotAllCubanAmericans when it comes to cocaine and chainsaws.
And that’s because it was Colombians that were rocking the ‘saws.