Tag Archives: Prison

101. SKIDOO (1968)

“It is the gassiest, grooviest, swingingest, trippiest movie you’ve ever seen… Anybody that don’t like that, daddy, don’t like chicken on Sunday.”–Sammy Davis, Jr. recommending Skidoo to the younger generation in the film’s trailer

DIRECTED BY: Otto Preminger

FEATURING: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, , Alexandra Hay, , Austin Pendleton, Frankie Avalon, Arnold Stang, , , , Mickey Rooney, Peter Lawford, George Raft, , Harry Nilsson

PLOT: Tony is a retired mobster living in the suburbs with wife Flo and daughter Darlene, who has an unwelcome (to Tony) interest in dating hippies. A crime kingpin known as “God” pressures the ex-hit man into doing one last job—going undercover in Alcatraz to assassinate a stool pigeon.  When Tony accidentally ingests LSD in the pen, his entire worldview is flipped and he decides to ditch the hit and break out of the clink; meanwhile, Flo and Darlene have taken it upon themselves to track down God with the help of a band of flower children.

Still from Skidoo (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Otto Preminger had been nominated as Best Director for two Academy Awards (for Laura and The Cardinal).  Known for pushing the envelope on taboo topics, Preminger was instrumental in breaking the back of the Hollywood Production Code by releasing The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), which dealt with the then-forbidden topic of heroin addiction, without MPAA approval.
  • Skidoo was a giant flop sandwiched between two other Preminger flops, Hurry Sundown (1967) and Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970).  Despite its notorious reputation, Skidoo was part of a series of failed films and was not solely responsible for Preminger’s fall from grace.
  • Two years after Skidoo, screenwriter Doran William Cannon penned the exceedingly weird Brewster McCloud (1970).
  • This was Groucho Marx’s final film.  He dropped LSD (with writer Paul Krassner) in preparation for the role.
  • Preminger also took LSD, supposedly under the guidance of none other than Timothy Leary (who promoted the film in the trailer).  Preminger had originally been slated to make an anti-acid movie, but had decided that he should experience the drug before condemning it.  After his trip he decided to make Skidoo instead.
  • Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Cesar Romero, who all have cameo bits in Skidoo, had also appeared together in the same movie just two years before: as the Riddler, the Penguin, and the Joker in Batman: The Movie (1966).  Director Otto Preminger had a rare acting role as Mr. Freeze in two episodes of the “Batman” TV show in 1966.
  • After flopping in 1968, Skidoo became virtually a lost film—not because it was suppressed or the prints were unavailable, but because no one seemed interested in exhibiting it.  A Turner Classic Movies screening in 2008 was the first opportunity most people had to view the movie since its release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Jackie Gleason’s acid trip is one for the ages, particularly when he sees Groucho Marx’s cigar-puffing head affixed atop a rotating wood screw.  His response to the apparition, naturally, is to say “Oh no, I’m not playing your game… go ahead, drop,” at which point the screwball vision slips down the prison sink drain.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like an onion soaked in high-grade acid, Skidoo contains layers upon layers of weirdness. In 1968 it was not that far out for a movie to take us on a swirly psychedelic journey to check out that purple haze all in our brains. What was freaky was for establishment icons Otto Preminger, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing and Groucho Marx to serve as our tour guides. Add to that the fact that the film is a notorious flop full of painfully strained attempts at comedy, jaw-dropping left-field musical numbers, scattershot satire, and Harry Nilsson singing the closing credits, and you have a singular pro-drug oddity that mines rare camp.


Screenwriter Larry Karaszewski discussing the trailer for Skidoo (1968)

COMMENTS: Watching Otto Preminger’s Skidoo is like listening to a cover version of the Doors’ Continue reading 101. SKIDOO (1968)

53. BRONSON (2008)

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“I always wanted to make a Kenneth Anger movie, and I wanted to combine great theatrical tradition and British pop cinema of the 60s, which was very psychedelic, and at the same time, to make a movie about a man who creates his own mythology. It had to be surreal in order to pay off.”–Director Refn on Bronson

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Winding Refn

FEATURING: Tom Hardy

PLOT: Narrated from a theater inside his own mind by Michael Peterson (later to rechristen himself Charles Bronson, his “fighting name” ), the movie is an aggressively stylized account of the true story of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, who spent 30 years of his 34 year sentence in solitary confinement for his violent behavior.  Peterson knocks over a post office with a sawed-off shotgun and receives a seven year penitentiary sentence; inside, he finds he has a natural affinity for institutional life as he nurtures a burgeoning passion for taking hostages and picking fights with prison guards.  Shuffled from prison to prison, and serving a brief stint in a hospital for the criminally insane, Peterson is furloughed, becomes a bare-knuckle boxer and adopts the name Bronson, and lasts a few months in the outside world before finding himself reincarcerated, at home once more.

Still from Bronson (2008)


BACKGROUND:

  • The movie stays true to the spirit of the real life Michael Peterson/Charlie Bronson, while omitting many facts and inventing others.  The real Charlie Bronson has won several awards in prison-sponsored contests for his artwork and poetry and has published several books, including a fitness guide and an autobiography titled “Loonyology.”  In one of his hostage-taking escapades, he demanded an inflatable doll, a helicopter and a cup of tea as ransom.
  • Before incarceration Michael Peterson actually worked as a circus strongman, which may be where he developed his distinctive trademark handlebar mustache and shaved pate.
  • Danish director Refn was previously best known for the gritty, documentary style Pusher trilogy, a look at the criminal drug dealing subculture in Copenhagen.
  • Some of the paintings appearing in the film and in the animated sequences are actual drawings by the real life Bronson.  Examples of Bronson’s artwork can be found here.
  • Actor Tom Hardy put on about 40 pounds of muscle for the role.  Previously best known as “Handsome Bob” in Guy Ricthie’s RocknRolla, Hardy is poised to become a breakout star, slated to replace Mel Gibson in the new “Mad Max” series.
  • Cinematographer Larry Smith began his career with Stanley Kubrick, working as an electrician on Barry Lyndon and a gaffer on The Shining before graduating to  assistant cameraman for Eyes Wide Shut.
  • At the film’s London premiere, a tape recording of Bronson’s voice was played, stating, “I’m proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on.  As long as my mother enjoys the film, I’m happy… I make no bones about it, I really was… a horrible, violent, nasty man.  I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either, because every punch I’ve ever flung in my life I’ve taken 21 back.”  This incident caused the Prison Officers’ Association to complain, because it is illegal to record a prisoner in a British prison without authorization.  The Association also accused the film of “glorifying violence.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bronson turning himself and his art teacher into living paintings in the very strange finale.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hyperstylized to the point of surreality, Bronson is biopic as


Original trailer for Bronson

mythology, an appropriate tack when dealing with a self-deluded, self-promoting subject.  The portrait that emerges is not so much of a fascinating but essentially unknowable real-life sociopath as it is a portrait of Bronson’s pseudo-artistic attempt to create a public image as an antihero, with notes of humanizing sympathy but also with plenty of knowing irony added to deglamorize its subject.

COMMENTS:  Tom Hardy’s performance in Bronson undercuts my theory of acting.  I Continue reading 53. BRONSON (2008)

CAPSULE: BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)

DIRECTED BY: Brian Yuzna

FEATURING: Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Elsa Pataky, Simón Andreu

PLOT: A brilliant young med school graduate gets himself assigned to the institution

Still from Beyond Re-animator (2003)

where Dr. Herbert West is imprisoned so that he can enlist the good doctor’s assistance in continuing his forbidden experiments in reanimating the dead.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Beyond is a welcome third installment in the Re-Animator saga that continues the series’ tradition of going way over-the-top, but though it’s deranged, nonsensical fun, it’s not even the weirdest entry in its own franchise.

COMMENTS: Fans of the taste-challenged Re-Animator series should be pleased with this charmingly grotesque third sequel, which zips along briskly with a delightful disrespect for logic to a phantasmagorically bloody zombie prison riot finale.  Jeffery Combs, now middle-aged but still looking like a eternally perturbed boy genius, returns as Dr. Herbert West to inject his deadpan wit into the proceedings while the world goes mad around him.  A large part of Dr. West’s mad charisma comes from the fact that he’s constantly sowing seeds of chaos by pushing forward into realms where man was not meant to meddle, then staring at the carnage with a slightly befuddled frown as yet another reanimated corpse unexpectedly turns homicidal.  Obsessed and opportunistic, he’s a nerdy Dr. Frankenstein with an unabashedly amoral streak, who always emerges from his own foul ups unscathed while his unlucky companions end up in the charnel house.  West’s experiments on rats in prison have led him to believe that he can use electricity to restore the souls of re-animated corpses and keep them from killing off the nubile women who always happen to be standing around whenever a new zombie pops up.  This time around, it’s a Doogie Hauser-esque young prison MD who risks everything to help West better the lot of mankind by mixing up a new vat of glowing green reanimation juice, but through a long string of unfortunate occurrences ends up getting kickboxed about the head by a hot zombie dominatrix for his troubles.  Even though this entry aims more for comedy than horror, the atmosphere is eerie: what’s spookier than a half-abandoned post-riot prison, with sounds of massacres echoing in the background while burning toilet paper rolls cast the shadows of iron bars on gray stone walls?  The crazed climax gives us about as many zombie-hyphenates as any reanimated corpse fan could hope for: zombie-rats, zombie-girlfriends, a half-zombie, zombie-vision, zombie-fellatio.  There’s also a pill-popping prisoner who gets hooked on reanimation fluid, leading to the flick’s most bizarre and surreal gag, and a “cockfight” that must be seen to be believed.  All in all, Beyond Re-Animator should leave your lower jaw hanging reasonably close to the ground, which is all we ask for in any movie with “Re-Animator” in the title.

Technically inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, though not at all uncanny, Beyond Re-Animator is set in mythical Arkham, Massachucets.  To get that New England ambiance down perfectly, Yuzna hired a team of regional filmmakers—guys like screenwriter José Manuel Gómez and executive producer Carlos Fernández—guys with mucho dinero, who understand that an authentic Massachusetts prison looks exactly like something you’d find on the outskirts of Barcelona.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…leads to a wonderfully degenerate 30-minute final sequence that involves not only lotsa gore and f/x but also some genuinely surreal visual wit.”–Jonathan Holland, Variety (contemporaneous)