Camp David

CAMP DAVID 2

By • Nov 1st, 2000 •

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Talk about bad timing . . . it seems like Kenneth Anger picked the wrong time to abandon living in Palm Springs. With the arrest of Robert Downey, Jr. at Merv Griffin’s pseudo-Versailles Resort, Palm Springs is resuming its Hollywood Babylon-like ambiance. In a city where people are so bored that dialing 911 is an automatic reflex, one can only feel sorry for Downey,Jr. picking the wrong place to relapse. So many stars have relapsed here that one no longer has to yearn for the Good Old Days when Frank Sinatra hurled the likes of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner out on their asses on his lawn, or Liberace did a proverbial menage-a-cinq with French boys (underage, of course) in his gothic grotto. Or Elvis Presley used the Springs to collect hookers and drink without the glaring eyes of the paparazzi. So this is an open call for my pal Ken to dip that quill andpen Palm Springs Babylon, Baby!

On a more literary note, having just gotten over Arthur Laurents’ autobiographical outings of Farley Granger and other young beauties,which in some places got rather mean-spirited, (however, the author is entitled to his opinion), I have to admit it was a page-turner. My favorite anecdote was when Arthur and Farley check into a hotel both eyeing the hunky bellhop who winds up going from one room to the other happily servicing both gentlemen. It’s great to know that these men knew how to GIVE!

Be that as it may, Don Bachardy’s new picture book STARS IN MY EYES is a horse of another color. Having known Don off and on for several years, and having been drawn by him as well, I was not quite prepared for what a real bitch Don could be. This book has text to accompany each picture, the likes of which is rather dark and spiteful. It appears that Don didn’t really like a lot of his subjects but that didn’t stop him from socializing and taking advantage of their celebrity to enhance his own. I think one should be aware that from the early Fifties on Don and Christopher Isherwood were gay royalty, and in accordance were allowed into the homes of the rich and famous. What the rich and famous didn’t bargain for (not unlike Truman Capote): Christopher Isherwood was a lifetime alcoholic who took pleasure in secretly tearinghis friends and acquaintances to shreds in his diaries, not realizing that his then-young protege, Mr. Bachardy, would publish every scrap of paper including sketches of his very death rattle. Upon perusing these diaries one becomes aware of how miserable these two were and how impossible it was for them to be friends with anybody. It was just like reading what Andy Warhol thought of those nearest and dearest to him. Oh, well, I guess that all is fair in love and tell-alls in Tinseltown.

Since this is the last column of the year 2000, I think it’s time to discuss
a film that I have some personal knowledge of, that is meant to be released
nationwide on December 29th through Lion’s Gate Films, the title of which is SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE. This film was shot under the title BURNT BY THE LIGHT in Luxembourg almost two years ago. My involvement came about as the film was being edited with high hopes of it being at least on a par with GODS AND MONSTERS success-wise. With this in mind, a documentary was green-lighted by Lion’s Gate and the film’s then-producer, actor Nicolas Cage. I was approached to appear on-camera as a film historian with an expertise in the horror genre. I have done several of these kinds of shows in the past, however, this one was going to be different because my advice would be utilized at the beginning of the endeavor rather than after most of the material had been assembled and my participation an afterthought. In other words, I thought I was going to have some real influence as to how it would turn out. Of course no one had seen the film at this point except in work prints and sound bites, all of which looked fascinating. The cast is made up of world-class actors starting with John Malkovitch, Willem Dafoe and Udo Kier. So I hurled myself passionately into the project, assembling over 500 images from my Archive and allowing a camera crew in the crumbling Beverly Hills apartment I was preparing to abandon after 22 years. The buzz on the film was always very high – an Oscar nomination for Dafoe as Max Schreck (the vampire in the piece), a gala opening at the Mann Chinese in Hollywood, a key spot for the documentary itself on CBS nationwide, and of course, the DVD. Well, as we approach the end of December none of this is going to happen. Nicolas Cage has renounced his producership as well as any funding for the documentary (which is completed) and the person who organized the project is left holding the bag. About two weeks ago I saw the film at a screening in Beverly Hills and after speaking to the editor of this website, Roy Frumkes (who forewarned me that it was a very flawed film in performance and script with the notable exception of Udo Kier who, as always, delivers the goods.) My disappointment with this project, which has been going on over a year now, has taught me a lesson about too many cooks in the kitchen. Or the best laid plans of mice and men, et cetera. It is a shame that such an idea – of making a fantasy around a work of art like the silent NOSFERATU – could not be executed with more finesse and a coherent script. As of this writing, the documentary itself, now called THE VAMPIRE MYSTIQUE will probably find a home on one of the cable channels some Halloween from now. And perhaps the wealth of clips from SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE will be replaced by material from later vampire films. It will always be a reminder to me of what a great film SHADOW should have been, and a warning not to believe promises made in the flush of enthusiasm over raw material no matter how compelling it may be.

One of the better experiences of the year 2000 was seeing the completion of a documentary long overdue on American-International Pictures, whose output galvanized the Baby Boomers of my generation. American Movie Classics is planning to air this special around Oscar time late March or April. Entitled IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! this is the story of Sam Arkoff and the late Jim Nicholson. These two B-movie moguls from the Midwest changed Hollywood forever.

The main focus is almost entirely on Samuel Z. Arkoff, now in his
mid-Eighties. In extreme closeup with his famous cigar forever planted in his face, he humorously recalls many incidents documented in his bio (FLYING THROUGH HOLLYWOOD BY THE SEAT OF MY PANTS). Among the oncamera tributes are AIP alumni Beverly Garland, Bruce Dern, Dick Miller, Chuck Griffith and of course, Roger Corman. Representing the critics are Mark A. McGee, Joe Dante, and Yours Truly.

AMC hosted a screening on the 20th-Century Fox lot on September 18th of 2000. It was my first opportunity to see the finished product which I worked on in February of 1999. Sitting with Joe Dante and SKI PARTY star Aron Kincaid, we marvelled at AIP’s ingenuity and Sam’s tenacity. However, when the lights went up, all any of us present could say was “Where was Vincent Price? Where was the Poe series?” There was no mention of the very movies that put AIP on the map. Later on, Joe Dante confided that Arkoff’s family disliked Vincent’s attitude regarding Sam which, unfortunately, is held by a lot of people in the film community. The official story from AMC is there was no time in sixty minutes to cover everything. In any case, it should have been two hours in length anyway and something else should have been sacrificed to include Vincent’s immeasurable contributions to AIP’s success.

The screening got a little uncomfortable whenever Jim Nicholson and his second wife, Susan Hart were on camera. The audience had an overabundance of Arkoff family and friends that bristled at what was an animosity about the breakup of the partnership which created AIP in the first place. Having said this, it is a fascinating documentary and was shown at The Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills for one week to qualify for the Academy Award. This is the reason for screening IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! during the month of April.

So judge for yourself if the material holds up even without one of the central players being present. I found it fascinating, if not frustrating, but once again, I’m much too close to the subject matter not to be a little more than annoyed.

Perhaps this is a good time to talk about the positive things that are ending
the year 2000. On the subject of DVDs near and dear to Yours Truly, once again Anchor Bay is King of the Hill as far as releasing the most deliriously exciting product, as in Lucio Fulci’s Lovecraftian THE BEYOND (available in both limited edition tin and Special Edition DVD). The same presentation is awarded cult classics like REPO MAN and the underrated MANHUNTER with a definitive interpretation of Hannibal Lector by British actor Brian Cox. Anchor Bay is also to be commended for making available the Hammer catalog, especially last month’s release of Terrence Fisher’s masterly THE DEVIL RIDES OUT with commentary by the hilarious Christopher Lee. By year’s end, Fulci, Argento and even the Halloween franchise are given deluxe presentations. Full marks to the folks at Anchor Bay with special kudos to William Lustig, whose efforts brought even the VIKING QUEEN back in the limelight.

Another company doing superior work in the fantastic genre is VCI Home Video that has prepared a specially boxed set of three masterworks by Mario Bava (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (the acknowledged grandfather of the splatter film), THE WHIP AND THE BODY (with a stunning performance by Dahlia Lavi in an impossible role) and last, and most impressive, KILL, BABY . . . KILL! (perhaps Bava’s greatest masterpiece). These DVDs are being sold individually as well as a boxed set. I am pleased that a portion of my video interview with the late Cameron Mitchell is included in the supplemental material on the BLOOD AND BLACK LACE DVD. Early in 2001, VCI plans to release Curtis Harrington’s Director’s Cut of RUBY, a version never seen by the public, hopefully with audio commentary by Harrington and Yours Truly and a video interview between the two of us as well. I was just informed by the company that Tod Slaughter’s DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET shall appear using a pristine 35mm source print!

Speaking of interviews, I would just like to alert my readers to the following interviews that will be in print in early 2001. Starting with SCARLET STREET magazine’s 10th Anniversary issue spotlighting Dorian Gray on film will be my interview with Helmut Berger who appeared as Gray for AIP in the deliciously trashy 1970 camp classic. Next from Michael Weldon’s always-entertaining PSYCHOTRONIC magazine, my conversation with the Oscar-nominated Dan O’Herlihy on the subject of his less than Oscar caliber films like HALLOWEEN III and ROBOCOP. And lastly, from CULT MOVIES magazine, my interview with the late Lyle Talbot on the subject of his long career including Mae West, Ed Wood, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. I am in the process of collecting all of my print interviews into a book tentatively called VOICES FROM THE CULT FILM. Will keep you posted.

To end this column as trashily as I started it, let me leave you with the following. I just heard that Zsa Zsa Gabor’s current husband, Prince Fredrick von Anhalt, aged 59, is suing the company that produces Viagra because he is addicted and cannot satisfy the Hungarian superstar without it. Zsa Zsa, now 83 or ??, is so distraught that the Prince can’t get aroused looking at a naked Zsa Zsa. And it’s all to be blamed on Viagra? Paging Bob Dole!!!! And lastly, my favorite trash couple, Billy Bob Thornton and the supremely trashy Angela Jolie are admitting to the media that Billy now wears Angelina’s trashy lingerie 24/7. Even at the gym! Paging Ed Wood, Jr.!!!! So as we near the REAL MILLENNIUM, I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year until we meet at Camp David in 2001.

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