Camp David

CAMP DAVID OCTOBER 2005

By • Oct 1st, 2005 •

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THE ICON OF COOL

In the fifties and sixties one writer in particular represented the Iconoclast in American fiction and satire. He was the man immortalized on the cover of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album as “the guy in the sunglasses,” the hipsters’ hipster: Terry Southern. He was at the center of most all of the counterculture action in my lifetime. Terry wrote screenplays for Kubrick, gave EASY RIDER the edge that allowed Fonda and Hopper to carry the torch for a generation, and later on made the scene with a younger band of rebels on Saturday Night Live.

Terry Southern was cool and he knew it! With novels like ‘The Magic Christian’ and especially ‘Candy’ Southern excelled in sending up our decaying western society and all its sacred cows. When ‘The Loved One’ was made into a movie universally panned by American critics, I was in the minority of moviegoers that thought it was way ahead of the game with that special brand of gallows humor only “Big T” could dish out with panache. Terry was a visionary genius creating his own brand of gonzo journalism in the early fifties long before there was a Hunter Thompson. My generation is indebted to writers like Terry for the creative freedom we pretty much take for granted in the new millennium.

Terry entered my life in the late 1980’s thanks to his close friend Nelson Lyons. Nelson had worked on Saturday Night Live with Terry and the two became soul mates from that time on. It was Nelson who organized the recordings Terry made during this period as well as doing all he could to keep Terry working and productive. Nelson and I had much in common: we both loved movies and shared a similar sense of humor, so it wasn’t long before he made me part of his scene and that included getting to know Terry Southern in the flesh. Terry flew out to LA to work on a script and Nelson decided to throw a party in his honor that very weekend. One thing that will always remain with me about this particular visit was how hard it had become for Terry to write new material that satisfied his own standards. I was asked to collect him at the Sunset Marquis the afternoon of the party. When I arrived he was still not quite ready to come down, so I went up to his room. He had already made the place his own with a typewriter and various magazines and books to refer to if need be. I could not help but notice that the wastepaper basket was filled with wadded- up paper and much of the floor around the typewriter as well. He came to LA to polish up some script or maybe tackle a work in progress. It was if the time and place were familiar territory for Terry as he had done some of his best work here, yet something had changed within Terry; perhaps his confidence had been shaken but believe me not his talent. Terry Southern would always be Tops in his field to admirers like me.

As I look back on it now it seems like a surreal flashback that could have been in one of Sir Guy Grand’s epic put-ons, yet it was real!! “Terry,” observed Nelson, “took to me like the fellow Texans we were,” as I sat by his side the entire evening celebrating his “grandness”. At the time I was still doing my cable chat show “Sinister Image,” taping one every two weeks with whatever celebrity I could convince to spend an hour or so discussing their careers for posterity.

Terry agreed to appear almost at once, signing my bound copy of “The Journal of The Loved One” with the following: “This copy here within inscribed for a certain ultra grand Dave Del Valle, tops in his field and the best dang Texas galoot to come down the pike in many a moon. Even as I inscribe this I am looking forward (indeed anticipating like a giddy schoolgirl) his so-called invite to be on his almost legendary Sinister Image!! Lets hope I’m not dreaming!! Anyhoo, here’s wishing us a happy forever!! From his (or shall I say your) true friend Terry “Big T” Southern

To my everlasting regret this was never to be, as Terry had to return to New York before I could get a date set for the filming of his interview. Months later he returned to LA and we had one last grand day together. Terry had not seen THE LOVED ONE in years so I offered to show him my laser disc copy, which was the same version that played in theaters in 1965. Terry arrived at my apt with ample supplies– a fifth of Bombay Gin and several ultra fab joints rolled to perfection for our viewing pleasure. As a little surprise during the film, Robert Morse called to say hello, so I stopped the film for about 45minutes while the two chatted away as if time had for the moment ceased to exist. Terry laughed about the dubbing of Bobby’s voice as director Richardson thought him too American. The whole afternoon was magic, with Terry holding court as one after another of his admirers dropped in to pay their respects. It was nearly midnight when I finally got Terry back to The Sunset Marquis, his favorite hotel at the time. I walked him up to his room and as I turned to leave he bowed from the waist saying “Thank you young sir for your total grandness on this occasion. If I weren’t so plum tuckered out we might have caught the dawn.” I shall never forget his charm and energy that evening nor will a day ever go by that I don’t think of my Ultra Fab friend, Tops in his field, Terry “Big T” Southern, a truly Grand Guy.

“ROSE HOBART’

One of the first experimental films of the sound era that created the impression one was watching a dream had to be Joseph Cornell’s 1936 short entitled ROSE HOBART. Cornell, a lifelong film fanatic, collected old films as well as anything that caught his eye, in second hand shops in and around New York. He took a creaky 1931 potboiler EAST OF BORNEO, skillfully removing all but its leading lady, Rose Hobart, perhaps best known at the time as the good girl in the Frederic March version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. He removed the soundtrack as well replacing it with Nestor Amaral’s “Holiday in Brazil”

Cornell is highly regarded now for his avant-garde use of boxes that he converted to surreal dreamscapes by placing photographs with accumulated tchotchkes that fashioned them into works of art. His short film caused Salvador Dali himself to accuse Cornell of invading his dreams to steal the very concept on display in ROSE HOBART.

Now having seen this 20-minute dreamscape in my youth, imagine my luck in meeting the subject herself out at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills in 1983. Rose Hobart had just moved out there the year before and was for the most part happy with her decision. She had been blacklisted during the Communist witch-hunts in Hollywood during the early fifties, ceasing to appear in films forever. Rose found work in television as well as authoring her memoirs at the age of 88.

I visited her on a few occasions asking her about the March version of HYDE. She told me “Freddie was a womanizer of the first Order! He would try and get me to sit on his lap, which always resulted in feeling his manhood in full bloom!” One of my favorite Rose Hobart performances was in a Columbia programmer called SOUL OF A MONSTER 1944 in which she plays an agent of the Devil who tries to take George Macready’s soul. She remembered the crew breaking light bulbs set on a track as she walked down a city street, as if her presence alone could put the lights out, allowing her a Devilish entrance.

As we sat in her very comfortable bungalow I noticed she kept very little from her Hollywood days. No memorabilia to remind her of the stardom that politics tried so hard to destroy. She seemed to miss only one thing – the ability to get out and drive around town on weekends. One of the rules of the Motion Picture homes is no private cars or leaving the premises without someone to look after you. Rose had a son, Judson, who was my age, but they were estranged at the time, leaving Rose Hobart a bit on her own. She would remain in Woodland Hills until her death on August 29th 2000 where she passed away in her sleep at the age of 94. It was my privilege to have known this remarkable woman who survived much hardship to achieve a special place in film history thanks to a shy little man who worshipped his idols from afar, choosing to create his art in his mothers basement.

ALEX IN HOLLYWOOD

Since the death of Franco, Spain has undergone a cultural revolution that is still manifesting itself with its young filmmakers. Alex De La Iglesia is the new darling of Spanish Cinema; still in his thirties, with Pedro Almodovar as a mentor, his films are funny, violent and shocking. A former cartoonist, his films are very bright and colorful like comic strips come to life. Alex was in town recently to offer his latest exclusion into black comedy with EL CRIMEN PERFECTO (THE PERFECT CRIME).

I caught up with Alex at the film’s pre-screening party to congratulate him and ask some questions about his work. His English is very good although he will tell you otherwise. He is a man of great humor and this sense of fun is evident in his films as well. I asked him if he knew the notorious Spanish director Jess Franco whose films obsess American horror fans now that so much is available on DVD to screen
at home

Alex was surprised I knew of him and said “Yes, I know Jess quite well, in fact I had wanted to do a film on Fu Manchu a while back and had to withdraw because Franco and his producer Harry Alan Towers had bought up the rights to Sax Rohmer’s character. I like Jess but most of his films are unwatchable in my opinion”.

Alex loves visiting Hollywood, as he is also a fan. In his youth Alex edited several fanzines about films, so Hollywood is his Holy Grail when it comes to film and its history. I had first become aware of his work with DAY OF THE BEAST, which was screened just before the party. One critic described the film as follows: “If Mel Brooks had directed THE OMEN it would look like DAY OF THE BEAST!!” Alex’s films are very subversive no matter which genre he chooses to work in, and the subject matter is always transgressive. His latest film, THE PERFECT CRIME, is all of the above and then some! His mentor Almodovar is very much part of the film in spirit. Without giving away too much, as I want Camp David readers to experience this film for themselves, the plot focuses on a ladies man who oversees a floor of women’s clothing, not to mention having sex with most of them, In a large major department store. Through a series of bad choices he loses the job of manager to an older, closeted gay salesman with no sense of humor… what happens next is Hitchcock with a dash of the Cohen Bros. Please check this film out as well as DAY OF THE BEAST and his ultra successful 800 BULLETS. Viva Alex!!

HUGH GRANT MOVE OVER!!

Have you ever been surfing channels and quite by accident stumble across a show that just becomes a habit? Well this happened to me with BBC-America and much of their programming. However one show stood out above the rest… an auction reality show entitled “Cash In the Attic” The reason this show shines so brightly is entirely due to its host and presenter, Alistair Appleton. This young man has the same charisma that made Greg Kinnear and Hugh Grant Movie Stars.

He introduces each segment as the camera crew approaches family homes while the auction experts will spend the day trying to find objects to sell at auction. This show is quite popular in the UK and Alistair is now up to series six, having done ten segments for release as we speak. Alistair has done some acting already in a number of BBC series like “Footballers Wives” and “House Doctor,” preparing for all this by learning his craft at Cambridge, not to mention Ye Olde School of Life in Berlin where he lived for a while, sowing those wild oats…!

Appleton is currently doing two more shows for BBC, which will certainly reach our shores soon. . “Stately Suppers,” where he will dine with the gentry as the world ease drops, followed by “Negative Decorating” in which our lad will try and decide what will stay and what will be discarded in hopes of a better aesthetic for UK residents in elegant flats and stately homes. Alistair has a very compelling website I highly recommend; www alistairappleton.com where you may sample his essays on film and literary favorites as well as his outlook on life. If my instincts are right, I know we will be hearing a lot more about this most engaging young man—Alistair Appleton.

THE SLUT DANCE

Ever since Rainer Fassbinder admitted that it was Douglas Sirk who was a major influence on the films of the German enfant terrible, the once tarnished reputation of this director of “Soap Operas” has climbed to new heights of respect and admiration in the world of film criticism. Other directors like Tarantino and especially Todd Haynes have also cited Sirk, as an inspiration. Certainly FAR FROM HEAVEN would not exist without the exquisite ALL THAT HEEAVEN ALLOWS. Most of Sirk’s Universal output had Rock Hudson as his leading man, not to mention Russell Metty to create the lurid Technicolor compositions that mesmerize audiences today.

Last year during my interview with director Harry Kumel he mentioned that he was teaching a film class on Sirk and loved to ask his students to find all the phallic symbols that were subtlety placed throughout films like WRITTEN ON THE WIND and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. Harry said even the shrubs in front of Jane Wyman’s house were phallic!!

My favorite of Sirk’s films is WRITTEN ON THE WIND because all his symbols fall into place in one film. The color scheme for each actor, the set design, and yes, loads of phallic symbols with huge oil derricks pumping through those hot Texas’s nights. When SHRINKING MAN star Grant Williams tells the old patriarch that his daughter prowls the streets looking for any man she can find we reach heights of camp not to be seen until ‘Dallas’ hit the airwaves. Robert Stack gives the performance of his career in this film, yet he lost the Oscar to——-? However Dorothy Malone, whose nymphomania leads her on a wild ride through hell and back, won an Academy Award for supporting actress. Best of all is her incredible slut dance that is cross cut with her father having a heart attack coming up the stairs of his mansion while his daughter’s mating call rumba blares out of room, her lust boiling over as he collapses to the music’s crescendo. “Hot Congo” as the natives used to say… No one will be seated when Malone starts stroking that erect oil derrick on her late father’s desk at the film finale.

THE LAZARUS CORPORATION

“ALL THAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW IS WRONG”

I want to introduce Camp David’s audience to a new website from the UK that is an aesthetic experience by a collective of artists in a variety of media. My dear friend Michael Kemp turned me on to this site during the last few months of the most delightful emails I have ever received at Camp David. His daughter Alice Kemp is one of its artists and you can view her many projects by her web name of Germseed. They offer artwork for sale as well as to view. The site explains that it is devoted to sex and paranoia, science and nightmare, not to mention experimental writing. Who could ask for more?? Check this innovative site out for yourself and I guarantee you will not be bored. Log on to http://www.lazaruscorporation.co.uk/

Until next time may all your nightmares be in 70 millimeter!

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