Friday, February 15, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Memories & Mayhem

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Reminiscence on a favorite, '50s sci-fi, and a beloved sitcom played out before Cody's eyes.


We here at Life Between Frames have made it clear over the last couple of years that we have a lot of admiration for, and are obsessed with, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. I personally watch the movie several times a year, with or without the audio commentaries on, sometimes with the movie being presented by various horror hosts. I've read books on and watched documentaries about the making of it. 2013 marks the 45th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, but this week I was able to get in a viewing of an out of print 25th anniversary documentary (the title may have tipped you off) that was produced, co-edited, and photographed by Tempe Video mastermind and fellow Ohioan J.R. Bookwalter, with Bookwalter's Maximum Impact and Galaxy of the Dinosaurs collaborator Thomas Brown writing and directing.

What made this particular documentary especially nice to watch is that it's largely made up of an "informal roundtable" between four of the main men behind NOTLD - director/co-writer George A. Romero, co-writer John A. Russo, producer/"Johnny" Russell Streiner, and producer/"Harry Cooper" Karl Hardman. They've been gathered together in a room to speak about the making of the movie, but they're not talking to an interviewer behind the camera, not addressing the viewer, there is no moderator, they're talking to each other. It's four regular guys having a conversation, thinking back on when they got together and just happened to make a classic.

The discussion between the men covers the making of the movie from the moment they had the idea to make a movie through the decision to make it a horror/"monster flick" (they figured they could at least make something as good as some of the movies that were featured on the local Chiller Theatre horror host show), fundraising, realizing that their initial budget of $6000 was not going to be enough, the equipment, casting, effects, filming, etc. Some of the stories I had never heard before, and even the ones I had heard before, it was still interesting to me to hear them told in a different way, in a different environment, with different details coming through.

Intercut with the chat are clips from the movie as well as interviews with horror filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray, Tobe Hooper, David DeCoteau, Sam Raimi, John Landis, and Wes Craven talking about their experience watching NOTLD for the first time (Ray saw it in a double feature with Play Misty for Me as the A picture, Raimi and his sister saw it in a double bill with Freaks), how it affected them, and what their favorite scene is.

There's also a segment in which Karl Hardman and his wife Marilyn Eastman, who shared makeup duties on NOTLD with him and played his character's wife Helen Cooper, look through their pictures from production. It's very charming to watch them go through the collection of memories, they obviously look back on the time fondly, and they come off like kindly grandparents leafing through a family album. But in this case the album covers that time when they were involved with one of the greatest movies ever made.


On his way to receive the International Peace Prize for his work in trying to solve world hunger, particularly for developing a strain of frost resisting plants, scientist Jeremy Spensser is killed in a vehicular accident. Jeremy is survived by a wife and young son, his brother Henry, himself a scientist in the field of automation, and their brain surgeon father William.

William is understandably distraught at the loss of his favored son, and enraged that a mind with so much to offer the human race could be taken from the world due to the weakness of the body it was in. Jeremy's body is buried. But William keeps his brain. With the aid of a disapproving Henry, William revives the brain in a hulking, indestructible mechanical body.

Told that his wife and son died as well, Jeremy is kept hidden away in the laboratory to continue his scientific works. As time passes, the cyborg develops unexpected powers, both mentally (ESP, hypnosis) and mechanically, being able to concentrate energy into deadly rays blasted from its eyes. A friend warned William that a human brain kept in a mechanical body would eventually lose its humanity, and that begins to happen with Jeremy... And when he finds out that not only was he lied to about the fate of his wife and son but also that his brother has fallen in love with his widow, things really get bad.

A well told and interesting MechaFrankenstein story, this movie is especially effective because the imagery captured by director Eugene Lourie and cinematograher John F. Warren has a sort of cold and desolate feeling. That, paired with the sound design and a striking piano score by Van Cleave, makes some of the scenes dealing with the cyborg quite unsettling.

Primarily a production designer/art director, Lourie did do a good bit of directing on television shows, and every time he helmed a theatrical feature it was a monster movie: The Colossus of New York. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The Giant Behemoth. Gorgo.

The performances are good across the board, but I was really impressed by Ohio-born actor Otto Kruger as William, the father desperate to keep his son's brain alive no matter what. Kruger had a very prolific career, racking up credits on 117 different titles between 1915 and 1964.

CHEERS (1982 - 1993)

Cheers was just a handful of episodes into its second season when I was born and the show remained on the air until well past my ninth birthday, so it was something that was regularly on television throughout my childhood. I watched many an episode with various grandparents who may well have been weekly viewers. It was a show I always liked, though it wasn't a kids' show there was still characters and humor on there that could appeal to people of all ages. The show entered syndication and has lived on in reruns ever since, and I've continued watching sporadically over the years.

When I saw that the entire run of Cheers was available for streaming on Netflix Instant, I decided that I was going to watch my way through all of it. And so I did. Characters came and went, Kelsey Grammer and Woody Harrelson lost their hair an episode at a time, but I made it all the way through. Just over thirteen months later, I have successfully completed the eleven season, 275 episode journey.

I've been in several bars in my life and hated the experience every time, it's just not my scene. But I really enjoy spending time in this fictional variation on a Boston bar. I love the atmosphere of the show, am entertained by the humor, and really like the characters; Ted Danson's skirt chasing Sam Malone, George Wendt's eminently lovable Norm, who's usually unemployed and always spends more time at Cheers than anywhere else, John Ratzenberger's know-it-all postman with mommy issues Cliff, tough talking waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman), etc. In early seasons, Nicholas Colasanto played senile bartender Coach, but when the actor unfortunately passed away new cast member Woody Harrelson was brought on as dimwitted farm boy Woody. 

I crush on 1980s Shelley Long, and one of the biggest cast shakeups of the series happened at the end of the fifth season, when her character, the excessively erudite Diane Chambers, was written out because Long was ready to move on and do other things. Her choice has been mocked ever since, even on episodes of the show as it went on, but I can't fault her for it. Five seasons is a good run, even if it wasn't half as long as the show ended up going. The void left by Diane's exit was filled by Kirstie Alley as the desperate for love and riches, especially riches, Rebecca Howe. A fine replacement, though Long/Diane will always be my favorite of the two.

Another popular character was Kelsey Grammer's psychiatrist Frasier Crane, who was introduced at the beginning of season 3 and ended up not only sticking around for the rest of the show but also got his own spin-off... Which I actually haven't seen very many episodes of, but since it also lasted for 11 seasons he was obviously quite successful on his own. During his time on Cheers, Frasier married Doctor Lilith Sternin, an icy character who I didn't like very much when I was a child, but I enjoy her now and see actress Bebe Neuwirth in a much different light.

Taking over 13 months to watch 275 episodes, obviously there were over 100 days when I didn't log in a full episode, but that still leaves many days in the last year when I was watching Cheers. Most nights, I would go to bed with the show playing out on a computer or a television, eventually drifting off to sleep, picking up the next time at the point where I fell asleep. The last year has been a very tumultuous one, and it was nice to have Cheers there to provide laughter along the way.

As the smartly low-key final episode came to its quiet conclusion, with the final line of "Sorry, we're closed" and Sam Malone stopping to straighten the picture of Geronimo on the bar wall (a picture Nicholas Colasanto had in his dressing room that was put up on the set after he passed away) before walking off into the shadows, my viewing spree came to an end. And I got goosebumps.

Cheers is awesome.

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