Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Meta Heads of the World Unite!

Howdy if you breezed over here from New Music Box.

Not much has been shaking here since summer. Feel free to poke around, grab a beer from the fridge and flip through some old records. My new site will be up in January, to coincide with the release of Jazz Guide NYC: 2nd Edition, a book so nice we did it twice. Actually, I think it's two new sites. Stay tuned, hombres and hombrecitas!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Screenshots 2: Interviews, profiles, and so on ...

Dennis Hopper

Hopper's Edge

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Staff writer STAFF
DATE: September 23, 1990
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

CRAWFORDVILLE, Ga. There is only one pay phone in town, and Dennis Hopper is using it. The actor is in costume, a frayed gray suit and vintage straw hat, for his title role in "Paris Trout," a prestige production that offers Mr. Hopper another chance to venture deep into the yawning maw of cinematic psychosis - a place where many a niche bears his name.

Set in 1949 Georgia, the movie measures the seismic reverberations caused when Trout, an eccentric businessman, shoots and kills a 14-year-old black girl, then stubbornly refuses to accept the consequences. Tensions build until this sad, haunted character steamrolls into a tragic act of madness - a climactic moment that occurs amid a noisy sesquicentennial parade.

That parade is going full steam at the moment, complete with marching band, scores of costumed extras and actors Barbara Hershey and Ed Harris, garbed in their choicest postwar chic. And here is Mr. Hopper, in the humid glare of the midafternoon sun, straining to hear his wife's voice from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's maternity ward in Los Angeles.

By one crew member's estimate, there are 20 cellular phones in nearby trailers and automobiles. Due to some electronic fluke, they all refuse to work.

So, swamped by smiling autograph-seekers in front of the county courthouse, Mr. Hopper grins when he learns that he has a new son, Henry Lee - named for the father of Confederate hero Robert E.

No stranger to weird scenes, Mr. Hopper has to agree that the instant is positively surreal.

"I said, `Katherine, you're not going to believe this!' I mean, here I am in Crawfordville, Ga., and I'm looking at the sign that says, `Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Hamilton Stephens.' This is his home, and there's these Confederate soldiers. And I listen to the drums marching by, and these Confederate flags [are] everywhere. I said, `This is totally bizarre.' "

No less odd, perhaps, than the notion of Mr. Hopper, 54, as a nurturing paternal figure. Imagine his mystery-gas snorting Frank Booth, the demonic villain of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet," plopped down in the nuzzling conviviality of, say, "Parenthood." But the actor-director, after decades of endorsing his image as an untamed Hollywood wild man, has long since figured how to sort perception from reality.

"I don't feel like any god, OK?" he says later, quizzed about his status as a cultural icon, someone whose zigzagging career connects the unlikely dots between "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955, "Easy Rider" in 1969, and "Blue Velvet" in 1986 - each, in its way, a definitive film for the decade that spawned it.

"I feel like a pretty normal guy," Mr. Hopper continues, finally settled into his trailer. "A working guy. I don't know what cult hero means."

But he knows a juicy role when he's offered one.

"Paris Trout" - a $12 million Viacom production that just wrapped a two-month North Georgia shoot - casts the actor in the thorny psychological terrain of Pete Dexter's novel, a 1988 National Book Award winner. The author, who also wrote the screenplay, sketches Trout's world along lines of race, class, sex and family that divide it like tripwires.

"I have great empathy for Trout," says Mr. Hopper, the brim of his hat jammed tight above a formidable squint, his pale blue eyes virtually opaque. "I think he's a very mentally ill man. I don't think he knows a lot of the stuff that he's really doing. He's also a product of his time."

The novel provided a keen dissection of the often delicately subtle rules governing life between blacks and whites in the Deep South of the '40s, but the actor doesn't respond to the piece in strict terms of color.

"I don't think about this piece as a racist kind of film," he says. "I think that's probably unfortunately what everyone will get out of it, because of killing the blacks and so on. . . . I think that it reflects a place and time in 1949, in the same way that this could be in Israel now, and it could be in South Africa, surely."

Director Steve Gyllenhaal, who chose the project in part for the chance to work with Mr. Hopper, tries to pinpoint how the actor brings complex shadings to the role of a crazy man. "He really is, in some primary way, Paris Trout," Mr. Gyllenhaal says. "There's an element of fear and weakness in him that then explodes into aggressiveness, and I think that's something that Dennis understands in some primary way."

Indeed, Trout promises to stack up with such Hopper derangements as Oedipal menace Frank Booth, his Oscar-nominated performance as a small-town lush in "Hoosiers," and Feck Weed, the burned-out hippie relic who romances a blow-up sex doll in the harrowing "River's Edge."

For Mr. Hopper, it's a living, and has been since his earliest television roles in the 1950s and '60s - "the crazy young gunfighter, the crazy guy on `The Defenders' or `Naked City.'

"That put me in the position of playing these crazies, which I could play very well. And having people with narrow minds, I never got to play anything but that. It would be really nice someday to play a very straight kind of guy, whose problem is outside, not internal," he says. "The other side is that I enjoy playing these roles. I have a great deal of experience in certain areas: alcoholism, drug abuse and, like, insanity, I do know about."

If Mr. Hopper's peculiar genius as an actor has been to turn those visions of excess into astonishing catharsis onscreen, he doesn't elaborate much about the process.

"I was getting work," he says, simply, "I didn't want to stop." He's recalling the period in the mid-1980s when, having been in and out of rehabilitation programs and the Cedars-Sinai mental ward, he began to rebuild his career with a vengeance. A reborn workaholic, he took roles that inevitably led him to Edge City, which pleased critics who loved the madness in his method but often horrified his agents.

"No one wanted me to do anything but `Hoosiers.' I had management at that time that was not interested in having me do `Blue Velvet.' They couldn't understand. `Well, there's no redeeming qualities to this.' And certainly `River's Edge' was not uh . . . Harry Dean [Stanton] turned down `River's Edge.' He said, `This is probably something you'll do.' "

After playing a series of extreme characters, Mr. Hopper went mano a mano with Leatherface in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2." And why not, he asks, the money was good.

"Man, they had a meeting at the agency and said, `Consider maybe we part company over this?' I said, `Fine man.' I said, $125,000 may not be a lot to you people, but like, you know, I just did `Hoosiers' for $50,000, I did `Blue Velvet' for $50,000, and I did `River's Edge' for $50,000. And this is $125,000, man, that's a major jump for me, and besides nobody's going to see this movie."

No one did. Though the actor proved viciously effective with a Black & Decker.

These days, Mr. Hopper is decidedly more prosperous. The former outsider's outsider craves nothing more than to move into the Hollywood mainstream - as a director. "It'd be nice," he says, "to get into an auteur position, like Woody Allen, where I can do my work without having to go through a lot of story conferences and people questioning my taste."

The movie he hopes will turn the trick is "The Hot Spot," a lurid, deliciously ill-humored drama about a conniving drifter (Don Johnson) whose hormonal urges entangle him between a troubled, virginal "good" girl (Jennifer Connelly) and an insatiable, unscrupulous vixen (Virginia Madsen).

Directed by Mr. Hopper, the film (opening Oct. 26 in Atlanta) makes the most of a rural Texas backdrop and potboiler scenario adapted from novelist Charles Williams's pulp sizzler, "Hell Hath No Fury."

"Did you read the review?" he asks, shoving a copy of the Variety notice across the table. "Man, this is a great review!" Highlighted in yellow ink are such phrases as ``Twisty, languorous and very sexy" and "twisted amorality."

Just returned from the film's premiere at Toronto's Festival of Festivals, Mr. Hopper discovered that he may have anticipated a trend.

"Film noir's like a dirty word in Hollywood," he says. "It's weird though. We just went to Toronto and [the critics] said, `How come you're always on top of it? [There are] 200 films in this festival and like 100 of 'em are film noir. Why did you do that?' "

The question Mr. Hopper asked, however, was, "Where's Don Johnson?"

The absence of the Sockless Wonder provoked a media tirade from the angered director.

"I got bugged, man," says Mr. Hopper, relishing the opportunity to, um, amplify on earlier published comments. "I am bugged! He's good in the movie and he should support the film. I want to get off this, but people are paid an awful lot. He's paid an awful lot of money. . . . He shouldn't have to wait for the reviews to figure it out, does he? Can't you see when you're good? It just irked me. I spent a year of my life working on this film, he spent 10 weeks."

Those pale blue eyes are dancing, but they also speak of a weariness staved off by caffeine. Dennis Hopper is ready for a nap, though his very existence seems a denial of the possibility of sleep. He rises, and is moved to a moment of whimsy.

"So this will be the day Henry Lee was born . . . ," he says, and walks to the couch.

Michael Moore

Filmmaker takes on GM in `Roger & Me'

DATE: January 10, 1990
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Constitution

The Atlanta Journal

Steve Dollar Staff writer

He yawns. A sleepy bear slumped against the corner of a couch in a Midtown hotel suite, Michael Moore looks in need of a blanket and a warm glass of milk. Instead, the one-time journalist shrugs off his woozy aura, closes his mouth for a nanosecond, and plunges into his umpteenth phone interview on a recent morning.

Not a man to miss his moment, Mr. Moore, 35, is working the media as exhaustively as he pursued General Motors (GM) CEO Roger Smith, the elusive executive who lends both his name and a raison d'etre to "Roger & Me."

Mr. Moore's moviemaking debut, the product of a dogged, 2 1/2-year struggle, is a post-industrial answer to "Our Town." The populist tour de farce humorously documents the decline and fall of his hometown of Flint, Mich., during the 1980s - a decade that saw some 30,000 GM autoworkers lose their jobs amid multiple plant closings and layoffs.

The documentary, scrambling up Top 10 movie lists for '89, opens Friday in 15 to 20 cities, including Atlanta, with a wider release to come.

"I decided to go on a quest to find Roger Smith and bring him to my hometown," says Mr. Moore, finally free of the morning's telephone obligations. "What I really wanted to do was take him on a tour."

A career gadfly, Mr. Moore, the first member of his family not to work in the automotive industry, initiated the project in 1986 after an abortive 4 1/2-month stint as editor of the left-trendy magazine Mother Jones. While he would eventually win a $58,000 settlement from his former employers, the novice director also financed his no-budget movie with the sale of his house, yard sales and proceeds from a weekly bingo game.

The lack of experience didn't seem to be a handicap. "I didn't know how to set the timer on my VCR," he boasts. "Still don't."

What the heck. With a week of lessons from Kevin Rafferty of "Atomic Cafe" fame, Mr. Moore set off with a ragtag crew and an out-of-focus camera, playing Captain Ahab to Mr. Smith's corporate white whale.

There's no success like failure. Mr. Moore engages Mr. Smith only briefly in the film, after numerous rebuffs. But the filmmaker's first-person detours around floundering Flint lead into revealing, if absurd, cul-de-sacs. While families are evicted on Christmas Eve and crime soars, the city fathers strive to rally the locals with tourist attractions (such as the doomed $100 million "theme park" AutoWorld) and celebrity cheer (visits by Pat Boone, Anita Bryant and "Newlywed Game" host Bob Eubanks, who graces the screen with an anti-Semitic AIDS joke). At one point, Ronald Reagan arrives to treat a dozen unemployed workers to pizza, then advises them that there may be jobs in Texas.

From penthouse to pavement, Mr. Moore unerringly dissects a distinctly middle-American social stratum, showing how the victims of capitalism's caprice turn on each other to survive, while the fat cats grow ever plumper.

If, as Film Comment recently charged, the film's chronology is often fuzzy, its emotional agenda couldn't be clearer. With his quirky, on-camera narration and salt-of-the-earth sympathies, Mr. Moore comes off as part Woody Allen, part Karl Marx.

All this scored to the music of the Beach Boys - and irony dense enough to cut with a blowtorch.

"Humor is a very effective weapon," says Mr. Moore, who was elected class clown at 18 and won a seat on his local school board the same week. "More documentary filmmakers should use it, not be so damn serious."

Mr. Moore blinks through goggle-size frames that, with his trademark gimme caps ["I'm Out for Trout," declares one], bargain-bin sneakers and nerdy Rust Belt warble, mark him as a K mart Garrison Keillor. Yet, it only takes a moment for the good-humor man to mount a soapbox.

"I'm bummed out," he declares, "and I want people to be bummed out. But I didn't want to make a movie that bummed people out. What happens is, if you give people an hour and a half of depressing images, all you get is depression. What happens if you're depressed? Well, if you're healthy, you want to get undepressed real quick and forget about what you see."

"Roger & Me" has been a smash everywhere it has played. The movie's debut at the New York Film Festival brought down the house. "They gave it a seven-minute ovation," marvels the director, who, during an alert evening chat, is a walking quip machine. "I thought, this is a movie, not a Metallica concert."

Mr. Moore, who stopped in Atlanta on a 30-city, 30-day promotional tour, inked a $3 million sale to Warner Bros., which outbid 13 competitors and promised him a $10 million budget for his next effort.

"I didn't make it for the money," says Mr. Moore, whose first concern was that a lot of people get to see the movie. "They said it would play Hays, Kansas. I didn't know where the hell that was. I said, `It sounds good to me.' "

He also got Warner's to donate 20,000 tickets for unemployed viewers around the country and to pick up three years of rent checks for the four Flint families who are shown being evicted in the film.

Still recovering from his previous night's guest shot on "Late Night With David Letterman," Mr. Moore is savvier than his shambling demeanor suggests.

Repeatedly in the film, this big little man hovers near the powers that be, while they figuratively strangle themselves with his microphone cord.

"I'm sure they looked at me and said, `This guy doesn't have enough money to develop this roll of film,' " Mr. Moore says. "Here we were, stumbling, bumbling along, appearing not to know what we were doing because we didn't know what we were doing. So they didn't take us seriously."

Who's laughing now? Mr. Eubanks has issued a formal apology to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. GM, meanwhile, is exercising low-key spin control.

Mr. Moore has pledged to reserve a seat for Mr. Smith at every "Roger & Me" screening. But the executive, says GM spokesman John Mueller, has no plans to attend.

"He [Mr. Smith] says that how he feels is unimportant, but he feels bad for the people of Flint who are held up to public embarrassment by the film," says Mr. Mueller. He adds, "Most of us haven't seen it. From what we understand, it's not exactly based on facts. He takes liberties with the facts and does not give GM credit for the many positive things that we have done in Flint."

Mr. Moore is the first to admit that "Roger & Me" has upset a lot of people. "I hate documentaries," he says. "I think we need more documentaries by people who hate documentaries."

Indeed, "Roger & Me" is only the latest - if most widely publicized - in a new wave of unorthodox documentaries that deliberately break the rules, employing a highly subjective point-of-view to create a form of personal journalism. Recent examples include Tony Buba's steel-town elegy "Lightning Over Braddock" and Ross McElwee's lovesick tour of the South, "Sherman's March."

"It's like Letterman said to me last night, `What would you call this? Documentary? Cinema verite?' I said I don't know what any of those mean. This is just a movie. I mean, you don't ask Tim Burton ["Batman"], `So what do you call this, narrative fiction?' It's a movie!"

It's also politics. As Mr. Moore will tell every journalist he meets, "It's a commentary on all of corporate America. Roger Smith is not the problem. GM is not the problem. The problem is we have an economic system in this country that's unfair and undemocratic."

Pausing for a preflight beer at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in the early evening, Mr. Moore chuckles over a negative review from The Wall Street Journal. "They hated it for all the right reasons," he says. "They said I was trying to overthrow capitalism through mockery."

Peter Greenaway

Director Greenaway intends provocation, not pornography

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Staff writer STAFF
DATE: April 27, 1990
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Constitution

The Atlanta Journal
PAGE: D/10

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Peter Greenaway's scabrous "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" arrives on the American art-movie circuit at a volatile time, when any aesthetic that dares to gate-crash the limits of taste puts censors on red alert.

But "The Cook, the Thief" has aroused a new set of objections. "Whereas before people might have found [my films] obscure, arcane, recondite . . . [they've now] taken exceptions on the grounds of morality," he says. "But I don't think there is anything extraordinarily original about this movie. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Peter Greenaway's scabrous "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" arrives on the American art-movie circuit at a volatile time, when any aesthetic that dares to gate-crash the limits of taste puts censors on red alert.

An allegory of conspicuous consumption, "The Cook, the Thief" (which opens in Atlanta today) gorges on taboos - child torture, cannibalism, strong images of sex, violence and carnal decay. All the better to craft a portrait of absolute evil: the porcine form of Albert Spica (Michael Gambon), East London gangster and terrorist gourmand.

Given the Thief's insatiable appetite for human degradation, and the film's sumptuous restaurant setting, you might call this "My Dinner With Noriega." The Motion Picture Association of America ratings board called it smut, however, branding the film with an "X" rating. Miramax, its distributor, released the work unrated but with a saucy ad campaign that leers "Totally Uncensored! Totally Uncut!"

Hubba, hubba.

But not so fast.

"There is a certain bravado thing, I suppose," says Mr. Greenaway, speaking from Amsterdam, where he's filming an adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." He's quietly concerned that his movie is receiving some misplaced attention. "I just hope people regard the film deliberately, as a provocation intended in the best of all possible ways and not just sheerly as a piece of censorable sensationalism," says Mr. Greenaway in a precise, sophisticated tone. "That would be much too cheap, and that's not what I'm in this business for."

Not that the British director, 48, isn't accustomed to audiences having sharp responses to his typically high-minded films.

Challenging entertainments such as "The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982), "A Zed and Two Noughts" (1986), "The Belly of an Architect" (1987) and "Drowning by Numbers" (1988) match a clinical detachment worthy of a forensics investigator to a perverse wit that playfully dabbles in arcane systems and cultural footnotes. This former painter is to contemporary film what, say, Thomas Pynchon is to the modern novel: dense, allusive, encyclopedic, pun-drunk, twisted.

Moviegoers are readily polarized by his work, says Mr. Greenaway. "They either find the thing totally impenetrable or they find that it opens doors to them which perhaps had not been open to them before."

But "The Cook, the Thief" has aroused a new set of objections. "Whereas before people might have found [my films] obscure, arcane, recondite . . . [they've now] taken exceptions on the grounds of morality," he says. "But I don't think there is anything extraordinarily original about this movie.

"People who apprize shame have probably gotten very inured to forms of violence and masochism, torture and appalling moral behavior through American cinema anyway. I mean, we've seen many, many movies which have covered the screen in tomato ketchup from corner to corner."

The difference, of course, is that "The Cook, the Thief" is a serious work of art, one whose transgressive thrust is more lethal than Freddy Krueger's precisely because it's not presented as a slasher-sex frolic.

Mr. Greenaway cites the gore-drenched Jacobean revenge drama as an influence on his film, which depicts an escalating cycle of cruelty as the jealous Thief correctly suspects his abused Wife (Helen Mirren) of having an affair with the bookish Lover (Alan Howard). The sex bouts are staged in the fecund kitchen of a chichi London restaurant, safeguarded by the beneficent Cook (Richard Bohringer), who apparently represents whatever good remains in Western culture.

Mr. Greenaway reckons the sometimes extreme reactions prompted by the film - screenings in some West German theaters drew arson threats -are due in part to the impassioned narrative and an accessible tone that soft-pedals the usual Greenaway arcana.

"They've been wrapped up in a more approachable form, but they're still there," the director says, mentioning the film's "references to classical Trojan Horse history, the idea of Adam and Eve, the washing down of the Christ-like figure who ultimately becomes the Lover-of-All-Time, the color-coding . . ."

There's also, for art-history hounds, abundant nods to the table-painting tradition - a reproduction of Frans Hals 1614 "The Banquet ofthe Officers of the S t. George Militia of Haarlem" looms over the film's dark-red dining room.

"Cinema has always used food and restaurants and eating as a continuous subject matter, ever since the first custard pie was thrown," Mr. Greenaway says. "But for me, it would relate more to the way that [French director Claude] Chabrol uses meal tables as a battleground. And also like Fellini's gargantuan feasts in `Roma' and `Satyricon.' I'm thinking of the blasphemous use of the Last Supper that Bunuel used in `Viridiana.' "

It's not difficult to see the Thief's carnivorous rampage as an analogy for what's happening in Thatcherite England - or, as Mr. Greenaway notes, Ceausescu's Romania.

"I wouldn't like the film regarded as about a polemical, parochial British situation," he says, "I think it addresses itself to much larger issues. Consumerism, cannibalism - I mean metaphorically as well as literally - and just general ideas about the way we are raping the world.

"Consumer society seems absolutely bent on eating up everything there is to be eaten until all we've got left to eat is one another." Photo: mug of Peter Greenaway, Director of "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover"

Jerry Lee Lewis

Goodness Gracious, It's JERRY LEE
As `Great Balls' Flickers, The Killer Flames On

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Staff Writer STAFF
DATE: June 25, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - "I believe in God Almighty, and I believe in the Archangel," Jerry Lee Lewis was proclaiming. Despite the steady driblets of rain pelting his greased-back scalp, he was poised above a piano like a chickenhawk about to snare his prey. Only now he was experiencing some doubt.

"I do believe these two creatures are conjuring up something for me now, and I don't want to suffer the consequences," Jerry Lee continued, punctuating the sentence with a throaty half-chuckle as he performed in the drizzle on the rooftop of the Peabody Hotel.

Six wives, two of them dead under clouds of suspicion that shadowed him. Two sons dead, as well. The IRS on his tail. Those touch-and-go stays in the hospital to repair a bleeding stomach. The lost years filled with booze and pills and gun lust. His career ricocheting like a wayward bullet fired in a crime of passion.

And now, now that some smart Hollywood fellas have gone and made a movie about his life - just the briefest, happiest fragment of it - the Good Lord might be about to dispatch a bolt of lightning. Strike Jerry Lee dead right here on the roof, in front of a couple of hundred journalists, an armada of publicists, movie people and hangers-out, and some of the finest barbecue ribs that money, and Orion Pictures, could buy. The studio had gathered everyone to Memphis for the greater promotional glory of "Great Balls of Fire," the movie in which Dennis Quaid is Jerry Lee Lewis, or at least Dennis Quaid with a blond dye job, a year's worth of piano practice and some dang nifty cat clothes.

Jerry Lee marveled at the crowd, a select audience but one well-equipped to spread his still-living legend. He had been rained out in Pittsburgh, he said, and earthquaked out in Los Angeles. He thought God was trying to tell him something. ``And it's not wine, spo-dee-o-dee."

And then the rain stopped.

And The Killer stepped away from the ivories to croon a few bars of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" until it was evident that the local rockabilly revival band hired for the occasion didn't know the song. "Don't want Judy Garland churning in her grave," Jerry Lee said, then found himself a country number to sing.

Memphis was where it had all begun: for Jerry Lee, for Elvis Presley, for Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, a bunch of slick-haired country boys trying to be hep cats - and for a wily entrepreneur named Sam Phillips, who owned Sun Records and was convinced he could turn vinyl into gold.

Thirty years later, Jerry Lee's life has been turned into celluloid. "Elvis didn't have a movie made about him when he was still alive," The Killer told Adam Fields when the Hollywood producer proposed to put the Jerry Lee Lewis saga on film. "I guess that makes me bigger than Elvis."

That overlooks the fact that Elvis was a movie star. But now, in a way, Jerry Lee is, too.

When "Great Balls of Fire" opens Friday, the Lewis boogie will hit the screen as a kind of ultravivid '50s flashback, a cotton-candy vision of Memphis in its rebel rockin' heyday, as nearly divorced from reality as Jerry Lee has been from several of his ex-wives. The film's curiously mixed modes - retro-rock musical, gonzo domestic comedy, teen dream romance - are splashed in bold deco tones, "using colors that sort of had to be reinvented," says director Jim McBride.

Mr. McBride and his screenwriter and creative partner, Jack Baran, reinvent everything else as well, basing their brisk biography on a meteroic 18-month span - between 1956 and 1958 - that saw The Killer emerge from Ferriday, La., to descend on Memphis and his bass-playing cousin J.W. Brown (played by rocker John Doe), his cousin's wife Lois (Lisa Blount) and their 13-year-old daughter, Myra Gale (Winona Ryder).

As Jerry Lee, then a boisterous 21, rose to fame at Memphis's tiny but influential Sun Records - blistering the piano keys on such hits as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "High School Confidential" - he also fell in love with Myra, and one afternoon swept her away to Mississippi where he married her. J.W. was so upset he went after his new son-in-law with a shotgun, but it was the British press that finally nailed the wild-haired rock star. His 1958 arrival in London, child bride in tow, prompted a career-smashing scandal.

"We didn't go out of our way to make it a faithful, accurate, historical biography," says Mr. McBride, the chipper director of the 1987 sleeper "The Big Easy" (which also starred Mr. Quaid) and the remake of the French classic, "Breathless," which features the Lewis tune of the same name.

As raw material, the director employed the 1982 book "Great Balls of Fire," penned by Myra - now Myra Williams of Stone Mountain, Ga. - and Atlanta writer Murray Silver. "We used our imaginations a lot," Mr. McBride says. "But I think that anyone who investigated the record would come away feeling we were faithful in spirit."

But which spirit? Indeed, which Jerry Lee? Mr. Fields, the young producer who spent nine years developing the project, envisioned the film "as something out of a Faulkner novel."

"He was the son of a moonshiner," he says. "Sold 39 dozen eggs to come to Memphis to record in the shadow of Elvis. The catapult to stardom and his decline . . . it's like a great movie." Mr. Fields has seen that project survive almost as many turbulent phases and bizarre twists as Mr. Lewis's life.

Traveling to sweet-talk The Killer at his Nesbit, Miss., home - "It was like Martin Sheen in `Apocalypse Now,' going up to see Kurtz," he says - Mr. Fields recounts Mr. Lewis's reaction. "He said, `Son, you could make a movie about me, wouldn't be nothin' but weddings and funerals.' "

There's only one wedding in "Great Balls of Fire." No funerals. The mind boggles at what sort of movie this might have been had Mr. Fields made it in 1983, with director Barry Levinson and star Mickey Rourke, both hot off "Diner." That deal fell apart in a barrage of negative vibes stirred by the drug-overdose death of Mr. Lewis's fifth wife, Shawn. Later, Mr. Fields nearly sold a package pairing Dennis Hopper (as director) and Sean Penn. That, too, collapsed.

"Michael Cimino was involved for about two seconds," Mr. Fields says. Under any of those directors, the movie could well have been dubbed "Great Balls of Fire and Brimstone." That picture, Mr. Fields suggests, would be "a lot darker, less entertaining but more powerful, closer to a `Raging Bull' - a film that critics would have loved and no one would have seen."

Mr. Baran refers to the unmade film as "Part 2," the sequel that may follow "Great Balls of Fire," should the film detonate the summer box office.

"That wasn't the movie we wanted to make," explains Mr. Baran, a writer and producer ("Renaldo and Clara," "Barfly") who joined Mr. McBride in streamlining "Great Balls of Fire." Knocking back a Corona at the bar of the Omni Memphis Hotel, Mr. Baran talks excitedly about that other script, written by Terence Malick, the acclaimed, recluse director of "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven."

It's pitch black. It's scary-brilliant. It's so penetrating in its icon-trashing tone that, having read it, Mr. Baran briefly felt compelled to go home and smash all his Jerry Lee Lewis records. And not for nothing. The Malick script includes a scene, Mr. Baran says, in which Myra phones her husband on the road and threatens suicide with a handgun. Jerry Lee tells her to hold the receiver close, so he can hear her pull the trigger.

And they say 90 percent of the stories about Jerry Lee Lewis are true. Even so, as Mr. Fields observes, "Accusations of wife-murder are not what made Jerry Lee Lewis the living legend that he is, any more than the last five years of Elvis's life, when he was obese and dressed up like Batman, made him the king of rock 'n' roll."

By contrast, "Great Balls of Fire" presents Jerry Lee more as Clown Prince than Rebel Angel. There's an odd comic buoyance to Mr. Quaid's performance, a cartoonish swagger that eerily evokes Foghorn Leghorn. Weird. You're dying to ask the actor what he had in mind.

"Playing The Killer is like climbing a mountain," says Mr. Quaid, at once living-room casual and just a bit rehearsed, a rasp lending an edge to his Texas drawl as he slouches in a plump armchair and reporters pepper him with questions. "You get halfway up the mountain and you look up and the mountain's grown twice the size.

"I play him as a 9-year-old boy who fell in love with music. I just tried to concentrate on his heart more than anything else."

And his walk. Mr. Quaid is sporting some switchblade-sharp '50s footwear - a pair of black-and-white, two-tone creepers like those from The Killer's own closet. "It's up," the actor says. "He really thinks highly of himself. It's not arrogance, it's self-confidence."

Though it's Mr. Lewis who sings on the movie's soundtrack, his vocals coming out of Mr. Quaid's lips, the actor originally insisted on tackling those chores himself.

Uh-huh. Right. But you've got to give him credit. He had the nerve to go toe-to-toe with The Killer.

"Our first meeting backstage in Las Vegas, he said, `Son, you can't sing like Jerry Lee Lewis.'

"And I really don't do this way most of the time, but I had to, I said, `You can't act like Dennis Quaid, either.' "

Says Mr. Quaid: "It went up from there."

The star takes a drag off his cigarette. Then confesses. "It was a matter of me coming to my senses. These are classic rock 'n' roll songs. Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive. I'd be lip-syncing to my own voice if I was singing. I woke up and smelled the coffee."

Interviewed separately, Mr. McBride expands on The Killer-versus-Quaid question.

"The truth is," the director says, "all of us were very big Jerry Lee Lewis fans, but we had seen him on off nights, too, and it seemed like in recent years that he wasn't really giving it the juice that he used to. It was never really clear to us what we were going to get out of him."

But then, the director continues, "He started putting out this stuff, which was just incredible!"

Re-recorded under the guidance of producer T-Bone Burnett, the songs on "Great Balls of Fire" are as energetic as the Sun originals but seasoned by Mr. Lewis's 30 years of hard living. They're the soul of the movie.

Such vitality bodes well for The Killer's future. A rock 'n' roll Lazarus, Mr. Lewis has journeyed back from the grave's edge more than once and, at 54, appears shockingly healthy. He looks his age, but displays a sly, impish spirit that belongs to someone half his years. Between interviews, reporters note the sixth Mrs. Lewis, Kerrie McCarver, tending to the toddling Jerry Lee Lewis III in the Omni Hotel hallways.

Can a man enjoy a third or fourth lease on life? "I feel thankful to God that I'm living and breathing and functioning," Jerry Lee says, his face as lined, his jaw as proudly set, as a bulldog's. "I'm having a ball . . . whether they like it or not."

The Killer chuckles. It's a knowing sound he makes, the last laugh of someone who knows that the joke - if there is one - is on anybody else but him. "I took a wild chance here and let the boys roll with it," he says. "Hope they don't screw up."

Mr. Lewis served as a technical adviser on the film, tutoring Mr. Quaid in the ways of The Killer. "A movie's a movie," he says, when asked to review "Great Balls of Fire." "What do you expect out of a movie? There's no way you're gonna get your whole life up on a screen. I like what they've done. Now, if I could just get paid for it."

The singer delights in contradicting every other comment, gauging the honest confusion his actions provoke and then, like a boxer feinting before lunging for the kill, taking it all back. Chuckle.

An Italian journalist wants to know: Does Jerry Lee Lewis believe in destiny?

"Do I believe what? Destiny? Hmmm, what does she look like? Whoo-ah! Destiny? I don't know, baby. I believe in God Almighty and Jerry Lee Lewis."

Anthony Hopkins

Hopkins offers food for thought
Cannibal role a career boon

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Staff writer STAFF
DATE: March 29, 1991
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Constitution

The Atlanta Journal

The cobra's gaze that mesmerized moviegoers is softer, almost pensive, as Anthony Hopkins sips from a bottle of fruit juice, nestled in a trailer that feels even smaller than the subterranean cell he occupies for much of "The Silence of the Lambs." No fava beans or chi-an-ti in sight. But Dr. Hannibal Lecter, cannibal sophisticate and pop-culture phenomenon, is still very much with us.

"I know what scares people," Mr. Hopkins says during a break from filming "Free-Jack," the futuristic movie in which he will share the screen with that other Satanic majesty, Mick Jagger. "And I don't know why I know that."

Instinct, perhaps? Or just the right actor in the right role at the right moment?

Mr. Hopkins's performance as the sociopathic Lecter, the black heart of director Jonathan Demme's forensic shocker, has put millions on edge -and catapulted the 53-year-old actor to the sort of fame that spreads like an epidemic.

"It sounds weird," Mr. Hopkins says of the formidable Dr. Lecter, the psychiatrist with a taste for internal organs, "but I conceived of him as a kind of romantic figure, for all his horror. It was something that came out of me and I don't know where it came from. This dark thing that came out of me. I don't mean to sound terribly complicated, but it has begun, in its way, to change my psychology.

"I feel all relaxed," he continues, "and it was no sweat to get it out. I didn't have to go through agony or psychoanalysis. I'm surprised that it was in me to do it."

Garbed in suspenders and a fluffy white shirt for his role as a 21st-century villain in "Free-Jack," the British actor looks less like America's Best-Loved Psycho than a plantation owner from the antebellum South. Yet, after "The Silence of the Lambs," it's clear that no matter where Mr. Hopkins goes, or whatever new roles he takes, his persona will be forever linked in the popular imagination with Lecter's.

"If it was somebody with a big machine gun just blowing people away, I wouldn't have done the film," says Mr. Hopkins, whose performance likely will make him an Oscar nominee next year. "But I found the film immensely sad and overwhelming in its power. Those scenes when [Jodie Foster] visits the dead girl's house. That's a veritable wasteland. [It shows] the horrors that we've brought upon the world."

Certainly, Hopkins-as-Lecter is having an uncanny effect on the national psyche.

"This psychiatrist friend of mine said, `You've uprooted the shadow side of yourself' - this is a Jungian analyst - `People are identifying with it because they realize they've got it in themselves.' "

But not everyone embraces "The Silence of the Lambs" as a chance for communal exorcism - a cinematic purge of the demon within. Some people are simply scared to death.

In Atlanta for wardrobe fittings last week, Mr. Hopkins caused double takes at a local diner. "These people came in and said, `Are you Hannibal Lecter?' I said, [drops into his unearthly Lecter voice] `Yes, would you care to join me?"

Mr. Hopkins dined alone.

"Now that this phenomenal success has happened, I just go into a kind of a neutral phase and I feel so totally detached from it," he says. "It's got nothing to do with me anymore. I put the character on and you accept him. He's there and he's alive and he's around somewhere. He's out in the movies. And I can switch it on and switch it off, just for the fun of it."

He is the first to admit that it's the role of a lifetime.

"I said to my wife, `I've done one,' " says the actor, his fingers thoughtfully drumming a paperback of Joseph Campbell's "The Hero Within." "I've done one which is a big hit. I've always wanted to do one, and now I've done it.

"I've lost the insecurity that I used to have," he continues. "`Because I used to grab any [role] I could. Sometimes I'd have an enormous fit, a rebellious tantrum, and do some total rubbish for the kick of it [but I] never lived to regret it."

Mr. Hopkins, who will be in Atlanta through next week, is due to star next in an adaptation of E.M. Forster's "Howard's End" for director James Ivory. He hopes there will be a sequel to "Lambs." Dr. Lecter may be too good a thing to let go.

"When I was a kid," he says, "these two little girls used to come sit on the doorstep and I used to tell them this story about the Old Dark House. I used to scare the hell out of them and send them screaming across the street. And their mother complained to my mother. And then they'd come back for more.

"It's like Hitchcock said, when he was asked why people like to go to scary movies. He said, `Well, what's the first thing we do when we see a child, a baby? We go `boo.' "

Jay McInerney

DATE: July 5, 1992
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Nashville - Bright lights, big deal.

Breezing home for a 14-hour pause in the endless media blitzkreig that often is his life, Jay McInerney still finds himself dodging the glare of his celebrity.

Even here in Music City, where cameras and wagging tongues are more likely to be directed at the latest wiggle of Billy Ray Cyrus's hips, Mr. McInerney can't slip past the buzz that has followed him like an elastic cartoon shadow since 1984. That was the year "Bright Lights, Big City," the writer's slim, poignant and introspectively flip first novel, made him a media darling and a literary phenomenon - a drinking buddy with the wobbly zeitgeist of the Reagan era, when New York was the place to be and Mr. McInerney was every place in New York.

Now 37, the former boy wonder has settled down . . . a bit.

He has a new, best-selling novel, "Brightness Falls" (Knopf, $23), that traces the dubious destinies of a dozen New Yorkers on the brink of the 1987 stock market crash. And, as if taking a tip from his own reality-based fiction, he has a newly domestic lifestyle with the only sign of extravagance being a 1986 Porsche 911 Carrera parked in back of the Nashville home he shares with his wife of half a year, Helen Bransford.

Her cats use the car for sunbathing, much to Mr. McInerney's chagrin.

"God, I never thought I would be on my book tour, taking my off day to fly home to Nashville and that actually would be my home," Mr. McInerney says, sitting in the cozy, unfussy house on the city's upscale west side, on a street where real estate goes for $80,000 to $250,000. "It's been a refuge for us so far."

And even all this is trendy, source for an exhaustive Vanity Fair profile on Mr. McInerney's sudden, unannounced wedding to Ms. Bransford. A jewelry maker and member of one of Nashville's oldest families - which made its fortune in real estate - she was a friend and frequent dinner companion of the writer for seven years. Along with the marriage - which delighted the pair's mutual friends but stunned model Marla Hanson, Mr. McInerney's recently estranged companion of four years - came a change of lifestyle.

"I had created this monster that was out of control," Mr. McInerney says. "For a while, it was a bad thing for my writing life."

Residing in Nashville six months of the year (the author continues to rent an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side), Mr. McInerney has traded the cocaine-and-limousine trappings of his profligate, and he says exaggerated, public image for a quieter life in the Land of the Big Hat.

"There's such a sense of history here," Mr. McInerney says. "There's no sense of history in New York. In New York, it all starts yesterday. That's one of the things this book is about, how you reinvent yourself. There are obviously places, like Fifth Avenue, where your family matters. But hell, they'll let somebody like me in in a minute. Heh, heh. If suddenly I look right and I'm profiled in the right magazines."

He's eager to downsize that profile. It's one that, much as Norman Mailer's in the 1960s, seemed to bloat beyond all reasonable proportion. In a swift few years, the writer was transformed in print from sexy, envied young gun to haggard prey for the gossip columns. The low point came when Spy magazine, the satirical rag that seemed customized to antagonize Mr. McInerney and his high-rolling buddies, published second wife Merry's embarrassing testimony about their failed marriage.

Pushed far enough that he finally donned Ninja garb and slashed at his critics from the cover of Esquire, the writer now is more comfortable riding horses and fishing for bass - preoccupations not easily pursued in Manhattan.

"I like to think it's gonna fade a little bit," says Mr. McInerney, who sits cross-legged and barefoot on an ottoman as tomatoes fry in Ms. Bransford's kitchen and Tammy Wynette sings "Stand By Your Man" in the background. "Running off and getting married is a good story. Three years from now it's not gonna be a great Vanity Fair story that Jay and Helen are sitting around Nashville with their cats."

Which would suit Ms. Bransford just fine. "New York is certainly stimulating," she says. "But I've been to that party 200 times and I've gotten sick of it. . . . It's absurd bordering on lurid in New York the interest the gossip columns have in his every move." A 15-year resident of the city before moving back to Nashville in 1990, she counted Mr. McInerney as one of her best celebrity clients, and also as a confidant.

His third wife, 6 1/2 years his senior, "didn't count on being married to the media circus from hell," Mr. McInerney observes, wise to the pressures sudden fame and nagging infamy can put on a relationship. Though his first marriage, to a model who inspired a character in "Bright Lights," was over before the book was written, both his second marriage and his long-term relationship with Ms. Hanson suffered from the spotlight.

He says he's looking forward to shutting it off. But first, there's a new book to promote: "Brightness Falls," a kaleidoscopic narrative about New York before and after the '87 crash, focused on scenes from an outwardly perfect, inwardly troubled union between rising publisher Russell Calloway and his stockbroker wife, Corrine. Colorful characters bubble through the 416-page narrative, which often reads like a roman a clef of Manhattan's literary and nightlife scenes.

Commercially, and to some degree critically, the book scores a rebound for a novelist whose previous two efforts - "Ransom" and "Story of My Life" - were widely maligned. Critics who like the book compare it to a "Bonfire of the Vanities" with heart. Some who don't charge that its saga of smart, ambitious thirtysomethings riding the fickle crest of the snatch-and-grab-it '80s owes more to market savvy than literary invention.

Now in its fifth printing, "Brightness Falls" smells like vindication to its author. "It's outsold my last book by 10,000-15,000 copies and it's only been out two weeks," he says of the multi-perspective work, which sheds the unconventional second-person tone of "Bright Lights" for a more common, omniscient narrator. Three years in the writing, the novel was conceived as a bookend to an over-amped decade, the falling arc of the tainted rainbow glimpsed in "Bright Lights."

"It's a kind of epitaph," says Mr. McInerney, who also saw the effort as a chance to redefine his reputation on new terms.

"I got way too much exposure after `Bright Lights, Big City,' " he says. "There was an inevitable backlash against it. Ultimately, people had stopped being able to read my work in any kind of clean slate. They were just reviewing me, which was certainly annoying and harmful to the way I wanted to conduct my career.

"There was a moment when I asked, `What the [expletive] is happening?' But now, it's like, I dunno. I'm used to a certain amount of resentment my career has aroused and that my writing arouses, too. I don't write good, well-behaved fiction, even though my training is very conventional and just as academic as any American writer I can think of."

As if to play off of his media-inflated image, Mr. McInerney includes a bit of distorted self-portraiture in the novel's doomed figure of Jeff Pierce, a young, instantly successful writer whose acidic wit echoes from a tragic, downward spiral of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Some of the novel's funniest and most perceptive passages are voiced by Jeff during a stay in a drug rehab asylum, slicing with surgical precision through the spine of Mr. McInerney's story:

It was the fall of 1987. The leaves in Connecticut were bursting, slow motion, into flame; one night, as we smoked on the porch after dinner, a girl in my unit who claimed to suffer from precognition declared that she could see paper airplanes crashing to the pavement of Manhattan, fifty miles away. Of course she would turn out to be right. But this was just before all that, before the big discount of gross expectations.

"People ask who's who, but none of the characters are based particularly on anybody," he says. "Jeff kind of lives out a fate that is a 20-year-old's vision of what a writer's life is like. There are so many literary role models, everybody from Byron to Fitzgerald, Baudelaire, Dylan Thomas . . . and he gets lost between where to draw the line between his life and his work.

``I guess Jeff is like the most extreme part of me," he continues. "Maybe something like that fate could've befallen me a few years ago."

Mr. McInerney, whose tone rarely is anything but easygoing, admits he made a few mistakes in the past eight years but is unapologetic, even taking the offensive against critics who brandish the "Brat Pack" epithet to describe the '80s boom in under-30 writers that the author helped to ignite.

"Publishers had written us off for a long time," he says. "Sometimes I want to say to these cranky, middle-aged critics, `Would you rather that we watch [expletive] MTV and went to the movies?' Give us a chance here, you know? I've mellowed on this, but I still wonder what all the screaming was about. I mean if the books weren't good, they'll fade away.

"I think it's a great thing when writers seize the attention of more than the 20,000 people in this country who regularly read fiction. It's something I can still do, even if I'm controversial. That very controversy at least indicates that the kingdom of letters is not entirely dead and that rock 'n' roll hasn't completely rolled over us."

In countrypolitan Nashville, of course, controversy is Travis Tritt dissing Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart." For the most part, the city seems oblivious to the fancy New York writer in its midst.

"I don't think they like him or dislike him," says Kyle Young, assistant director of the Country Music Foundation and a friend of Mr. McInerney and Morgan Entrekin, his longtime editor and a Nashville native. "To me, this is not a calculated move at all. He is one of a lot of celebrities in this town. The same reasons Emmylou [Harris] or Steve Winwood would like to live here, he would, too. There's a certain acceptance that brings with it a comfort level that people who find themselves in th e public life would like."

Recent splashy newspaper profiles in the weekly Nashville Scene and the daily Tennessean prompted a flurry of letters from distinctly unimpressed readers.

"Pardon me while I gag over your Jay McInerney article," wrote Edie Sutter in a letter to the Nashville Scene. "Lucky for us, I guess, that Jay chose our fair city as a temporary roost." Another letter, from Martin Aucoin, wondered if Nashville was so depleted of celebrities that "you seize the opportunity to devote the cover . . . to a recently transplanted New York novelist whose claim to fame is that he did too much cocaine in the '80s."

Bruce Dobie, editor of the alternative tabloid, has been receiving similar letters six weeks after he published the profile.

"Most of the people here don't know who the hell the guy is," he says. "So much of his persona was the urban, drug-infested, late-night dance club kind of existence. Now he moves to Nashville, which is a horsey, genteel, slow-moving, medium-sized city. That juxtaposition, we thought, was pretty interesting."

If anything, Mr. McInerney's arrival may contribute to Nashville's emerging, urbane flipside. "We're not just Porter Wagoner fans," Mr. Dobie says. "There are a lot of flights out of here to Los Angeles and New York. That part of the city sees that Jay McInerney has moved here and says, `Hey, great. It can only help the city.' "

Now at work on a fifth novel, with screenplays in the pipeline and a top-secret HBO pilot penned for David Lynch, Mr. McInerney is enthusiastic about moving ahead - and wrapping up a final round of interviews and bookstore readings.

"I don't pretend to really know anything about my surroundings here," he says. "But it's not a totally passive thing. I'm listening and learning and watching. I like the people here; they're much friendlier than most places. Despite the occasional letter to the editor.

"I just wish I didn't have to announce my appearance in Nashville," he says while, of course, doing just that. "Unfortunately, I have this book. I want to give this book a chance and my life seems to be part of the currency."

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Screamin' Jay Hawkins a `Mystery' off camera too

DATE: December 22, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution
PAGE: E/10

Steve Dollar Staff writer

TORONTO - Stare too long, and your corneas begin to fry like a pair of Grade-A eggs popping on a short-order griddle. His shirt a vivid wash of nova-burst orange, flecked with splotches from a leftover Jackson Pollock canvas, Screamin' Jay Hawkins lives up to his name before he mutters a word.

Everything about him shouts in defiant testimony to the glories of self-invention. But then, what would you expect from a man who gave a generation the willies with his incantatory 1956 hit "I Put a Spell on You"? A mutant waltz, the song churns in obsessive delirium, then yawns as bleak and wide as a sepulcher, a dank and unholy place from whose depths emerges - woooo-HAH-ha-ha - the toe-curling sound that is uniquely Screamin' Jay's.

A buoyant and ageless 60, the Los Angeles resident, eyes shaded and hair pomped, is on his best behavior as he slips in from an adjoining room in his Toronto hotel suite. En route, he kills the volume on a tape-deck tootling vintage Tiny Grimes, the '40s rhythm-and-blues singer who gave the young Jalacy J. Hawkins his start when Elvis Presley was still negotiating puberty.

The King is much to the point. It's an Elvis Presley song, after all, that lends its name to "Mystery Train," the new film by Jim Jarmusch that features a pivotal performance by Mr. Hawkins, cast as a stoic night clerk in a seedy Memphis hotel.

The Manhattan-based director first evoked the performer as a spiritual presence in his 1984 cult favorite "Stranger Than Paradise." The existential road movie includes a scene in which Eva (Ezster Balint), a 16-year-old Hungarian refugee, clutches a boom box pounding "Spell" like the zombie national anthem - the voice of some mythic, primal America, indecipherable yet impossible to ignore. "Screamin' Jay Hawkins is my main man," Eva declares in her newly appropriated language, over the objections of her irked cousin Willie (John Lurie). "So bug off!"

Conjured in the flesh for "Mystery Train," Mr. Hawkins was told to suppress his wild-man persona, the better to match the chilly tone of Mr. Jarmusch's patented minimalism. His character's pent-up attitude did not come naturally.

"I told him, `I'm a stick of dynamite and you done lit the fuse and you defy me to blow,' " Mr. Hawkins said during a mid-afternoon interview at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto this fall. As he speaks, his fingers, a set of creeping cypress roots encircled by skull rings, drum the top of a coffee table.

That's virtually all he manages to say about the movie, and that some 20 minutes into a conversation that rambles from barroom brawls in the '40s to California divorce courts in the '80s; from the wilds of Ohio - where he says he was raised by Blackfoot Indians - to prisoner-of-war camps in Japan.

"I hate the Japanese, hate 'em!" Screamin' Jay announces. That's ironic. "Mystery Train" was bankrolled by JVC, the Japanese electronics company, and stars two young Japanese actors in the first and best of its three segments. The Orient also was the only place to welcome the singer's 1968 rendition of "Constipation Blues" (since re-recorded with New York band The Fuzztones), a moan-'n'-groan meditation certain to alienate polite company.

Ignorance, however, must be bliss.

"They don't know this," Mr. Hawkins says, before launching an anti-KKK diatribe. "I cannot afford to let them know this."

Elvis Presley, who looms over "Mystery Train" like a pop-cultural hologram - you can look, but you can't touch - doesn't exactly cater undying respect, either.

"[Gossip columnist] Dorothy Kilgallen kept comparing me to him [during the '50s]," says Mr. Hawkins, his voice by turns Happy Hour affable and laden with Stygian gloom - a voice a spider could spin a web from. "Kept saying I made Elvis look like a choirboy, Little Lloyd Faunt'roy. I couldn't understand it.

"The girl I was going with at that time, she was a feisty little devil, 4-feet-5, she was wicked, she was pah-er-ful! She said, `You got to go see this guy.' I said, `What person?' She never told me the man's name. I never knew who I was going to see. I sat down in the arena in West Philadelphia, and all of a sudden onto the stage comes Elvis Presley. And all the girls, including my girl, jumps into the seat. WAHHHHHH-oooooo! And I grabbed her by the thigh. I pinched her as hard as I could and I said, `Don't you know I sing? I have yet to see you jump and holler for me. What's wrong with you?'

"Finally, we left. Went home in the car. I said, `What's the big deal about Da Pelvis?' That's what I called him, Da Pelvis. She says, `Oh! He's handsome.' I said, `You need a new man! You are spennin' my money like Niagara Falls drops over that huge cliff! I mean, I was teed off about it. Because it was my woman raving over another singer. We never questioned the fact over what color he was."

But color, Mr. Hawkins insists, was always the heart of the matter. "Bo Diddley always said, `Elvis stole my act.' I said, `No, he didn't. Let's face it, they were ready for a white boy, and you ain't it.' It coulda been Lloyd Price, it coulda been me. It coulda been B.B. King. But I would never blame the man," he says. "You forget, the world was bought for Elvis."

The world according to Screamin' Jay Hawkins is clouded with suspicion, innuendo, conspiracy - as smoky as the stages he's prowled, toting a cane topped with a skull he calls Henry. But when a man records songs with the pungency of "She Put the Wamee on Me," "Screamin' Blues," and "Feast of the Mau-Mau," people listen - even if most of them are in Europe, where the singer tours exclusively.

"I learned to believe half of what I see and don't believe nothing of what I read," he declares, and proceeds to explicate a few of the verities that have sustained him.

- On natural genius: "You gotta have your head busted against the wall, you gotta scrape your behind, you gotta cry, you gotta be ornery, you gotta suffer and love. You gotta believe in God, you gotta love the devil. You gotta go through a whole lot of things to understand that inside of you is a certain talent i f you just bring it out."

- On honesty: "People say, you tell the truth, the truth will set you free. I say, you tell the truth, the truth will get you killed."

- On home remedies: "I carry my own garlic. Garlic is good because I have high blood pressure. That stops me from getting a heart attack. I'm only hoping to get a stroke, and my ex-wife is trying hard for me to get a stroke."

- On loving thine enemies: "If it's somebody I really hate, kill him or cripple him. So you can hear him dragging his leg six blocks. This way, he can't pull a snake attack on you."

Screamin' Jay is still laying it down as the tape runs out. A female publicist lurks in a back corner, heroically maintaining composure as he begins detailing an ex-wife's "woman troubles."

"Some people," he says, "don't want to deal with the truth."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Screenshots: Reviews, Interviews and Otherwise, Circa 1989-92, Part One: Reviews


Forbidding and Subversive, Burton's Vision Captivates
Film Review
Batman. An action film. Starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton.
Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. At metro area

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Film Critic STAFF
DATE: June 23, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Movie review. Batman. An action film. Starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. At metro area theaters.

A winged descent into swirling banks of smog, industrial decay and unfettered psychosis, Tim Burton's "Batman" feels, at first take, about as welcoming as a detour through a Manhattan sewer. Or maybe a day trip to Dante's Inferno. Dank and grimy, the movie leaves a charcoal smudge on the mind's eye.

But what a smudge. Owing little to the jokey superheroics of the '60s television show, this revisionist "Batman" is thrilling in its subversive fusion of visionary set design and kinky sociopathology, special-effects wizardry and sophisticated wit. It's in love with its own musty Bat-scent.

Cloaked in Danny Elfman's dark, expressionistic score - which pinches spine-tingling grandeur from Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann - the movie takes its time in unfolding. Before it's anything else, "Batman" is a tour-de-force display of how to make inner-city rot look fascinating, exotic. The Gotham City conjured by production designer Anton Furst harks back to, among other sources, the haunted utopia of Fritz Lang's '20s silent classic "Metropolis," with its Babylonian towers and creeping shadows. Like such recent films as "Brazil" and "Blade Runner," the way "Batman" looks is the guiding, crucial element; its mordant nightscape suggests an urban dream that collapsed on itself and is now fit turf for vermin alone.

Which is where Jack Nicholson comes in. As The Joker, he's every inch a blithe psychopath, a bloodthirsty trickster who dispatches his enemies with an electroshock joy buzzer and an elbow-to-the-ribs aside. Mr. Nicholson, who's top-billed, is the movie's unpredictable Jack-in-the-Box, its imp of the perverse, its manic dramatic motor.

During an extensive opening sequence, we meet him as Jack Napier, aspiring cr ime boss, who gets momentarily snared in police crossfire when an industrial heist turns into a mob setup. Just as Napier's about to make his getaway, Batman (Michael Keaton) glides in from the girders and sends him plunging into a vat of churning industrial goo. Disfigured by the accident, which has left him with a permanent, outsized grin, this arch-felon adopts his new identity and launches an unprecedente d crime wave. He sabotages cosmetic products, causing their users to die painfully, their faces contorted by a demonic, Joker-style smile.

And Batman, who doubles as billionaire dude-about-town Bruce Wayne, has to stop him.

That's about all the plot there is to "Batman," which leans hard on film-noir atmospherics and sharp visual jokes to sustain what is an often sluggish, unfocused story line. It's Bruce Wayne, a Spandex Nosferatu welded into a muscle suit, versus The Joker, a plastic surgery disaster with the soul of a game-show host.

At its japing best, however, "Batman" doesn't need much of a narrative. Director Burton, who began his career as a Disney animator, brings his black-comic sensibility to bear in scene after scene, moments not so much stolen by Mr. Nicholson's Joker as made by him. It's the same role Mr. Keaton played as the title ghoul in Mr. Burton's "Beetlejuice," down to the green-and-purple wardrobe and toxic-looking pancake cosmetics.

Mr. Burton's peculiar brand of wit shines through in such memorable episodes as The Joker's trashing of Gotham's Fluegelheim Museum, in which he gaily prances through a hall defacing art masterpieces, Prince's sprightly "Partyman" blaring from a boombox, and declares, "I'm the world's first fully functional homicidal artist." When he arrives at a horrific canvas by British Expressionist painter Francis Bacon, however, he backs away. "I like this," The Joker announces, and dances on.

Mr. Keaton, an unpopular choice for Bat-fanatics eager to see a more heroic caped avenger, acquits himself well, given the limited range his Batman is allowed. Giving off the heebie-jeebies of an uptight bachelor, his Bruce Wayne persona engages in a touch-and-go romance with daredevil gal photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger, ever imperiled) that screenwriter Sam Hamm never really develops. Doubtless, this Batman was a benevolent psychopath on paper - Dirty Harry in the year 2000. On f ilm, he's more suggestive of a yuppie-era coffee achiever w ho gets his jollies crunching evildoers with his Bat-gloved hands.

That's the only sense, really, in which "Batman" fails to follow through on its forboding promise. Were it truer to its cinematic roots in '40s film noir and '20s German Expressionism, Bruce Wayne would have a genuinely nasty streak - something to make him a mirror image of The Joker, and more darkly compelling to the sunshine-blond Vicki.

Eh. Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber can fiddle with that next time. There's more than enough under "Batman's" cape to give you the willies and inspire some old-fashioned matinee wonder. You won't see anything else like it this year.

How To Get Ahead in Advertising

Trouble Boils in `How to Get Ahead in Advertising'

DATE: June 30, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Movie review. How to Get Ahead in Advertising. A black comedy. Starring Richard E. Grant and Rachel Ward. Directed by Bruce Robinson. Rated R for language. Garden Hills. How to Get Ahead in Advertising. A black comedy. Starring Richard E. Grant and Rachel Ward. Directed by Bruce Robinson. Rated R for language. Garden Hills.

By Steve Dollar Film Critic

With his sallow cheeks, ectomorphic frame and speed-freak delivery, Richard E. Grant is rapidly shaping up as Great Britain's answer to that Great American Schizo, James Woods.

He's younger, of course, and the actor's widow's peak brands him more as a frazzled intellectual than the social-climbing street sludge that is Mr. Woods's specialty. It's difficult, though, to imagine any other performer who can match him for sheer, nerve-rattling mania.

Or one who looks so smashingly splendid with a talking boil on his neck.

In Bruce Robinson's caustic satire "How to Get Ahead in Advertising," the boil is half the show: a psychosomatic sac of pus with a mind - and mouth - of its own.

Mr. Grant, last seen as the fey narcissist Withnail in Mr. Robinson's death-of-the-'60s comedy "Withnail & I," plays advertising wizard Dennis Bagley, a driven media manipulator "who's taken the stench out of everything but [excrement]" but now has to devise a scheme to sell pimple cream. He's stymied, and so directs his frustration in a torrent of mercenary invective aimed at his secretary, his colleagues, his dinner guests and his long-suffering, ever-gracious, utterly knockout wife, Juli a (Rachel Ward, who brings surprising gifts as a "straight man" to this absurdist psychodrama).

Bagley's so obsessed, he begins ridding the cabinets of commodities, fearful that the products' only value is in the clever lies that led consumers to buy them. He's buggy, no less so than Richard Dreyfuss trying to construct a space mountain in his living room in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Beware the return of the repressed. Overnight, Bagley sprouts his own boil. It's a demon doppelganger, one that takes delight in haranguing this backsliding adman for his loss of faith in the profession. The boil converses in the soothing double-speak of TV commercials, the smarmy voice of corporate patronizing. It's ruining Bagley's life and terrifying his wife, but as the film swiftly, and wickedly, reveals, the bully on his neck is an advertising genius.

And Mr. Robinson, whose script is etched in corrosive bile, is an incisive satirist. His blistering skills bring to mind Billy Wilder on an ether binge or, closer to home, the director's friend, cartoonist Ralph Steadman of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" fame.

Not much of what's said in "Advertising" is printable here, and often Mr. Grant's Brit-inflected, Mach 5 cadences are too fast for Yank ears to snag. Nonetheless, it's a tour-de-force performance, especially once the boil begins to assert itself.

Rollicking through to its logical, over-the-top finale, the film conflates the existential dread of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" with the ad-world spoof of Frank Tashlin's Madison Avenue comedy, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" Mr. Robinson slams his message home with the vitriolic cheek of vintage Monty Python, but adds his own savage spin. He's nervy enough to celebrate the glamorization of boils and cue up William Blake's "Jerusalem" as the party music.

In Country

`In Country' Impact Due More to War's Lasting Hurt Than to Drama Itself
Film Review

DATE: September 29, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution
PAGE: D/11

Movie review: In Country. A drama. Starring Emily Lloyd and Bruce Willis. Directed by Norman Jewison. Rated R for language, violence, sexual situations. At metro area theaters. In Country. A drama. Starring Emily Lloyd and Bruce Willis. Directed by Norman Jewison. Rated R for language, violence, sexual situations. At metro area theaters.

By Steve Dollar Film Critic

A girl's own story, the drama that unfolds throughout "In Country" conflates the teen anxieties of a dozen coming-of-age sagas with something more gravely, and permanently, traumatic. As 17-year-old Sam Hughes (Emily Lloyd) jogs past the junkyards and diners of tiny Hopewell, Ky., her blond curls bouncing to the beat on her Walkman, Bruce Springsteen chimes in, a Greek chorus in blue denim.

"Hey little girl is your Daddy home?/ Did he go away and leave you all alone?" The song hints at something sexual, but in Sam's case, it's poignantly matter-of-fact. Not yet born when her father, a peach-fuzzed soldier, died in Vietnam, Sam's grown up as the daughter of a cipher, a shadow, a ghost. Bursting at the seams with life, she's surrounded by death - or, rather, the diminished expectations of the local men who survived the war and came home weirded out and blown away.

Adapted from Bobbie Ann Mason's 1985 novel, "In Country" reaches the screen with its themes intact. As directed by Norman Jewison, the Canadian journeyman with as many hits ("Moonstruck") as flops ("Jesus Christ Superstar"), the film could be fancifully retitled "Vietnam: The Next Generation." Yet it confronts the war as an echo whose full impact is nearly impossible to recuperate.

Sam can see its effects on her addled Uncle Emmett (Bruce Willis), a veteran who may be suffering from exposure to Agent Orange; she can gauge the way it riles Emmett's hometown war buddies into spontaneous fistfights; she can sense it through a packet of letters her father wrote her mother, now remarried and living in another town.

Still, it's just out of reach - something that propels Sam all the more.

Though inventively cast, "In Country'' remains a little distant as well. Mr. Jewison has crafted a gentle, humane drama that fairly aches in its sincere intentions, but it seems as if the loaded and volatile subject of Vietnam has caused him to pull back, soften focus. This is, above all, a nice movie; too often, its emotional punch has more to do with the powerful subject matter - the film concludes with a heart-slamming visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - than the way Mr. Jewison shapes it. Certain theatrical impulses go astray: a misguided series of Vietnam flashbacks, for instance, and the film's final shot of birds in flight, which caps an intensely emotional sequence with the ersatz sentiment of a Kodak commercial.

What connects are the performances. Ms. Lloyd, who all but smashed up the screen as a rebellious, love-starved teen in 1986's dour-funny "Wish You Were Here," adopts a Kentucky accent to play Sam, but changes little else about her effervescent persona. She's a natural, conveying the essence of adolescent doldrums when she grouses to a girlfriend, "This town's dead without a mall!"

By turns coquettish and dead-earnest, Ms. Lloyd appears to be playing what she is, dovetailing into her character's untamed bursts of energy and stifling frustrations. And with her 100-watt smile and almond-sliver eyes, the actress commands your attention. At times, though, her accent suggests she's mastered the sound, but not the sense, of regional American dialect.

As winning as Ms. Lloyd can be, it's always apparent how much she's working. Another actress, let's say Winona Ryder, may not be capable of such an incandescently robust performance, but you wonder what nuances may be blotted out by Ms. Lloyd's natural light.

Which makes Mr. Willis's work all the more remarkable. "In Country" is not Emmett's story - the character exists as a Sphinx-like borderline nutcase, ballast to anchor Sam's helium-balloon spirit. But the actor, so sweetly understated, winds up making Emmett the heart of the film. Balding, pudgy, with a ragged Fu Manchu moustache, he stubbornly refuses to face his demons - or reconcile his sense of loss - retreating into a cocoon of eccentric behavior.

Mr. Jewison steers the actor toward tragicomedy. Emmett, after all, may be doomed by Agent Orange, but that lingering threat hardly seems as crippling as the way he's simply caved in on himself. His cohorts (a swell ensemble that includes filmdom's favorite new redneck, actor Stephen Tobolowsky) each reel from the war's aftershocks in their own way, revealed as Sam persistently makes her rounds, dredging up bits of information about what went down.

Both Sam and Emmett find what they need, at least a part of it, in the movie's climactic pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The sequence is a five-hanky spectacular, but its force is honest. Unfortunately, in terms of the film, it's a moment that can pretty much stand alone. You're not crying because of what Mr. Jewison's created, you're crying because it's the Vietnam memorial. The truth of "In Country" is not in the getting there, but the going.

Dangerous Liaisons 1960

'60s `Liaisons' Jazzy Look at Jaded Society

DATE: October 6, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Movie review. Dangerous Liaisons 1960. A drama. Starring Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Philipe. Directed by Roger Vadim. Not rated, sexual situations. Screening Room. Dangerous Liaisons 1960. A drama. Starring Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Philipe. Directed by Roger Vadim. Not rated, sexual situations. Screening Room.

By Steve Dollar Film Critic

Sly devil that he is, cinematic flesh-peddler Roger Vadim - the man who made Brigitte Bardot a household derriere - writes his own introduction to his swinging '60s version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses."

Dragging from a cigarette, the director saunters onto an empty movie set and begins oozing about the sexes ("As far as I know, zere are only two.") and the oversexed: Yes, sports fans, "a new species of liberated young girl," not bound by those boring old traditional norms.

Sounding like nothing so much as a suave, pseudo-existentialist answer to Russ Meyer (grindhouse auteur of "Mudhoney" and "Vixen"), Mr. Vadim plunders the 17th-century Choderlos de Laclos novel for an art-directed ode to the jazzed and the jaded. Silken thighs, narcissistic preening, the frosty boredom of Jeanne Moreau: Ahhh, Paris, my kind of town.

The film, a scandal in France three decades ago, pops up in 1989 as a revival, cashing in on interest stirred by Stephen Frears's classy "Dangerous Liaisons" and somewhat pre-empting the winter release of "Valmont," director Milos Forman's own adaptation of the durable costume drama.

Updated to the cocktail-crazed Continent of 1960, these "Liaisons" transpire in the same ceaselessly hip party circuit as "La Dolce Vita," with chic deco living rooms the site of whispered gossip and snake-tongued come-ons. Thelonious Monk shimmers on the soundtrack, and leopard skin is very in, darling.

Tacky things up a bit, and we might be watching Hugh Hefner and the boys on "Playboy - After Dark." Much like the recent documentary "Let's Get Lost," which glanced back at the era, the film celebrates a hedonistic joyride that defined the transition between the Beat Generation '50s and the peace and love '60s. It's also a reminder of what - for a while, before Ingmar Bergman ruled on America's college campuses - made foreign movies so - ooh la la - fun.

Pleasure at others' expense is the province of Ms. Moreau - a freon femme fatale - who brings an impressive range to the Countess, more or less Mrs. Valmont, as she plots some new devilment with the hubby, played by turtlenecked smoothie Gerard Philipe.

You know the story. Only some details have been changed. Gullible Madame de T ourvel (Bardot-clone Annette Vadim, one of Mr. V.'s earlier wifies) now encounters her doom at a ski resort. She'll be proof of Mr. Valmont's theory that "there aren't impregnable citadels, only ones badly attacked."

Later, the sometime-diplomat - he's bidding for a juicy United Nations post - seduces his pouting, nubile cousin by imparting such golden nuggets of carnal knowledge as "Love is the art of helping nature."

Human nature, of course, is what finally does Valmont in. Too weak to break off his affair with Madame, he stands by helplessly as Ms. Moreau's crisply cruel Juliette dispatches a telegram, using a flowery tongue that is dutifully speed-read back to her over the phone. (It's one of the funniest bits in the movie.) As the now-feckless diplomat strives to undo his wife's fling with callow Danceny (Jean Louis Trintignant), he winds up in a fistfight, fatally bashing his head during an overheate d jazz jam session.

Never more than skin deep, "Dangerous Liaisons 1960" is enjoyable trash buffed up to a coffeetable sheen. Like Valmont's mistress, the movie's simply irresistible.

Look Who's Talking

Travolta Aside, `Talking' Evolves Into Baby Blather

DATE: October 13, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Look Who's Talking. A romantic comedy. Starring John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. Directed by Amy Heckerling. Rated PG-13 for language, violence, mildly off-color humor. By Steve Dollar Film Critic

Hollywood's diaper brigade marches on in "Look Who's Talking," a tiresome comedy about sex and the single mommy that deserves a more telling title: "Baby Boom-erang."

A rerun in more ways than one, the film serves up a puffy Kirstie Alley in the Diane Keaton role, playing a yuppie accountant in Manhattan whose affair with a sleazy married client (Famous Bad Actor George Segal) yields not only constant frustration but, waaaaaaaah, a little bundle of joy. Determined to assert her independence, Ms. Alley's besieged Mollie tells Mom (Olympia Dukakis, bizarrely annoying) that she was artificially inseminated. She then proceeds to cope with morning sicknes s, balloonlike maternity wear, a break with her philandering lover and the wisecracks and untoward attentions of the cabdriver (John Travolta), who scoots her to the hospital when it's time to deliver.

All along, the fetus chatters like crazy from its vantage point in Mollie's belly. (They cut to a scene of a phony-looking electronic doll, smiling and waving from the womb.) The patter seems to be an attempt to emulate Robin Williams. But the "Voice of Mikey," as the part is billed in the credits, belongs to Bruce Willis, who did pretty much the same routine in the first episode of the last season of "Moonlighting." That was the one in which Mr. Willis, portraying the unborn fruit of the show's feuding-cooing detectives, David and Maddie, engaged in free-associative banter from a uterine hot seat. Or, as the show's producers called it, "A Womb With a View."

No such wit enlivens "Look Who's Talking." The fetal-speech and toddler-talk gag is milked repeatedly - matching punch lines to every aspect of baby activity - until you're reminded of the "Lancelot Link" children's TV series. The trick there was anthropomorphic monkeys who mimicked action-adventure heroes, with lip-synchronized dialogue supplied by real human voices.

Mr. Travolta's genial James, an Italian-American palooka with a heart of warm ravioli, plays Mr. Nice Guy and part-time babysitter to Ms. Alley, a flustered Ms. Mom who doesn't realize Johnny Boy's the guy for her. That is, not until she endures a series of Blind Dates from Hell and shares a traumatic episode involving James's doddering grandpa (the redeeming Abe Vigoda) and wayward Mikey.

Strictly made-from-TV, the situations are broadly drawn and overtly hand-me-down. This extends to the casting of Mr. Travolta, who's had his head in the sand since "Perfect'' bombed.

The producers, with an eye to Tom Selleck in "Three Men and a Baby," must be counting on women flocking en masse to worship another damp-eyed hunk, turning all gooey inside at the sight of a bassinet.

But, hey, here's a morsel of charity. With so much of the movie a loud, brassy embarrassment, Mr. Travolta's easygoing performance is welcome. Whether it represents a comeback is another question. Top-billed but third-ranked in terms of screen time - after Ms. Alley and "The Voice of Mikey" - the actor appears content to simply have his dimpled chin back in action.

Such prudence whistles far above the head of director Amy Heckerling, whose reputation has steadily spiraled toward the critic's wastebin since her increasingly appreciated debut, 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." A teen genre piece with a subversive undercurrent (no visible parents, an abortion, sex jokes that rang true, Sean Penn), "Fast Times" wasn't without its requisite moments of meatball yucks, but it was easy to forgive some missteps because the movie was so smart in other ways. [NOTE: Glitch here] what she can get; or (b) she's so cynical about the whole process that she doesn't care anymore.

The occasional successes of Susan Seidelman or Euzhan Palcy aside, movies like "Look Who's Talking" are a poor comment on the status of women directors in Hollywood. They say that in an equal opportunity society, women are as free as men to become dimwitted hacks.

Tango and Cash

This `Tango' dances with two left feet

DATE: December 22, 1989
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Film critic, Steve Dollar, reviews "Tango and Cash." Tango and Cash. A buddy film. Starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Rated R for language, nudity, violence and drug scenes. At metro area theaters.

Steve Dollar Film critic

A $50 million weenie joke, "Tango and Cash" earns several distinct honors:

- It's the last buddy movie of the decade.

- It's the first buddy movie to recognize the influence of "Batman" - though it's sometimes hard to tell if that means the recent blockbuster or the '60s TV show.

- Sylvester Stallone (he's Tango) tries to upscale his screen image, sheathing his rippled pectorals in slick Giorgio Armani threads, but he still has a mouth like a smoked trout.

- Neither Mr. Stallone nor Kurt Russell (he's Cash), as he-man undercover cops framed and forced into the slammer, actually has a love scene - even with each other. But they do flash their bare buttocks on the way to the prison shower, where they coyly bat their eyes and make drop-the-soap jokes.

Cutting up on a recent "Arsenio Hall Show," the pair resembled nothing so much as a couple of schoolboys on the lam, burning off excess testosterone by clowning around, taking playful jabs at each other's masculinity.

Male bonding. Gosh, gets you all misty, doesn't it?

"Tango and Cash" operates on a similar formula. The movie is so utterly facetious that it's impossible to regard seriously; the plot - in which our pals meet cute, are set up, get mad and even the score with a heavily armed drug cartel - is paper-thin, never posing a plausible threat to the alternating currents of bone-crunching action and macho horseplay.

Two hunks kick butt. They crack jokes. Ooops, they're in trouble again - omigod! - they just might die! But, hey, why worry? They think it's pretty funny being lowered into tanks of water while subhuman behemoths torture them with electric cables. It's a laugh riot! After all, it's only a movie and they already know they're going to kill everybody before the last reel.

Produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber - the men whom Sony just paid untold megabucks to run Columbia Pictures, the men who made "Batman" -"Tango and Cash" is big, stupid and a ridiculously shameful lot of fun. You may need an emergency EEG after leaving the theater, but you won't be any dizzier than Michael J. Pollard, who is one of the film's secret pleasures.

Underneath its package-deal facade (Sly! Kurt! Together again for the first t ime!) there's a wormy little B-movie trying to chew it's way through. Director Andrei Konchalovsky, who won respect for the vaguely similar buddy-slugfest "Runaway Train," walked off the set after three weeks, but not before hiring a dandy ensemble of drug-lord heavies and bug-eyed weirdos.

Jack Palance, reprising his villainry from "Batman," is a quirky kingpin whose desiccated elegance is worthy of '40s pulp fiction; Brion James, one of the nastiest men alive, is a cockney terror with a bad ponytail; Clint Howard, Ron's little brother, is a Slinky-hefting psycho; and Mr. Pollard, wearing a magnifying lens over one eye just like Rick Moranis in "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," is a space-cadet munchkin version of "Q" from the James Bond films. He even builds Mr. Russell and Mr. Stallone their own batmobile - "an RV from hell."

That's as much subtlety as you can hope from "Tango and Cash," but, hey, I'll take it. Two seats away from me at the preview, a woman bounced in her chair and bellowed at the plasma-rich tapestry unfolding on the screen.

"Kill him!" she shouted. "Kill him again!"

Onward and upward with the arts.


DATE: March 20, 1990
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Constitution

The Atlanta Journal

"Lambada." A musical. Directed by Joel Silberg. Starring J. Eddie Peck and Melora Hardin. Rated PG for sexual suggestiveness. At metro area theaters. "The Forbidden Dance." A musical. Directed by Greydon Clark. Starring Laura Herring and Jeff James. Rated PG-13 for sexual suggestiveness. At metro area theaters.

Moviemakers give lambada a bum's rush

Steve Dollar Film critic

Ah, lambada! The forbidden trend.

Deep in the tropical rain forest of Hollywood, where even the sun dare not penetrate smoke-filled studio boardrooms, men with exotic names - such as Golan and Globus - have dreamed rich dreams. They've felt a stray polyrhythm slither up a Sansabelt pant leg, enflaming the loins and gripping the soul with the supple fervor of an anaconda.

That's right. They smell money!

And they're not alone. The rush to cash in on the curious non-craze that is lambada is the exploitation film's version of the 100-yard dash. As with bygone cycles of break-dance-graffiti movies and "Flashdance"/"Dirty Dancing" clones, the trick is to be the first to slap your movie on the screen, before the public gets bored with the whole idea.

There's a flaw in the theory, though. They might get bored with the movie, too.

It's the snooze button, not hips unhinged by a taboo beat, that proves irresistible in "Lambada," a Cannon Pictures quickie ushered into production so quickly that it's virtually forgotten the dance that supposedly inspired it.

Blade (rent-a-hunk J. Eddie Peck) teaches math to Beverly Hills brats by day; at night, he dons motorcycle leathers, kisses his homely wife goodnight and rumbles down to an East Los Angeles nightclub where he does . . . the lambada! However, his purpose is deceptively noble: Born of humble Chicano parents, Blade heeds a civic urge to educate the club's dance-crazy street kids.

Meanwhile, spoiled little rich girl Sandy (Melora Hardin) develops a wicked crush on her teacher and trails him to the club, where she offers to lick his sweat. Complications ensue.

Not much dancing, though. "Lambada" looks like a "Stand and Deliver" knockoff that somebody (executive producer Yoram Globus, perhaps?) decided would be a little less stale spiced with a couple of lambada references and a hint of hanky-panky.

Way cheesier, and a lot more fun, is "The Forbidden Dance," swept into theaters by Mr. Globus's former partner, Menahem Golan. Leave it to the fearless Mr. Golan and exploitation wizard Greydon Clark ("Skinheads: The Second Coming of Hate") to leap into the absurd by tapping not one, but two trends.

Yup. Lissome Princess Nisa (former Miss USA Laura Herring) is in midgrind, performing a tribal dance ritual in the steaming heart of the Amazon when - drat! - evil white men with guns and tractors plow right over her village, dispersing her people into the jungle. Being a plucky princess, Nisa flies to L.A., where she and stoic shaman Joa (Sid Haig of "Spider Baby") intend to confront a rain-forest-burning developer (Richard Lynch).

Wouldn't you know it? Joa's busted and Nisa winds up as a housemaid, patronized by Beverly Hills bigots. (Much like its competitor, "The Forbidden Dance" ex ploits class divisions and, yes, lambada-phobia. The way some folks react in these films, you'd think the dance was a Sandinista conspiracy instead of an Anglo marketing ploy.)

Poor Nisa finds an ally in Jason (Jeff James), the disco-possessed son of her snooty employers who happens upon her in the middle of a solo lambada and is smitten. (He feels that anaconda grip, too). Together, they fly in the face of convention - not to mention class snobbery and Jeff's miffed ex-girlfriend - and plot to win a dance contest. If they succeed, the pair gets to appear on national TV with Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Maybe then they can warn America about the vanishing r ain forest!

Will they make it? Or will Nisa succumb to corruption and spend empty nights on Hollywood Boulevard, billed as "Queen of the Jungle" and forced to lock hips with overweight businessmen out for cheap thrills?

Only the lambada knows.


Hare's moody `Strapless' isn't all that revealing

BYLINE: DOLLAR ,STEVE Steve Dollar Film critic STAFF
DATE: May 18, 1990
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Movie review on "Strapless," a drama starring Blair Brown, Bruno Ganz and Bridget Fonda, and directed by David Hare. "Strapless" A drama. Starring Blair Brown, Bruno Ganz and Bridget Fonda. Directed by David Hare. Rated R for language, sexual situations. At Tara

Much ado about Blair Brown knitting worry lines into her forehead, "Strapless" is the latest feminine character study from David Hare -another instance of the British writer-director attempting to corner the market in the sophisticated life-crisis drama.

This sort of thing can play great onstage, where a singular performance can reflect brilliantly in the footlights and draw an audience dangerously close, as moth to flame.

Onscreen, however, Mr. Hare's mood pieces (they include 1985's "Wetherby" with Vanessa Redgrave and "Plenty" with Meryl Streep) have a tendency to dither, to court vagueness even as their troubled heroines seek a difficult clarity. Say what you want about the virtues of ambiguity in art, but my biggest problem with these films is that there is, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, no "there" there.

Instead, "Strapless" has Ms. Brown, who offers a variation on her weekly role as a bemused, indecisive woman in that post-"Annie Hall" Manhattan of hip neuroses, "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd." If the TV show finds the actress treading a high-wire suspended between wobbly poles marked Wit and Torpor, the movie pitches her into an existential swamp, where Important Choices lay, like lifesaving branches, just within tentative reach.

As Lillian Hempel, an American physician employed at an embattled London hospital, Ms. Brown is a victim of the career-first syndrome. Her only visible rewards are the quaint digs she shares with baby sister Amy (Bridget Fonda) - a guiltless free-spirit with a thing for swarthy men on motorcycles.

On vacation in what looks like Italy, Lillian is solicited by an elegant cont inental gentleman named Raymond (Bruno Ganz, the earthbound angel of "Wings of Desire," who's obviously read the Euro-trash edition of "How To Pick Up Girls"). Refusing no for an answer, he woos Lillian over an impromptu lunch, then trails her to London when she fails to show up for an evening date. Presenting a horse as love offering, he proposes marriage; Lillian's flabbergasted . . . but charmed.

What happens next is an elliptical pas de deux in which suave mysterioso Raymond convinces Lillian to take a leap, then vanishes, leaving behind a pile of bad debt. Lillian reels, uncovers secrets and, yipes, experiences interpersonal growth. Amy, given a winning surplus of sass and vinegar by the always-sporting Ms. Fonda, becomes pregnant and elects to deliver the newborn in a hot tub, accompanied by Mozart.

The point being that you can't plan life, but you shouldn't let it steamroll past you, especially if you're an unmarried professional woman whose biological clock is winding down, poor thing. (Critics make claims for Mr. Hare's sensitive feminist credentials, but I wonder . . . )

The dilemma with writing scripts about characters who are essentially self-absorbed - as is Lillian - is that they have to grab an audience by the collar. Unlike, say, a standard genre exercise, with its prefabricated hooks to snag your attention, such a drama is constructed from the interior.

Ms. Brown, whose performance has a delicate, winsome quality, is engaging in a showcase role; too bad it showcases her treading water. (Except when she feud s with Ms. Fonda as her sibling rival; suddenly, it's a different movie.)

The flaw is the way "Strapless" has been imagined. The narrative relies on visual asides, symbolic gestures - a stranded Mercedes-Benz that Raymond offers as a gift, a dying cancer patient, a proud horse bathed in moonlight - to lend it resonance that the dialogue can only grasp at.

Mr. Hare, while obviously no Thatcherite, still represents the British film industry at its toniest. "Strapless" is a movie for coffee-table sensibilities - and decaffeinated ones at that.