Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘Cult

The Turd Sandwich

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“Life is a long turd and every day you have to take a bite.  But you can’t feel so sorry for yourself you piss on people – at least not the people who love you.”

turd sandwich

credits to South Park for this image - I couldn't quite get my head around making my own.

A quote from Mifune, Danish director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s  1999 contribution to the Dogme 95 School – a rather good film actually, not fully appreciated for the number of levels in which it operated. This quote is uttered by a prostitute who’s been keeping her bratty younger brother in a posh boarding school – and he’s been wagging. She is beyond disbelief at his disregard for her sacrifice on his behalf. She’s been eating a lot of shit sandwiches.

Long after I’d more or less forgotten the film (and Dogme 95 – is it still in existence?) that line stuck with me. Certainly in this context it is true – but I realised it pretty much applied, if not to life in general, at least not my life in general, there are times, or have been times when it was absolutely true.

doilyWhen you’re young and starting out, you need to convince people to give you jobs, mortgages, let your children into their school – and everyone you try to convince gives you a little or sometimes not so little shit sandwich to eat. At first, well, you refuse – and rightly so. A shit sandwich, regardless of the paper doily on the serving plate is still a shit sandwich. But if you want the job, or the house or that elusive status symbol – you hold your nose and take a bite. Usually one is enough – and you can say ‘thank you, that was lovely,’ sign the papers and move on. You get used to it after a while – you need so many things…

But then, somewhere along the way, you might discover you don’t really want something that bad – you’re just not in the mood for a shit sandwich. Usually by the end of your forties your done with them. Oh sure, someone will offer you one every so often, but you politely decline and if it should somehow end up in front of you – well, you’ll just send it back. You are done with that.

thanks to the Japanese for tidying this image up for me...

thanks to the Japanese for tidying this image up for me...

Then boom! One day, when you least expect it – there it is, sitting on your desk, waiting for you. A big shit sandwich. All the toppings. It sure looks like someone’s gone to a bit of effort to come up with this. But why? Hmmm…

You KNOW there’s no way in hell you’re gonna eat that thing. Nope, ain’t gonna happen. You’ve got to send it back – that’s all there is to it.

Except… you don’t really know where it came from. Or why. Or…

You’re not going to eat it.

But where do you send it back to?

(Remembering not to go and piss on the people who love you in the meantime.)

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

06/07/2010 at 7:19 am

Sauna

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High-brow Finnish horror washes all your sins away
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila

At first glance, this may seem like a standard horror flick, other than its setting – 16th century Finland. The Swedes and Russians have just ended 25 years of war and each have sent a party to define the new borders. We meet brothers Eerik and Knut, represent the Swedes, en route to the official rendezvous.

Whilst they are glad for peace, the endless years of war, away from their family has taken its toll and Eerik has become increasingly violent. He declares he has killed 73 people, including a farmer we meet as the film opens, who he claimed wielded an axe. Knut fears for the farmer’s adolescent daughter and locks her in the fruit cellar to keep her safe. As they set out for their destination, he asks Eerik to let her out.

Eerik & KnutThey are a day’s journey away when Eerik confesses he never let the girl out. Knut begins to see a young woman in the swamp who whispers for him to ‘come back!”

They meet up with the Russians and together they come upon a sauna, built in the middle of the swamp. Nearby is a village not on any of their maps. The people are accommodating, but rather strange – and extraordinarily clean, forever washing themselves and their clothing. There are 73 people in the village, but only one child. And the girl in the swamp is calling more desperately.

This film is a mere 85 minutes long – but the script is so complex and multi-layered and the suspense so thick, it was a relief when it ended. Afterwards, watching the making-of documentary was almost cathartic – seeing how it was made took some of the chill away. A director’s commentary helps answer some of the questions left dangling at the movie’s end, but still – it’s one you will ponder for a while. One of my top choices for 2009.

Eerik & Knut

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

20/12/2009 at 10:47 pm

Three from Luis Buñuel

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Un Chien Andalou put both Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel on the map with its opening scene of a young woman passively submitting as her eyeball is sliced open with a razor. An eye-opener even today, in 1929 it was positively shocking – resulting in the movie running in theatres for nearly a year.

One can only imagine what audiences made of the ‘story’ that follows, a surrealistic dreamscape of murder, mishap, severed limbs and ants. Buñuel appears as the eyeball slicer and Dali as a priest dragged across the floor ahead of two pianos weighted with rotting, dead donkeys. Considering its popularity, one can only assume audiences were far more sophisticated than they are today. We demand logical story arcs that rise and fall, resulting in a satisfactory ending. This little flick makes me want to pick up a camera and make a film of my own and is a must-see for anyone with those aspirations.

Look for the two-disc DVD release. Also included on disc one – a 1986 British doco on the life and work of Salvador Dali, which serves as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with the surrealist master – whose life mirrored his art – right until the end. We could however, have lived without the Alka Seltzer ads.

The second disc features Buñuel’s only documentary, Las Hurdes (1933) the story of a remote Spanish village where he first examines the corruption of the Catholic Church, a theme he continued to explore throughout his career.  Also included is a doco from 2000 spanning his tumultuous career.

Between his early years as a surrealist filmmaker and his triumphant late-life career that began with Viridiana in 1961, Luis Buñuel made a dozen or so small-budget movies that were largely ignored by critics and audiences alike. Some were dreadful – a 1953 version of Wuthering Heights, where the producer insisted he use a cast comprised mostly of stock car drivers who had been prepped for a comedy. However, The Young One is the best of the lot and might be considered an overlooked masterpiece. Released in 1960, the year before Viridiana, it sits on the cusp of greatness – but you have to get your head around Buñuel working with an American cast in the deep South.

Bernie Hamilton plays Traver, a northern Black man on the run after a white woman accused him of rape. He escapes on a small boat and ends up on a game preserve island, managed by Mr Miller (Zachary Scott). Miller is dealing with the death of his handyman – and wondering what to do with the deceased’s granddaughter, Evvie (Key Meersman.) At first he considers packing her off to the mainland – but suddenly notices she is not the child he had thought. Indeed, with her pouty lips, long legs and casually swaying hips she is very appealing.

Hugo Butler’s brilliant and subtle script slowly intertwines Miller and Traver’s paths – shifting the balance of power as it is revealed that Traver is in fact innocent of rape and Miller, despite soothing his conscience trying to convince himself the illiterate Evvie is little more than a savage – guilty. It would sit well alongside the brilliant Tennessee Williams movies of the 50s and 60s. No special features on the disc, but the package comes with a sixteen page booklet containing a brilliant analysis of the film.

As good as The Young One was, it gave no indication of what was to follow. Viridiana took the  Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1961 and was promptly banned by both the Spanish government (who had financed the film) and the Vatican for its devious exploration of evil and, well, more evil.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a beautiful young nun who hasn’t taken her final vows who visits her uncle and benefactor, the wealthy Don Jaime (Francisco Rabal). Struck by Viridiana’s resemblance to her late aunt, who died before consummating their marriage, Jaime becomes obsessed and ultimately drugs and rapes her.

Viridiana decides she can never return to the convent and opts to stay in the house with Jaime and save the world on her own, starting with the local beggars and homeless. She soon discovers that she cannot change what these people really are and is livid when they ultimately turn on her. Buñuel’s genius is in the exposition of Viridiana – she is not the pious young woman she at first appears, but an arrogant sycophant who ultimately has earned her downfall.

Bunuel in Un Chien Andelou

Luis Bunuel in Un Chien Andelou

Buñuel followed this with seven masterpieces, including That Obscure Object of Desire and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgiousie. I’m waiting for them to arrive as a box set sometime soon…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/11/2009 at 9:36 pm

Silent Hitchcock… Shhh…

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Undoubtedly one of the very finest 20th century film directors, best known as the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the early 1920’s. He made nine silent films, honing his directorial and story-telling skills. And while the man is worthy of a much longer thought, I recently acquired The Ring (1927) and The Manxman (1929), two beautifully restored melodramas that look like they were shot last week.

Danish actor Carl Brisson stars in both – his startling blue eyes, dimples and boxer’s physique  resulting in one of the more handsome stars of the silent era.  Though his film career fell victim to the talkie as his heavy accent made him an unlikely leading man, he went on to star in Broadway musicals and released a number of successful albums.  His co-star in The Ring suffered a more horrid fate – finding herself out of work, Lillian Hall-Davis gassed herself and slashed her own throat in 1933 at 35. Czech actress Anny Ondra, playing the love interest in The Manxman, continued to work in film, shifting to Germany in the mid-30’s. There she met and married heavyweight boxing champion, Max Schmeling.

In The Ring, Brisson plays ‘One-Round’ Jack Sander a side-show boxer taking on all comers, saving his money so he can marry his girl, Mabel (Hall-Davis). One night he steps into the ring to find he’s met his match with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), who takes his winnings and blows it on a silver bracelet for Mabel – which she coyly accepts. It turns out Corby is a professional boxer who takes Sander on as a sparring partner, dallying with Mabel behind Jack’s back. But even the most naive of men will eventually cotton on.

If The Ring were made today, it’d probably star  Matthew McConaughey (who bears an amazing resemblence) and the starlet of the moment. However, the carny folk would undoubtedly receive far more politically correct treatment – and the flick is a reminder of just how much our culture has shifted in the last 80 years.

The Manxman is my favourite of the two, with Brisson playing Pete, a fisherman who goes off to make his fortune when he’s thrown out of the public house by his sweetheart’s father.  He entrusts his best friend Philip (Malcolm Keen) to look after the lovely and coquettish Kate (Anny Ondra) while he’s gone. Philip and Anny become the best of friends, both aware that if Pete were not in the picture they would fall in love, though Philip is hesitant as he is from an upper class family and wishes to pursue a career in law. His family assures him she will never do.

When they receive news that Pete has been killed in an accident, they give in to the long-pent passions. Hitchcock has some fun here, euphemistically grinding some millstones stones in one love scene and having a ship ‘slip’ into a harbour in another. But before they can make plans, it turns out that Pete is still alive – and he’s coming home.

Hitchcock keeps a reign on his actors, limiting the overdramatising so often associated with silents, which can render them unwatchable.  (However the use of lipstick and eyeliner on the male stars is a little bizarre.) He also stays away from quote panels, which disturb the pace of the film and remind me the film is silent, despite the score. Instead he relies on visual clues and expects you to do a little bit of lip reading. This was also a way to get around the censors, especially in the second film, dealing with adultery and fornication. I was on the edge of my seat here wondering how it would turn out.

These films are for Hitchcock fans, interested in his early works. He was still a young man learning his craft here, unlike Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang or F.W Murnau who were at the top of their game and produced stunning work. Indeed, Hitchcock appears to have begun his career more as a lightweight – focussing on love triangles. But he moved on…

Notorious, from 1946 with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains is my favourite Hitch – what’s yours?

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/11/2009 at 11:29 pm

Quelles Horreurs!

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devilscastle1896While some of us object to the invasion of American Halloween and K-mart clad ghosts and goblins knocking at the door demanding treats, we would do well to recall that the holiday is rooted in the Druid Samhain – the last day of the ancient Celtic summer – a between-seasons day, when the dead walked among the living and the veils between past, present and future could be lifted in prophecy and divination.  What better time to examine our deepest fears than how we’ve presented them on film for the last 110 years?

Horror is one of film’s oldest genres, with the first, George Méliès’ The Devil’s Manor made in 1896. Since then filmmakers have had a love affair with horror, though the genre is the most maligned amongst critics and move-goers alike.  But scratch the surface of a Sandra Bullock fan and you’ll find someone who’s seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula over and over again; or an ageing hippie still quoting Charlton Heston from Soylent Green, “It’s people!”

psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's genre-blowing Psycho (1960)

Defining horror seems to be the problem.  It ranges from pornographic violence (as anyone who’s sat through Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein can attest) to art-house (Shadow of the Vampire).  People know what they like and pretty much hate everything else.

Folks who came of age in the fifties and early sixties tend to think of Hammer Horror monster movies, or Cold War paranoia and post A-bomb reality checks – when George Romero, Roger Corman, and Roman Polanski first made their mark.  Even The Sound of Music director Robert Wise tried his hand at horror with The Haunting in 1963, an arty examination of a woman possessed by the spirit of a house.  While still of interest as a psychological thriller, the film was dated even then, as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) upped the ante with levels of graphic violence that had never been seen before.  The sixties had an outpouring of B-grade horror flicks, most of which starred Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff – all attempting to shock – though in reality, the trailers were always far more frightening than the films themselves.

night-of-the-living-dead

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead

Then along came George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968, where the dead rise up and eat the living – lungs, livers, hearts and entrails, in glorious black and white – no one had ever seen anything like that before. The film opened a floodgate and horror reached new levels of bloodletting, violence and gore as budgets got bigger special effects got better.  It was as if the entire genre was reinvented in living colour, monsters, murderers, demons, and genetically mutated wildlife.  While there certainly was quality horror produced in that time (The Exorcist, Jaws, Wickerman, Eraserhead, etc. etc.), the volume of horror was incredible and no social issue or pathology went unaddressed.  The ultimate in paranoia was It’s Alive (1972) about a killer newborn, apparently driven to a frenzy in the womb over its mother’s ambivalence over whether or not to abort. And the wildlife gone mad! Jaws (1975), Frogs (1972), and James Cameron’s debut behind the camera with the horrendously awful Piranha II: The Spawning.  Tobe Hooper’s splatter ‘masterpiece’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (which I have never been able to sit through), set the standard for deranged killers and spawned a slew of copycat slayers, slashers, slicers and dicers – and gave birth to Michael Meyers in Halloween (1978), Jason in Friday the 13th (1980) and Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) at which point the horror flick literally lost the plot and collapsed under it’s own gore and guts and reran these last in what seemed like endless sequels that evolved into parodies of themselves, played more for laughs than for terror.

deadagainpubstill

Dead Again

By the end of the eighties there was an enormous drop in the number of horror flicks produced, with a return to the level of quality of the 50s and 60s, with greater emphasis on psychological horror and suspense, and little sign of the 70-80s fondness for vivisection.  But audiences seemed repulsed by the very word ‘horror’, so studios and directors went to great lengths to describe their films otherwise. Kenneth Branagh insisted Dead Again was a mystery romance and Francis Ford Coppola declared Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a drama, not a horror film (though he surpassed Tobe Hooper when it came to amount of blood spilled.)

Until recently, much of what we’ve seen has been self-parodying teen comedy/horror.  But the genre is alive and well.  Hannibal Lecter continues to make friends; Nicole Kidman wasn’t exactly slumming in The Others; we adored The Sixth Sense and the Blair Witch Project scared us witless.  Virtually every film mentioned on these pages is now available on DVD.  In theatres right now we’ve got The Locals, 28 Days Later, Identity, Hypnotic, and the ultimate face off arriving soon – Freddy vs. Jason.  Go get scared!

Directors who’ve Dabbled in horror

  • Kenneth Branagh – Dead Again (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
  • Francis Ford Coppola – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • Stanley Kubrick – Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980)
  • Adrian Lyne – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
  • Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Until Dawn (1996) – co-written with Quentin Tarantino)
  • Ridley Scott – Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982)
  • Stephen Soderberg – Kafka (1991)
  • Robert Wise – The Haunting of Hill House (1963)

    clockwork_orange02

    Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange

Directors who specialise in horror

  • John Carpenter
  • Roger Corman
  • Wes Craven
  • David Cronenberg
  • Tobe Hooper
  • David Lynch
  • Sam Raimi
  • George Romero

Directors who cut their teeth on horror

  • Peter Bogdonavich – Targets (1968)
  • James Cameron – PiranhaII: the Spawning (1981)
  • Francis Ford Coppola – Dementia 13 (1963)
  • Brian de Palma – Sisters (1973), Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and the strange Phantom of the Paradise musical.
  • Peter Jackson (see Director’s Cut, this issue)
  • John Landis – Schlock (1971), American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965), The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck (1967), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • Barry Sonnenfeld  – Addams Family (1991)

 

blue-velvet

David Lynch's Blue Velvet

Leading Lights

  • Boris Karloff – silent star who broke into talkies in 1931, forever defining the look and feel of Frankenstein.  Went on to make nearly 100 mostly horror flicks – some ultra cheesy.
  • Bela LugosiDracula – 1931 – followed by a career as other monsters, mad scientists and megalomaniacs.  Those made for Universal were high quality, but drug addiction and a disastrous personal life lead to ridiculous choices in later life – including the legendary worst movie of all time – Plan 9 From Outer Space, for director Ed Wood (the subject of Tim Burton’s biopic of the same name, starring Johnny Depp – in a cashmere sweater.)
  • Vincent Price – Classically trained stage actor who turned to horror in 1953, and spent the next 40 years as the Master of Menace, often working with director Roger Corman.
  • Christopher Lee – Hammer Horror’s perennial leading man, starred as Count Dooku in Star Wars Episodes 1-3 and as Saruman the White in Lord of the Rings.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis – Probably the only woman who ever launched her career as a horror star – playing Michael Myers’ sister in Halloween, by managing to survive.  Daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Norman Bates unfortunate victim in Psycho, she earned the nick ‘Queen of the Creepies’ with The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train (all 1980) and Halloween II (1981).  Once she broke out, she refused to do another horror flick until Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in1998.  Having made her peace, she returned in H8 in 2002 and will most likely star in H9.
Vincent Price & Tim Burton ES

Tim Burton and Vincent Price on the set of Edward Scissorhands

Makers & shapers

  • Alfred Hitchcock – directed over fifty films, virtually inventing the psychological thriller.  Upped the ante in the horror genre with nudity and violence in Psycho in 1960.  Followed by The Birds in 1963.
  • Stephen King – The Source.  Has had 25 of his novels made into films, Made for TV movies or television series.
  • Terence Fisher – single-handedly created the Hammer Horror franchise with his 1957 remake of Frankenstein with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and followed it with 24 low-budget classics more over the next 17 years.
  • George A. Romero – broke the boundaries for gore in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead and then topped that with Dawn of the Dead in 1978.
  • John Carpenter – was paid $10,000 for directing the original Halloween.
halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween, from John Carpenter

Monster movies

  • Frankenstein
  • Dracula
  • The Mummy
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Any Hammer Horror

Sci-fi horror

  • Alien
  • The Fly both the 1958 version with Vincent Price and the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum.
  • Blade Runner – 1982
  • Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

Social commentary

  • Soylent Green
  • 28 Days Later
  • It’s Alive
  • The Possession of Joel Delaney

Slasher/Splatter

  • Psycho
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Halloween
  • Friday the 13th and all their offspring

ART-house

  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Shadow of the Vampire
  • Repulsion (Roman Polanski)
repulsion

Roman Polanski directs Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion (1965)

And many many more…

Have a horrific Halloween!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

30/10/2009 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Writing

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Mister Lonely

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mister_lonelySomewhere in Paris there is a very lonely Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) who doesn’t speak the language well, looking for his big break.

His agent believes in him, but he learns to believe in his Michael Jackson self when he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton). She lures him to Scotland where she lives with her husband Charlie Chaplin and daughter Shirley Temple in a commune with a dozen other impersonators.

They are building a performance centre in the hope that once it is built, audiences will come. We are treated to enchanting performances from Madonna, the Three Stooges, Buckwheat and Sammy Davis jun, not to mention the Queen, who capture both the essence of the original characters and the isolation and alienation of the people behind them.

mister-lonely-herzogMeanwhile, in a remote convent in Panama, Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) delivers emergency food rations to area villages, the nuns sitting in the back of his rickety old plane, tossing packages out the cargo bay.

When the plane jerks, a nun falls out, and with her habit flapping furiously, she prays for the Lord to save her. She lands in a field, dazed but unharmed.

Tmr_lonely_09he rest of the convent soon take up skydiving sans parachute – a genuine miracle, which Father Umbrillo is very proud of, though he declines to jump himself. He decides to visit the Vatican and show the Pope.

Though the two stories never connect, they run on an emotional parallel, as director Harmony Korine takes us on a curious journey through a forgotten corner of the human psyche, examining our identity, our ability to do the impossible and just what it will cost us in the end.

minster-lonely_lMister Lonely is far more colourful and, if not life affirming, at least more life loving than Korine’s chaotic debut, the cult classic Gummo (1997). Unfortunately, there are no special features on the DVD.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

26/05/2009 at 10:54 am

Midnight Cowboy

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Midnight_CowboyMidnight Cowboy broke all the rules when it was released in 1969. After a decade dominated by glossy, Technicolor, feel-good musicals, John Schlesinger’s x-rated exposé of shattered dreams amongst the grime and desperation on New York’s mean streets made the entire industry sit up and take notice.

It’s not just the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for best picture, it paved the way for Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen to tell their New York stories (Taxi Driver, The Godfather I & II, Manhattan). Nearly 40 years on, it is every bit as powerful and authentic as the day it was released.

John Voight plays Joe Buck, a naïve Texas dishwasher who decides to hop a bus to New York City where he is sure he’ll soon be living the high life as a high-paid gigolo. He arrives in his buckskin jacket and spit-shined cowboy boots and starts following rich women around.

Midnight-Cowboy-Photograph-C10043659He figures he’s struck gold when Cass (Sylvia Miles) takes him home, but after he’s delivered the goods, she hustles him out of $20. Then he runs into Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a petty thief with a bum leg who promises to get him some proper management, hustling him out of another 20 and delivering him to a gay born-again preacher – but not before uttering the immortal words, “Hey! I’m walkin’ heah!”

MidCow01Soon Joe is broke, locked out of his dingy hotel room and living on the street, prowling 42nd St after dark like all the other cowboys, but too soft-hearted to make the johns pay. (Check out the young Bob Balaban.)

When he runs into Ratso again, Joe is desperate to get his money back, but ends up going home with him, to his rat-infested, condemned tenement, where the two form a friendship and struggle to survive – both living on dreams of a better life.

midnight_cowboy2The two-disc collectors’ edition includes two recently made featurettes with surviving cast and crew, reflecting on making the film and its impact and another looking at the late John Schlesinger’s life – easily as fascinating as any of his movies. Also included is a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer and an insightful commentary by producer Jerome Hellman.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

17/05/2009 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Film, Writing

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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