Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pod Power: The INVASION

Left: The Senate Theater, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, circa 1980s.

Right: The Senate's electric eye. The doors magically opened automatically, an appropriate touch to the wonderful old theater which screened the sci-fi and other genre films of Universal International and RKO.

When the theater was razed it was reported to me that the mayor of Harrisburg, to his eternal shame, took an ax to the doors of this beautiful deco entrance. Through no fault of its own the Senate was reduced to showing porn - on Market Square! gasp! - during its final days. (But that's NO EXCUSE!!!!!)

A genric Hilton Hotel now stands where this beautiful vintage theater once entertained countless Harrisburg moviegoers of all ages. By a happy coincidence Open Stage of Harrisburg, one of the area's most progressive theater companies, is now situated in the small street which ran just behind the Senate's CinemaScope screen. (And where I always enjoyed the posters and billboards for coming attractions when downtown was still the place to be on a Saturday afternoon)

This is where I first saw THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

Photos: by/COPYRIGHT by Ross Care, 2007.



My fascination with fantasy/genre films probably began when I was terrified by THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD at the tender, impressionable age of 10.

Fantastic as it may seem today, I was so affected by THE THING (and as much by what was UNseen in this film, as by what WAS) that I was afraid to go down into the Senate's basement lounge to get to the pay phone to call my dad to come get me.

And so I felt a combination of obligation and interest, perhaps more curiosity than actual interest, to take in the current remake of one of my favorite adult sci fi films, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

About THE INVASION (as it’s now called) the LA Weekly wryly commented: “Not that using actual pod people as actors is the only innovation German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (he of the egregiously overrated Hitler biopic DOWNFALL) and debuting screenwriter David Kajganich bring to the table.”

And: “The whole point is that these people are supposed to have a difficult time camouflaging their emotions…..”

At any rate on Monday I managed to drag myself to a 5.25 screening at the Century Ventura 16, a cavernous and intimidatingly vast movie factory where simply finding the correct theater down one of the endless Haunted Mansion-esque halls is your first major challenge.

Even though I was a bit late I was still forced to endure the obligatory assault of trailers, during which all the films previewed seemed to have been inspired either by the finale of THE WILD BUNCH or a reworking of the Charles Bronson DEATH WISH/“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” revenge genre.

As for the INVASION, well, I hardly know what to say…. After the previews I felt that the film’s overriding irony that only by BECOMING pod people can the human race seem to achieve any kind of peaceful, none-violent coexistence on this planet made real sense.

In another telling comment on our time there was no compelling romantic interest at all, just a kind of low-key-to-the-point-of-ho-hum affair between Nicole Kidman and the maturely hunky new James Bond, Daniel Craig. However, the major bond here is a kind of obsessive NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER spin on the relationship between single/estranged mother Kidman and her virus-resistant son.

(Has Nicole become, is she now camp? See Gus Van Sant’s TO DIE FOR. But that’s a whole other article).

THE INVASION is certainly not without interest and it is extremely NOW with its (yes, obvious) allusions to AIDS, the environment, and the current global political madness. Actually after watching it I mused that this is a film absolutely overripe for the kind of probing review Charles Leayman, my associate at the late lamented Lancaster Independent Press, used to do so well in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

I can only hope that somehow Chuck may bestir himself from his pastoral torpor and rise to the occasion once again, somehow and somewhere. THE INVASION was made for your special perspective on (and intelligent skewering of) contemporary films, Chuck….

In the original 1956 film, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, when Dana Wynter says to Kevin McCarthy (who has just romantically quoted Shakespeare to her) “that way lies madness…..” you felt, you knew that these were two human beings whose human qualities (for better or worse) and lives were infinitely worth saving from the pod invasion. And that the madness to which this attractive, civilized couple were referring was the good human madness, with all its bittersweet emotions and complex foibles.

In THE INVASION most of the characters seem simply mad (and annoying) and so in many ways the podization of the human race does seem sort of preferable to the sound and fury which contemporary life seems to have become.

I don’t have to go on at length about THE INVASION to suggest what that tells us about the way we live now and what we have become without any help from an alien virus.

BTW if you see THE INVASION be sure not to leave during the credits because there’s a trippy visual sequence backed up by John Ottman’s fine orchestral/electronic score that finally provides one of the best and most compelling sequences in the film.

And lest we think civilization (and romance) as we once knew it is dead, Rufus Wainwright is doing a Judy Garland evening at the Hollywood Bowl on September 23!

Note: See below for a photo of the orginal INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS stars.

Ross Care

Dana Wynter and kevin McCarthy Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy, stars of the original (and best) INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). At a screening of the film in Ojai. PHOTO Copyright by Ross Care 2007
The pod is under the table........

Monday, August 27, 2007

WINDMILLS Brave the Storm, near Palm Springs - Photo COPYRIGHT by Ross Care, 2007

Spoke with someone from the East Coast yesterday and heard you are all suffering from that witch's brew of heat and humidity which I remember so well from my days in Lancaster (Pa.). And which seemed to last longer each year until spring and autumn were just the vaguest of memories.

So thought I'd blow you a little dry California air.

These are actually energy producing windmills along route 10 on the way to Palm Springs. (So they don't cool off Palm Springs which remains in the triple digit temperature range a lot of the year).

They do make for a dramatic landscape though.

They are also close to the famous Cabazon dinosaurs which were featured in PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, and which add a further bizarro spin to the already other-worldly desert ambiance. The windmills have been featured in a number of films as well.

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CACTUS FLOWER, Photoshop Image/COPYRIGHT by Ross Care

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Photo: Heron in a (sort of) secluded spot on the Ventura river not far from the Pacific ocean. Note the 101 (Ventura) freeway in the background.
Photo by/COPYRIGHT 2007 by Ross Care

Wild Ventura

Ventura is fortunate to still be the home of some of the rare wetlands still remaining along the increasingly developed central California coast. At the mouth of the Ventura river is a small but varied and ever-changing environment, not spectacular but fascinating for the few who may take the time to get to know it.

It’s a great spot for bird watching, especially for those (like me) who lack the patience to sit around waiting for the elusive creatures to present themselves. The broad mouth of the river with its shallow water and sandbars is a popular hangout for gulls, pelicans, coots, and cormorants. The latter are often seen perched on logs or rocks languidly spreading their wings in the sun to dry (each individual bird looking a bit like a Harryhausen homunculus).

I even once observed a group of white pelicans that stayed in the freshwater of the estuary for a few days. (These opposed to the happily now more common California brown pelicans). Another transient group was a mixed flock of blackbirds, including the beautiful redwings, which massed in the reeds along the riverbank.

There is also a resident kingfisher, an elusive and restless flash of crested blue and white that can also be detected by its whirring twittery call. Various species of herons and egrets are also not uncommon.

Strangely enough the woods that stand between the river and the campground remind me of the east coast southern woods of the Carolinas and Georgia. The low dark oaks also remind me of the palmetto groves of the Georgia sea islands, without the palmetto of course. (Though there is very southern looking Spanish moss on the trees up the coast around Solvang).

Following the trail through these tangled, shadowy woods, aside from the constant buzz of the traffic, it’s easy to forget you are adjacent to the 101 Ventura freeways, one of the major arteries between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and the upper central coast.

Walks though the estuary in July and August also amaze with their lush greenery while the rest of California turns brown and gold. The various reeds, including a giant bamboo-like variety, peak at this time of year and provide of mass of emerald green along the banks.

Wildflowers bloom on the dunes along the shore where, as often in California, the seasons seem to confusingly intermingle.


Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fire This Time II

Well, another California wildfire that is probably getting attention on the news around the world (again). This one, called the Zaca (ironically for Zaca Lake), started on July 4th in the backcountry of the Santa Barbara County wilderness, and has since burned 116,700 acres (and counting). The West in general is in an extreme state of drought, Lake Powell in Arizona is drying up and the beautiful canyons sunk to create it are again emerging like Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie. (I love that).

Of course the drought and triple digit temperatures have done nothing to stop the rampant development around desert communities such as Lancaster, Palmdale, Palm Springs, and of course that hugest, most surreal of desert sponges, Las Vegas itself. Everyone is of course confident that water will materialize from somewhere even as water-rationing announcements are heard - and probably ignored - on the radio, and the Colorado and other rivers are being relentlessly siphoned away. We’ve got to keep those Palm Desert golf courses GREEN somehow!

Anyway, as of Thurs., August 16 (2007) the Zaca fire was moving towards the Ventura County line in” a remote area far northwest of Ojai,” as the Ventura paper assures us. (Well, at least nobody will have to stop surfing).

I remember when I had just moved to California and drove back from Los Angeles to find the hills behind Ventura ablaze with a moderate wildfire. A few years later things got more serious as another larger fire crept over the midtown hills, one that this time I could watch from my music room window on Santa Cruz Street. This fire had a sort of communal feel and everyone was out on the street watching. It was one of the few times I really got to see and speak with so many of my neighbors. That fire was eventually contained but driving up into the hills afterwards you could see that it came within several hundred feet of the posh homes on the rim of the hill (like the moon growing dim).

The Sunday morning of that fire one woke to an eerie Martian cityscape. Streets were lit with an unearthly pink glow, the sun was a garish red-orange. It was like waking up in TOTAL RECALL.

Some of the same efx are visible again with the Zaca fire though not yet so extreme. They show up mostly at sunrise and sunset when the sun becomes a perfect iodine-colored disc in a pinkish beige sky. Ash accumulates on your car and there are pink reflections on streets and anything reflective

The title The Last Days of Pompeii often comes to mind during such times, especially when we were passing through Santa Barbara on the 101 last week and a huge cloud of smoke appeared over the mountains that (fortunately and so far) separate the town from the inferno on the other side. As the smoke advanced it looked like a volcanic eruption, - Etna, Vesuvius, our own dear Mount St. Helens came to mind. And what an odd contrast to see both the blue clarity over the Pacific on one side and the hellish smoky miasma over the distant mountains on the other.

And odd how quickly you get used to such things Out Here.

Sort of……


Pacific sunset during Zaca wildfire. Photo: Ross Care

Friday, August 3, 2007

Michelangelo ANTONIONI 1912-2007

LACMA poster for Modernist Master ANTONIONI retrospective, Sept., 2006


Modernist Master REVISITED: Michelangelo Antonioni -
Film Retrospective/ LACMA

Revised from a 2006 article.

Crowds were lined up around the corner to the Calder fountain side of the Bing Theater for the September 17 (2006) screening of LA NOTTE, a highlight of a month-long retrospective, Modernist Master: Michelangelo Antonioni, produced by the Film Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Though the nominal focus of the event was Antonioni’s 1961 masterpiece, LA NOTTE, the sold-out house was also due to the fact that this unique evening included appearances by Antonioni himself, and his wife. Enrica Fico Antonioni. Also on this substantial program were two short films, a documentary, BEING WITH ANTONIONI, directed by Signora Antonioni, and Antonioni’s own ten-minute THE GAZE OF MICHELANGELO, both screened prior to LA NOTTE.

For me personally the era in which Italian masters such as Antonioni, Fellini, and Visconti came into prominence with the “foreign film” renaissance of the late 1950s and 60s is an integral part of my cinematic past and consciousness. These Antonioni films particularly made an indelible impression on me, with their beautiful but bored women in impossibly chic little black dresses, and their brooding males torn between intellectual angst and exhausted ambition. And especially the unique black and white cinematography that captures in glowing chiaroscuro the paradoxical modernity and antiquity of Italian cityscapes. Never had malaise, ennui, and contemporary Italy seemed so seductive.

Watching one of Antonioni’s masterpieces, LA NOTTE (1961) on Friday brought all those feelings back, with the added frisson of knowing the maestro himself, one of the last remaining titans of modern cinema, was sitting in the row in front of me. LA NOTTE records one night in the life of a smart and of course conflicted Milan couple, a writer (Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife, (Jeanne Moreau in one of her most unforgettable performances). After the pair visit a dying friend in a hospital Moreau flees and, in a haunting and purely visual sequence, takes a walk on the wild side of Milan, cruising a seamy section of the city where she has an ambiguously erotic encounter with a group of young males, one of which would have driven Pasolini crazy. After reuniting (and after a visit to a nightclub where they witness an incredible contortionist act by a striking black woman who looks like Sade) the couple attends a genteelly decadent party at the home of a rich, culturally inclined industrialist, and reach a kind of reconciliation at dawn on a misty, deserted golf course.

The film is quintessential Antonioni, beautiful, vaguely disenchanted people adrift in a Milan that at times looks like something out of a science fiction movie. But the recent short films that preceded LA NOTTE were equally hypnotic. Antonioni suffered a stroke in 1985 but continued making films while also concentrating on painting. One of these films, THE GAZE OF MICHELANGELO, opened the evening. The 10-minute film is a purely visual study of Antonioni’s encounter with recently restored Michelangelo sculptures in an Italian church, and intimately probes both the details of the various statues and the still handsome face of the 95-year old maestro.

There is not a word of dialogue and no music until the last few minutes of the film, but one comes away with a more intimate impression of the two Michelangelos in ten minutes -the lines and details of the first Michelangelo’s work contrasting the aged hands of Antonioni with the ageless marble - than most filmmakers could achieve in a feature Especially haunting is the use of sound, or rather of Cage-like silence, the soundtrack being mostly ambient stereophony, the sound of distant creaking doors, echoes, and church bells, all the noises one would peripherally hear (or not quite hear) in the (not quite) silence of an Italian church. When music is finally heard, an a cappella Palestrina choral Magnificent, it’s a virtual epiphany.

Enrica Antonioni later commented that the film took one and a half years, but really a lifetime to make.

The second film, BEING WITH ANTONIONI, is an impressionistic study of just that: a record of a journey around Italy with the maestro as he works on his Matisse-like paintings (rendered by various obviously adoring young assistants) and is fed (this being Italy) and feted in Venice, Assisi, and other cities. There is no narration and no translation, but the film features a surprisingly hip and eclectic musical soundtrack. The climax of the film showcases the various art works the audience has seen in progress throughout the film.
Enrica Fico Antonioni appeared after the short films for a Q&A with moderator Ian Birnie, director of the LACMA film department. Ironically, Signora Antonioni reminded me a bit of Giulietta Masina and seems to possess the same ironic gamin quality. She also spoke for Antonioni who is verbally incapacitated by his stroke, and when the maestro himself finally appeared on stage in a wheelchair he had to silence the endless standing ovation with a gesture rather than a word. During the discussion Enrica had affectionately noted how much Antonioni still enjoys seeing his own films - when asked about his watching the films of others she gave a sort of wry, noncommittal shrug.

And just before the screening of LA NOTTE Birnie commented with a note of ingenuous surprise “He wants to see it…..” and the maestro was carried off the stage to a position on the extreme right of theater to view one of his masterpieces with his adoring public.

The series concluded with screenings of L’ECLISSE (THE ECLIPSE) (1962) and the 1995 BEYOND THE CLOUDS on Sept. 24. Antonioni’s greatest hit, BLOWUP (1966) and ZABRISKIE POINT (1970), both in English, were seen on Sept. 30.



Thursday, August 2, 2007


It's the 50th anniversary of the 1957 MGM film version of Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s epic American novel, RAINTREE COUNTY.

I did an article on the novel, the film, and the musical score for the Library of Congress. It was recently updated and put online at the RAINTREE COUNTY website.


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