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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Most Fitting Send-Off for Verne Langdon.

The late great Verne Langdon's memorial service: 01/25/2011

The cover of Verne's memorial booklet

The intimate service began with Verne's varied musical pieces played through the sound system at the little chapel at Pierce Brother's Valhalla in Burbank, CA. Calliope, piano, organ, lounge, haunting, funny. As disparate as Verne's talents. Many familiar faces filed into the pews. After a brief prayer, Dawn Langdon Karrash (Verne's ex-wife and best friend) read an amazing eulogy that touched on the many facets of Verne. It was as touching and funny as the very spirit of Verne himself.

Special people of importance in Verne's life

Verne's silver urn was displayed before a gigantic white wreath next to the dais. Dawn's daughter, Verne's niece, made a very personal and poetic speech about Verne losing his father in a commuter plane crash when he was young. She recalled some of the same premonitions the day Verne left us. Uncle Jim Warren was remembered in the honorary pallbearer's list, although he and some other's on that list were not able to attend in person.

Verne would have loved it. Tears. Laughs. Cheers.

The service was short and sweet but so very rich in legacy and emotion. Dawn did an amazing job of making all of us understand just how much Verne loved us. Once Aaron Shaw's bagpipe had sweetly blared Amazing Grace, the crowd disbursed and all were invited to give further tribute at the Magic Castle. It was great to be there with friends Casey and Rhonda Wong, Dan Roebuck and Eliot Brodsky who'd flown in from the East for the occasion.

Big or small, all of us die only once. When a special person like Verne Langdon leaves us: artist, wrestler, clown, musician, writer, magician, bon vivant, orator and friend - we get one chance to memorialize him. This modest, eloquent service was perfect. At the end of it, the audience spontaneously applauded. Unconventional for a funeral, but absolutely appropriate for Verne Langdon's funeral. He would have insisted on it!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

RUBBER: I'll never TIRE of the Avant-gore!

Monster-brother Feo Amante

Feo called and asked me if I wanted to go see RUBBER. Seems our dark shepherd, Maestro Amante was working a shoot, dismembering cast members in San Diego and was hoping I’d go screen this odd film in his place. Odd? Me? I’m there! I’d heard of Rubber, the movie. It was a French horror film about a telekinetic tire that kills people. You heard right. A tire, as in a tire on a car or, uh, voiture. Maybe a Firestone, or in this case a Michelin that kills people dead (fine then, morts)! So I rattled my bones into a heap of black clothing, grabbed my crispy new notepad and my favorite yellow (non-leaking) pen and drove through Friday night Hollywood traffic to the old Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax near Melrose. The show was at midnight, and I knew the theater was tiny, so I got there an hour and a half early. Jesus! There was already a line around the block. I paid ten to park near a senior rest home. I walked up the avenue and past the throngs of excited, 20-something cineastes and made my way to the box office. I quietly mumbled, “press?” Nope. I dared to push, “Does that mean that I have to…uh..?” Yep, the ticket taker pointed to the line that now stretched beyond my sight and was also growing fat as a Python swallowing a bus bench. “But will I get in if …” An adorable shrug with a detectable, “no way” attached to it. I solemnly walked to the end of that line - doubled in the time I’d spent trying to wrangle my way out of having to stand in it. By now I was doing my most impressive, audible sighing. It suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to last in the cold (OK, 57 degrees - still arctic by LA standards) for an hour and a half with the likelihood of getting as far as the ticket-taker who’d tilt her head refusing to take my ticket. I walked back to my car (pausing to seriously consider that senior rest home), let the parking guy keep five bucks from the ten I paid. Took the other five back. Then I drove straight home where I sit now typing this in my sweats with a handful of raisins and some decaf. Don’t laugh. I actually have the fireplace on…

That's right, a headshot of the killer!

So, I can’t tell you about the movie Rubber, per se. But what of the general idea of experimental or unconventional filmmaking within our genre? I don’t have to actually see Rubber to know full well that a movie about a killer tire named “Robert” is one that should be made and seen. In movies as in life, you gotta take chances in order to innovate. You have to stretch wide to reach territory that is uncharted. You gotta really dig deep for the good stuff. Not into digging? Well, look what you settle for then: a quagmire of Vampires more attractive than they are dangerous. Lazy zombies moldering the four corners of our collective conscience. Torture-porn that is as unsophisticated as it is mean-spirited. Who wouldn’t embrace a murderous rubber tire right about now? Hell, a gas cap would be a welcomed protagonist. Rubber writer/director Quentin Dupieux has made a name for himself defying the expectations of his audience. He is an established artist and musician (Mr. Oizo) in France. In his 2001 movie debut, NONFILM, an actor wakes up in the middle of a movie shoot and accidentally (?) kills the crew. The surviving cast decides to continue on without a script or camera. In Dupieux’s next offering, STEAK he tackles the well-worn high-school-clusterfunk theme. The social molasses-bath we all must wade through in those sticky teen years. Yes, Dupieux’s losers struggle to become cool “Chivers” gang members, but in Steak, we come to learn that the 2016 setting is even more futuristic than we could have imagined. Now, here comes Rubber. A movie in which an inanimate tire becomes aware of its awesome telepathic powers and goes on a rampage slaughtering people in a desert town, or so I’m told. I didn’t get in to see it, remember?! I did chat with some of the kids in line for the show and the consensus was that they didn’t know what to expect but they were itching to have their expectations defied. They were all eagerly waiting in that line aching to be surprised. I mean, just based on a vague synopsis, aren’t you hungry to see it? I am, dammit!

The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax in Hollywood

Some of my favorite moments in horror and Sci-Fi movie history have been the ones that shook the foundations of convention. Imagine sitting in a theater in 1926 and experiencing the visionary future of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS for the first time. Many of Lang’s enduring images have been brought forward through homage in other classic films like BLADE RUNNER. And what about Jean Cocteau’s surreal and gorgeous LA BELLE ET LA BETE (46), which influenced lots of other, mainstream entertainments, including the design of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The stark reality of Tod Browning’s FREAKS, freaked-out audiences of 1932. The elegant, and haunting films of Kenneth Anger took us in unexpected directions as well. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s duo of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA served up our classic horror icons in a campy, irreverent way that challenged us while still offering graphic and disturbing imagery and ideas. John Landis’ edgy and smart AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON changed the horror game in big ways, truly advancing the modern dark comedy and offbeat horror milieu. More recently THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT created a niche in the genre. It broke down some major barriers for truly independent filmmakers, proving that anyone with a camera and a story might shoot a blockbuster. Of course I’m listing innovative movies that had a big impact on me. I’m sure you have a list of your own. Today, horror movies continue to give us some of our best opportunities to experience something totally new. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is one movie that’s as much about the audiences’ anticipated dread of the subject matter, as it is the delight of watching the Grand Guignol comedy play out. I avoided seeing that film for months imagining the worst. Truth be told, I laughed from beginning to end. Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN is arguably a horror movie, but undeniably a masterpiece up for an armload of Oscars at the time of this writing. The experience of being shaken up and surprised is one I search for daily. Clearly It’s no mystery to me that there is now a movie about a murderous tire and that people are lining up to see it.

Not exactly what you think it is...

It makes perfect sense to me that most genre fans are filmmakers, aspiring filmmakers or at the very least, highly sophisticated audience members. We can count ourselves among the most creative and literate members of our communities. It’s good to know that there’s room for everyone that wants to throw their hat in the ring. It’s good for all of us to passionately insist that there’s room for everyone. I’ve always thought that our job as responsible audiences or even critics is to challenge ourselves to give stuff a chance. As much stuff as possible. We don’t have to like it all, but we do have to encourage, maybe demand risk-taking and freshness from our storytellers. As a filmmaker myself (RED VELVET), I’ve always felt a responsibility to try to innovate material. Without having seen Rubber, I still know I want to support Quentin Dupieux and the very concept of the movie. After all, this is how we take turns supporting each other. Not every outing will be a gem but each attempt contributes to the betterment of the next. And that means the experience of movie magic will be sustained a little longer. As I’m writing this, Karen from Magnet Releasing, the very gracious host of the Rubber screening has texted me that she missed me at the theater and will invite me to another press screening! Maybe Feo will be free to come with me next time? I may just buy a ticket the minute I have the opportunity. I don’t think I can wait. I'll let you know when my review finally makes it up at Feoamante.com!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Verne Langdon: he could do anything but live forever...

Verne barely menacing me

Verne Langdon. Gone. I called him "Cousin Verne" because he occupied that awkward age-gap that separated my heroes from my peers. Too young to be Uncle. Too much older than me to be brother. But when we were together, we spoke the same language. We talked about the things we loved. Music. Movies. Monsters. James Warren. Forry Ackerman. All the creative pursuits. When I spoke, it was about my wishes and dreams. When Verne spoke, it was about all the dreams he had accomplished and how I might accomplish some of mine. We loved to laugh together.

Verne and his coveted Zombie mask!

Verne had been a fixture in the golden age of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Back then he had his fingers in everything us little kids read about in Famous Monsters magazine and dreamed of being a part of. He knew our heroes personally and at Don Post monster mask company he made monsters with his own hands! He was also front and center as the era morphed from the 60's into the 70's - my own coming of age. While Forry and the old-timers were walking red carpets in skinny ties and horn-rimmed glasses, there was Verne, decked out in Polyester bell-bottoms and a psychedelic silky-shirt. Long, feathered hair and all. Just the sight of him made a kid of the era feel like there was hope for us to rub elbows with our genre greats.

You can read about Verne's varied and colorful life all over the Internet. But what many of you sadly won't get a chance to know now is his incredibly nurturing nature. His kindness to his fans and his loyalty to his friends. I have heard Verne speak hypercritically about people close to him without ever losing an ounce of the love he held for them. I have seen Verne champion people who needed him most - and without any expectation of reward. He mentored a young friend of Forry's and mine, Casey Wong and allowed Casey the privilege of making his last life-cast (Verne claims the first too)! All of this integrity bundled up in a big, warm-hearted man who made you smile just by entering a room.

I am happy to have been a member of Verne's extended family. He was there in Forrest J Ackerman's last days, crying and telling our Uncle Forry how much he'd miss him. I was happy to be able to return Verne's cover paintings for his Phantom of the Organ and Vampyre of the Harpsichord LPs to him. Eliot Brodsky, the generous man behind Monsterpalooza, was instrumental in showcasing Verne at his brilliant Monsterpalooza conventions and giving attention and respect to Verne. It was at a Monsterpalooza that Verne and I exchanged our only cross words ever. It was a disagreement about a talk Jim Warren gave in which I took exception to some of the things suggested about Forry. Verne and I got into it in the hallway. Then we had lunch! That was that. That was Verne. Never shy about speaking his mind. But always able to separate his love from his ire.

James Warren, Verne Langdon and Forry Ackerman
at Forry's final ComicCon.

While I spoke to Verne on the phone more often than I saw him in person, he knew how much I loved and respected him. I always told him so. At our last lunch together at Musso & Franks in Hollywood, we teased each other. Verne harangued me for eating a veggie platter while I mooed at him for scarfing down half a cow. You'll be happy to know that Verne didn't deny himself any of the joys of living. The gist of our lunch was Verne encouraging me to submit my solo CD (MAINLAND) to the Grammy's for consideration. He brought me the paperwork and all. Not only was Verne doing me a favor in mentoring me, but also in that gesture he was letting me know that he really liked my work and thought it was worthy of consideration. It meant the world to me.

The dust is still settling on Verne's passing. All I've heard is that he had eaten lunch, complained of indigestion, laid down for a nap and never woke up. If Verne couldn't be around forever, that's the way I'd wish for him to check out. We have experienced the loss of many old-timers in the past few years. It is a sad clearing of a field that is underrated and extremely important to our culture of creative vision and invention. So many good people. Verne, like all of the best of them, seemed to go peacefully and sweetly to his rest. Take the time to meet Verne Langdon now that he's gone. He'll surprise you, just as he did in life. Good-bye old friend.