movies


When I discovered a book review last week about “The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend” by Glenn Frankel, I was already ordering it before I read whether the reviewer thought it was good or not.

My motivation wasn’t just my unconditional adoration of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, starring John Wayne. It was also because I was hoping for an answer or at least insight into Ford’s decision as to why he filmed the climactic scene where Wayne’s Ethan Edwards finally catches up to Natalie Wood’s Debbie at Bronson Canyon here in Hollywood.

caveIn the film Debbie flees across the barren plains of Monument Valley with Ethan in hot pursuit on horseback. But instead of reuniting them there, Ford quick-cuts to Debbie running up to the mouth of the Bronson Canyon cave/tunnel. Wayne comes charging down the adjacent slope, dismounts and approaches his long-lost niece, undecided still as to whether he’s going to save her because she’s kin or let his hatred of Indians take over and kill her because she’s long assimilated into the native culture she was abducted into as a child.

As a local who’s haunted them thar Hollywood Hills since I was a kid, I’ve known about Bronson Canyon since I was in elementary school, and I can remember watching “The Searchers” for the umpteenth time about 10 years ago and finally recognizing it. And yes, during visits since, I’ve gone to the mouth of that cave entrance in full-on fanboy awe knowing that I was standing in the exact spots where The Duke and Ford themselves had stood. One time, while overhearing a trio of visitors talking about the place’s use in lesser vehicles such as “Batman” (the ’60s TV series), “Star Trek VI,” and “Army of Darkness.,” I shared what I knew with them. Sadly, my enthusiastic description of the scene (complete with where Ford set up the camera) was lost because none of the three had seen the classic (which I feel should be a crime against entertainment).

I hold the film dearer to my heart knowing part of it was filmed in what is basically the playground of my past and so readily accessible at present. But with so much of the film’s exteriors shot in and around the organic magnificence of Monument Valley (itself a star of the film), I’ve long wondered what happened to bring Ford and Wayne and Wood to film that pivotal scene back here in Hollywood at what is in essence so fake a location entirely incongruous to the established wide-open scope of the West’s great outdoors. As such, I couldn’t resist diving into the back of the book to see if it was there. Thanks to Frankel, I now have the answer and so much more.

From the book:

Four days later, Ford took John Wayne, Natalie Wood, and a camera crew to Bronson Canyon to shoot the film’s climactic scene in which Ethan finally hunts down Debbie. The canyon was one of Hollywood’s classic outdoor locations, a former quarry carved into the southwest corner of Griffith Park just a few miles east of the Culver City studio. Brown and barren, it readily stood in for the rocky terrain of the West. From “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1925) to “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1932) to “Zorro Rides Again” (1937), anyone who needed a cheap natural location within a bus ride from a studio had resorted to Bronson Canyon over the years. Ford didn’t go there save money, however, but to solve a problem. As usual, he left no notes to explain. But it’s likely Ford and his crew had filmed the climactic scene in Monument Valley in July according to the [Frank] Nugent screenplay and that Ford had decided at the last minute to change it.

Nugent’s original script spells out exactly what is supposed to happen and why:

Ethan Dismounts with his gun drawn, pointing it at Debbie. “I’m sorry, girl,” he tells her. “Shut your eyes.”

The camera holds on Debbie’s face — the eyes gaze fearlessly, innocently into Ethan’. After a moment, he lowers his gun and puts it away. “You sure do favor your moth,” he tells her. Then he extends his hand, puts his arm protectively around her and a reconciled uncle and niece head for home.

013-Debbie-Cowering-In-Cave-The-Searchers-1956Somewhere between the original filming of the scene and August 12, Ford decided to reach for a different ending. He clearly wanted something more visual and ambiguous — something the audience could see and feel and not have explained to them. “I wonder, did they box themselves into a corner and find themselves having to shoot this at the very end?” asked Ford scholar James D’Arc. “Bronson Canyon’s the obvious quickie solution.”

As he did so many times, Ford threw away Nugent’s dialogue and improvised. The face that he would be jump-cutting from the flat parched floor of Monument Valley to the hilly rock-strewn path leading to Bronson Canyon did not seem to trouble him. In the filmed version, Ethan chases Debbie down, calling out her name — similar to the way he had called out Martha’s name earlier in the film when he searched for her among the flaming ruins of the ranch house. Desperate to escape him, Debbie reaches the mouth of the cave and then collapses. Ethan dismounts, stands over her, then lifts her over his head in one sweeping motion and takers her in his amrs. “Let’s go home, Debbie,” is all he says.

For Ford and his crew, it was a quick visit. They started shooting at Bronson Canyon at 11:00 that morning and finished up at 12:45. They broke a half hour for lunch and then headed back to the studio.

Damn. I’ve long been a searcher for that information. I can’t wait to start at the beginning of Frankel’s book and see what else he has to show me about one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

Those deathless herkyjerky timelapse videos I compile from my bike rides are often filled with a whole lotta nothing happening beyond a 12 frames-per-second commemoration of whatever route I’ve taken.  But usually I can count on encountering something  eye-catching and worth a second glance. Maybe it’s a unique pedestrian or a scenario or an architectural aspect that I’m happy to have been able to capture.

Such is the cloud-crowded frame above (cinematic, if I do say so myself; click it for the bigger picture), snapped as I was making my way east across the Sixth Street Bridge onward to Montebello for some Broguiere’s egg nog last Monday. Pedaling  past these independent filmmakers during a break in the traffic flow as they rolled on a key moment between what I’d guess could be the protagonist and his or her love interest against a background of the downtown skyline.

Since my approaching presence posed no danger or impediment that forced them to yell cut and flee to the sidewalks, maybe the final cut of the film will find me pedaling along the outskirts of this scene.

Approaching my tenth anniversary as a subscriber, I’m pretty much an OG when it comes to Netflix. But I’m thinking it might be time to call it quits. It’s not really Neflix’s fault, but it’s certainly their predicament — one made ever the more aware to me with last night’s spinning of the “Despicable Me” Blu-ray they sent.

Hollywood studios have certainly been trying to make Netflix and other mail-order/point-of-purchase movie rental companies pay in an effort to recoup losses piling up from a drop in the number of their DVDs the public is no longer purchasing. And they’ve succeeded on certain fronts. Last year Warner Brothers won the right to delay providing new releases to Netflix for 28 days in an effort to bolster sales.

Maybe that’s worked for them. Certainly there are legions of OMG-gotta-have-it impulse buyers who will race to purchase the latest from “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” but I’m not among them. Case in point: my last DVD purchase was “Avatar” when it came out last spring. Before that the latest “Batman.” Before that I’m pretty sure it was a couple years with the latest (and hopefully final and definitive) version of “Blade Runner.” In other words, I’m very picky with the movies I add to my sparse — and dusty — collection of DVDs. The day you see me spending aaaaaaany amount of money to add a Jennifer Aniston vehicle or “The Green Hornet” to my permanent collection is the day I need to either be dressed up in a t-shirt saying “I’m Hollywood’s Bitch” or smacked soundly about the head and shoulders. Preferably both. In either order. Every day for the rest of my life.

Like the good little Netflix OG subscriber I am, I’ve shrugged and accepted the imposed delay because with the exception of films such as “True Grit,” that hold extraordinary appeal enough to get me into a theater seat, I can wait until the DVD release and beyond a month or two to see pretty much everything Hollywood throws at me.

But last night was different. Last night something changed. Last night I personally discovered how petty and ugly and unblinkingly desperate Hollywood’s crackdown is getting while spinning the Blu-ray Netflix had sent me of Universal’s “Despicable Me.” After the movie ended I clicked to access the accompanying extras listed in the main menu and instead of being able to see an array of short films was shown that as a “rental copy” the disk contained only the film and should I wish to view the additional features it was demanded that I buy a copy.

Despicable, indeed.

And while I’m not readysetgo to finally say to hell with Netflix, it’s not going to take many more similar rental roadblock experiences before I enact my own across-the-board crackdown and cancel — even though I know it’s not really their fault they were dressed up as Hollywood’s bitch.

Call it coincidence, but it’s an interesting one. Like many dreams, I can’t quite remember when it exactly began, but an awareness about my lack of them has been in place for quite some time, and as someone who previously dreamed pretty regularly the prolonged dearth was a bit disturbing.

Well, in a curious case of timing wouldn’t you know after seeing the mind-blowing dreamscape epic  “Inception” over the weekend I blew my own mind with a remarkably vivid and detailed dream the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a long time — if ever. So intense was it that I awoke with an actual pounding headache. Or maybe the headache fed the dream? Whoa!

In it I was in trouble for something big and scheduled to surrender to authorities. But instead with Susan’s help I fled hoping to evade capture at the hands of a top-notch bounty hunter who was hot on my trail. Holed up in a dingy second-story flat straight out of film noir on Pico Boulevard in the Mid-City area and feeling the dragnet closing in, I arrange for Susan to come get me. But my attempts to get undetected to where she’s parked fail and I end up in a bullet-filled footrace to Susan’s SUV (foreshadowing of the Ford Escape hybrid we’re going to get soon?) with the bounty hunter in hot pursuit  and closing  — a chase so fear-filled and lifelike I can recall consciously acknowledging the physicality of how heavy my dreamself was breathing as I ran, very much like a spectator to my own movie. I dive into the truck and we make our getaway, barely evading my nemesis.

As a bonus the dream came to a conclusion, with me next sequestered out of sight near to the stark, post-modern hillside house that was our home, watching the bounty hunter try desperately to convince Susan that if I didn’t give up I’d be dead and she’d go to jail as an accessory. Doing the right thing, I step out hands-up from my hiding place and turn myself in.

The moment I feel the handcuffs tighten on my wrists, I wake up, eluding capture once again. But oddly left with a throbbing headache.

And in case you’re wondering, I thoroughly enjoyed “Inception.” Exceptionally original, wonderfully performed, masterfully directed and fully immersive, as an adult I haven’t so jaw-droppingly reveled in a motion picture since “The Dark Knight” (no surprise since they both were directed by Christopher Nolan), and “The Matrix.”

A few days ago I made public my frustration with the mistitling of the upcoming remake of “The Karate Kid,” and wouldn’t you know in today’s LA Times, way too much front page Calendar section play is given to what amounts to soft -’n-puffy feature about the backstory of the production of That Movie Which I Shall Not See.

Of course I took issue with a couple points:

I guess most of your readers (“Comeback Kid,” Calendar, May 30) will just surrender to Hollywood’s incredible ability to rationalize, but not me. When Overbrook’s self-serving James Lassiter explains that the power and authority rests with the actual Chinese “people” when it comes to location shoots there, I’d like to see him apply that logic to events such as Tiananmen Square and the Sichuan earthquake. Apparently from his strange “That’s why it’s called the People’s Republic of China,” point of view  those same “people” didn’t want democracy and used their “authority” to violently massacre those who did? And I guess all those school children killed in the 2008 quake came about because the “people” didn’t want their kids getting educated in buildings that wouldn’t fall down?

The second, third and fourth letters in Lassiter’s name pretty much sum up what such a statement makes him look like.

And speaking of asses, blame for the lame title gets attributed to the original “The Karate Kid” producer Jerry Weintraub who allegedly objected to Sony’s plan to correctly title the film “The Kung Fu Kid.” I’m curious to know who said that exactly and why such a statement was run without getting a response or no comment from Weintraub.

I already wasn’t going to lay eyes on this film for the stupid title alone, but now this puff-piece on its production will leave me avoiding anything Overbrook puts its hands on — and anything under John Horn’s byline.

Will Campbell
Silver Lake

There’s a movie whose arrival is imminent that you may have heard of called The Karate Kid. It features an elderly man who happens to be a secret martial arts master who teaches a young punk transplanted far from home how to protect himself from big bad bullies at school who aren’t really down with him — and especially with him getting all  smitten with a pretty young classmate. Life lessons ensue,  a cross-generational friendship is forged, skills get honed, and it all ends up at a competition where the kid kicks ass.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Who hasn’t seen the wonderful original from 1984 with Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio (or its sequels — yes even that last silly one with Hilary Swank).

But here’s the thing, and by “thing” I mean Idiocy That Pisses Me Off.  This version of the film should not be called The Karate Kid. It should be called The Kung Fu Kid since it takes place in China where that is the indigenous martial art — and indeed according to the film’s summary on IMDB is what the elderly gent (played this time by Jackie Chan) teaches the punk (played by Wil Smith’s kid Jaden).

But  everyone who made the movie seemed less intent on basic factual truth in titling and instead more desperately intent on greedily making bank by piggybacking on the franchise, which at a quarter century in age is old enough to engender nostalgia in those 30-somethings who were kids and teens during its originally release. Sure, the filmmakers could argue that they didn’t want any confusion/connection between this film and the far more recent Kung Fu Panda, but that’s just a buncha silly sauce. You want silly? I’ll argue that there should be a statute of limitations invoked prohibiting remakes of any kind — properly titled or not — from being made for a minimum of 40 years after the original’s theatrical release.

But since that day will never come, and nothing’s sacred, I’ve decided instead to offer up the following  list of films the studios should consider remaking (or in some cases re-remaking) under their original titles while also brainlessly changing crucial elements — the more the better:

Waterworld — The earth is covered by water sand. The remaining people travel the oceans deserts, in search of survival led over endless dunes by a uselessly gilled guy called Mariner for no reason.

Lawrence of Arabia — T.E. Lawrence Balthazar blazes his way to glory in the Arabian desert post-Katrina New Orleans.

Gone With The Wind — The epic tale of a woman’s life before, during and after the Civil War Woodstock, which she didn’t attend but said she did.

Goodfellas — The lowly, violent blue-collar side of New York’s Elvis Presley’s Italian Memphis mafia.

Nightmare on Elm Street — On Elm Street Maple Drive, a group of teens aging boy band members are tormented in their dreams during lunch by a clawed six-fingered killer nursing home janitor named Freddy Krueger Skippy Gunderson.

Jaws — A shark marmot makes a resort coal-mining town its private public feeding breeding grounds.

Towering Inferno — A skyscraper jumbo jet catches fire lands safely due to poor wiring an uneventful flight and competent pilots.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! — Three wild women congressmen in fast cars on Segways take time off from stripping in clubs budget negotiations to go on a murder tax-and-spend rampage.

3:10 To Yuma — A rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting the 4:25 train to go to court in Yuma Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The Matrix — A computer phonebook hacker deliveryman learns about ignores the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against the controllers of it.

Citizen Kane — Following the death of an aged publishing tycoon astronomer, reporters colleagues scramble to discover hide the meaning proper spelling of his final utterance, “Beetlegeuse.” Or is it “Beetlejuice?” Or is it “Beetleguese?” “Beetlegoose,” maybe? No, Beetlegeese!”

Memento — A man, suffering from unaware of his short-term memory loss, uses notes smoke signals and tattoos disappearing ink to hunt for never find the man he thinks killed his wife his wallet, which is in his back pocket the whole fucking time.

Or as told in the film’s unique reverse timeline:

To hunt for never find the man he thinks killed his wife his wallet, which is in his back pocket the whole fucking time, a man uses notes smoke signals and tattoos disappearing ink  while suffering from unaware of his short term memory loss.

It’s A Wonderful Life — An angel out-of-work Angels Stadium groundskeeper prevents a compassionate heartless but despairingly frustrated and sociopathically fraudulent mortgage company executive from seeing what how much better everything would have been if he never existed.

The Man Who Knew Too Much — An American doctor idiot savant vacationing in Morocco accidentally stumbles onto an assassination plot.

The Poseidon Adventure — A group of passengers chefs struggle to survive serve dinner when their ocean liner Gordon Ramsay capsizes berates them at sea Ocean, a new eatery having its soft-open in Culver City with rumors that food writer Jonathon Gold is coming.

Plenty more where those come from, but I’d better quit while I’m behind.

Or make your own Madlib style:

Armageddon: When a giant asteroid [adjective] [noun] the size of  Texas [celebrity's name; possessive] [thing or things] is discovered headed for Earth [place], hope for survival rests on the success of a misfit [adjective] team of deep-core drillers [specialized group of people or animals] sent to space [place] on a suicide mission [adjective] [noun] to nuke [verb] it.

From GreenLAGirl’s blog I found it, and also found it will be the headlining film of the upcoming Long Beach Bike Festival.

GreenLAGirl writes:

Riding Bikes with the Dutch — the brainchild of Long Beach resident and filmmaker Michael Bauch — highlights not high-speed bike racing or flashy bike maneuvers, but everyday cycling as a convenient, healthy, and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

In addition to films, the festival will feature everything from Fixed Gear contests to a CYCLESTYLE Fashion Show. Bicyclists and the bike-curious will get to race in a Bike Push/Pull event, play bicycle polo, take a 30 mile “see cruise” ride around Long Beach, bid on bike-centric art works created by artists at the Plein Air Bicycle Painting event — and enjoy general festivities and merrymaking with food, music, bike-friendly vendors, and more.

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