FROM THE LINER NOTES OF HIS COLLECTION "MUSIC FOR A DARKENED THEATRE" - VOLUME TWO
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a la Mod:
Kent was an inspiration for Brad Pitt's character in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (stuntman Hal Needham was also an inspiration for the character). According to Emily St. Martin's Los Angeles Times obit:
Just like Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s character in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Kent had a run-in with Charles Manson and the “family” at Spahn Movie Ranch. A dune buggy that production was using as a camera car broke down on set, and Manson offered to repair it, but asked for a $70 advance. Kent paid up, but Manson reneged on his end of the deal until Kent threatened him.
“Charles got under the dune buggy and fixed it right away,” Kent said.
According to Joe O’Connell, the filmmaker behind “Danger God,” Quentin Tarantino interviewed Kent while working on the script for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.” Stuntman and director Hal Needham has also been noted as an inspiration for the character of Booth.
Kent often portrayed thugs, rapists, outlaws and scoundrels in his films, but according to those who worked closely with him, his off-screen persona couldn’t be further from such “bad guy” roles. O’Connell became friends with the stuntman while filming his documentary, and they remained close for years. He told The Times, “Gary is the guy that guys wanted to hang out with. And women wanted to be near. Even as an old guy, he was just great. He just radiated a joy of life.”
In the 1970s, Kent traveled to Dallas to direct a film, but the funding fell through. He decided to stay anyway and went on to write and direct the dramatic 1976 film “The Pyramid,” which was recently included in the book “TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema.”
We would often gather, my Pyramiders and I, at Jeff's workshop, my apartment, or the park to exchange ideas and bolster our offense. We formed an athletic team, and after think-tank sessions, would adjourn to a swimming pool for water polo or to a local baseball diamond for a softball duke-out. This would all be lowed by my cranking out a tub of homemade ice cream for the lot of us, an art anches I had inherited from my father and generations of Kents before him. Hopes were high, humor was splendid, days were long and magical. In the evenings I would continue to write the screenplay. It was all very cozy, very enjoyable. "Except." Boo reminds me, "you are quickly running out of money."
Albert Camus, the great French writer/philosopher and Noble Laureate, said in his acceptance speech that the noble cause of the writer is "the service of truth and of freedom." I had just gotten off the phone with Shirley Willeford. She and I both shared an admiration for Mr. Camus and his works. In fact, she had written her college thesis at Stevens on Camus. His The Plague and The Stranger are easily two of my favorite reads. I was trying to channel Camus' clarity of thought and enormous personal integrity as I returned to my own writing. "Truth." "Freedom." Yes, yes, I hear you, Albert, but much easier said than written. One immediately confronts the lofty Albert Einstein and the intensive Werner Heisenberg.
Is truth relative? Relative to what? And what sort of freedom are we talking about here? Anarchy? Is it truth that the sun will always rise? I think not. So then, "faith" enters into the equation. It was getting to be a bit sticky, a bit muddy, really. I was writing a scene where my lead character, a South Texas news reporter, esses a Shiner Bock and some bar olives. His mind is struggling with the problem of how to get his therapist into the sack and where in town to get the best chicken fried steak. I would be better served researching Erskine Caldwell (God's Little Acre) than an austere French existentialist. I closed the tablet and turned on the television.
This was a mistake. Every channel was carrying something depressing. Mostly counts of increased slaughter in Vietnam or another foray into the twisted psyche of Tricky Dick Nixon. I was reminded that this was exactly the problem that our protagonist in The Pyramid faces-an ever-increasing appetite of the public for violence and sensationalism. I felt my own, personal angst beginning to gather its darker forces like a street gang in Cabrini-Green. I turned off the television.
It was just beginning to turn dark outside the big picture window. Lights were popping on, children were called in from play, the dogs assumed their positions as family sentries. I sat in the lavender light of a summer's evening in Texas, absorbing the moment. Well, one thing was becoming increasingly clear and that was the dire situation of my finances. Rent, child-support, food, utilities: Their specter chipped away at my confidence until writing about getting laid and having a chilled long-neck became difficult to consider as either "truth" or "freedom/1 thought briefly about the rose in the vase in the bedroom. Surely it was dead by now, in need of replacing. Then, as if on cue, the phone rang. It was Paul Lewis calling from Hollywood.
"Hi. Gar. Listen, I'm coming down to Dallas with a director named Brian De Palma. We're doing a movie for Fox called Phantom of the Paradise. It's a pretty big production. I'm going to need an assistant. You interested?"
A week later, I was at the old Dallas Airport. Love Field, waiting for Paul and Brian De Palma to arrive from Los Angeles. They were coming in early to scout locations for Phantom of the Paradise. They were accompanied by cinematographer Larry Pizer (The Proprietor, Isadora) and art director Jack Fisk (Raggedy Man, There Will Be Blood, husband of actress Sissy Spacek). I had signed on as unit production manager. I had with me Dan Dusek, a senior film student from Southern Methodist University, who would work as a location scout for the film.
Paul and the group arrived with much of the hurly-burly of Hollywood spilling out of their baggage. It was going to take some time to get them on Texas time. In the finality of it all, we reached a sort of compromise. Phantom of the Paradise required getting much of Dallas to pass itself off as New York-damn near an impossibility. This particular illusion fell into the oeuvre of art director Fisk and me and my Pyramiders (which by now included the energetic Dan Dusek). We were charged with getting the locals to appear more cosmopolitan, less like hunter gatherers, as Brian insisted on using masses of them to fill out the empty spaces in his movie.
After several rounds of location looking, we all adjourned to my apartment for a welcoming party. There was much good fellowship in sway. Unusual, since half of the crew was from New York and the other half from Los Angeles, and the twain did not fancy each other. The bonding agent turned out to be copious amounts of good Scotch and vodka, a little weed, the southern charm of a Pyramiders, and the naturally wholesome beauty of Ms. Willeford and Morris.
Paul Lewis, of course, was a dear friend. I was also familiar with the personalities and idiosyncrasies of movie crews. Brian De Palma was a different sort of bloke altogether mostly aloof, perhaps a bit shy, not a huggy-feely fellow in the least. an auteur to be sure, hard on the success of two cinematic coup d'état: Greetings and Sisters. I was delighted, therefore, when I observed him sitting cross-legged on the floor, comfortably involved in the workings of a Ouija board with one of my female Pyramiders. Cinematographer Larry Pizer had been co-opted by a local beauty, a friend of Jeff Alexander's, and spent the evening in a corner of the apartment, locked into some intimate and perhaps racy conversation.
The crew, the hard-hearted New Yorkers and the cynical Angelenos, were enjoying a mutual disdain for all things Texan, especially Dallas. Boo and I observed the scene from our vantage point behind the makeshift bar. We smiled. "It was good!" I predicted an enjoyable shoot. I was wrong.
From the opening day of filming, things on Phantom took on a whirly, anxious, uncontrollable energy all their own. The logistics, the schedule, the production board, for some reason were considered a secret. "Perhaps," Boo suggested, "they simply had not been completed." Jack Fisk and his construction crew were hard at work, slamming those eight-pennies and slopping paint onto flat-walls for twelve to fourteen hours a day. As they were behind schedule, they had little time to explain to the rest of us what was going on or what they needed in the way of supplies and materials. After all, they were morphing Dallas into New York City at warp speed.
The costume department was buzzing with the sound of little fingers sewing. folding, ironing, inventing the bizarre, colorful plumage needed to fulfill Brian's vision. They had even enlisted the services of the marvelous actress Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Coal Miner's Daughter) as, being married to art director Fisk, she was already on location. In spite of being hailed by the Hollywood moguls as a promising new actress for her work in Badlands, Sissy was more than willing to help in any way she could. In this case, that involved a needle, thread, thimble, and the fortitude of a mongoose.
The local teamsters were grumbling, the caterers overworked, the multitudes of extras unsure of what the hell they were supposed to be and do. Paul Lewis and producer Edward R. Pressman (American Psycho, Hoffa, a Christopher Award and multi-other nominations) were barely speaking to one another. Whatever the disagreement, Paul soon had enough. After putting his heart and soul into the project, he suddenly grabbed his return ticket and bid us all adieu. It happened so fast! "Paul, wait, please, just a sec, ok?" But he was gone.
That night we received word that the choreographer had balked at La Guardia airport in New York and would not be joining us. Two members of the crew got into a fistfight and the intestinal flu had stricken Gerritt Graham (Greetings, Pretty Baby). one of our lead actors. Racetrack touts were giving ten to one on complete failure of the project. Phantom of the Paradise turned out to be a tremendous success, though, becoming a classic horror/musical/farce with the impact and staying power of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It also would garner multiple awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and Best Musical Score.
The sheer amount of talent assembled for Brian's movie was staggering For openers, there was De Palma himself, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence, a private liberal arts college cloistered on top of a rocky promontory overlooking the Bronx River in Yonkers. De Palma entered the foray of filmmaking well prepared by at excellent education, impressive contacts, and a group of uber-talented pals forged on the Sarah Lawrence campus. Most of them appeared in Phantom, along with other of Brian's films, and continue to work with him to the present day.
Brian became a leader of "The New Hollywood" in the 1970s, along with Oliver Stone, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese, Richard Rush, Francis Ford Coppola, and others. His work on Phantom of the Paradise resulted in several major awards, including a nomination for Best Original Comedy Screenplay from the WGA.
The lead actress in Phantom of the Paradise was lovely, dedicated Jessica Harper. She was also a Sarah Lawrence grad and a personal friend of Brian's. Jessica was flirtatious in a professional kind of way, just enough to endear her to the crew and the folks doing the heavy lifting. She had a way of turning her head suddenly and looking one directly in the eyes, and then she would break into the most delicious of smiles. Just as quickly, she would turn away, back to business. This left one to believe she had meant the smile especially for them, and was making a point to bestow it on them secretly, before any more of the day slipped away. Of course every grip, every gopher, P.A., and juicer believed "the smile" was a signal that she found them alone especially appealing. This effective ploy earned Ms. Harper easy access to just about anything she wanted, movie set-wise.
Jessica Harper writes music, and possessing the most unique, husky contralto, performed all of her own singing in Phantom. Ever the lady, I was somewhat surprised when she later appeared in the X-rated Inserts, wherein Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss sucked on her breast for several scorching minutes of screen time. Arguably, it was the first time an American actress of note had actually allowed a sexual act to be performed on her for the sake of cinema.
Another Sarah Lawrence pal who came to Texas for the Phantom shoot was William Finley (The Black Dablia, Sisters). Finley played the part of Winslow Leach, a nerdish songwriter, who sells his soul and his songs for a chance at love with his dream girl, Phoenix (Harper). He is subsequently disfigured in a to accident involving a record printing press, and from then on assumes the mask and the identity of "The Phantom of the Paradise."
The part of the devilish record producer, Swan, went to one of my absolute favorite songwriters, the diminutive, energetic, brilliantly prolific Paul Williams. Paul not only starred as the evil Swan, but also wrote the lyrics and music for this bizarre operetta. For this, he would receive his second Oscar nomination for Best Song. So far, in his eclectic career, Paul has won one Oscar, received four other Oscar nominations, won two ASCAP Awards, one Golden Globe with three nominations, nominated for two Grammys, is a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and he's just getting started.
Shirley Willeford and I went through our favorite list of Paul's songs. "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "(Just An) Old Fashioned Love Song "The Rainbow Connection," "The Family of Man," and what eventually became our song, the haunting and naturally uplifting ballad, "Evergreen"
When a bunch of teenyboppers in bikinis were scheduled to dance for the hilarious rock group. The Juicy Fruits, and the original choreographer didn't show up, I volunteered Shirley as her replacement. So, then, Shirley Willeford, ex-warehouse foreman, ended up choreographing all of the beach bunny dance moves and doing a special close-up camera gag with a Juicy Fruiter. Kim Russell and Adrian Cumming were totally into the project, and Adrian even received credit on the film as a production assistant.
It is rumored that a very wise person once said. "To carry money without spending it is a sign of maturity." During the first weeks of Phantom filming, the picture company was headquartered at the old Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas. The Majestic sat mid-block, in a rundown section of the metroplex. One day, producer Ed Pressman sent Dan Dusek and me to an uptown bank to pick up a satchel of money and return it to him at the theater. Ed didn't specify how much money we would be transporting, but we assumed it was probably going to be a couple of thousand or more. Otherwise, why send two of us?
It was a walk of several blocks through scruffy territory, littered with refuse both human and debatable. We asked Police Sergeant Dave Biddleman, who was working security on the film, to accompany us. At the bank, a senior officer approached with a satchel, opened it, and counted out a hundred and fifty thousand friggin' dollars! I signed a receipt, then stuffed the moolah into the satchel. I handed it to Dusek. "I don't want it." Dan bawled. "Here, Dave, you carry it." He handed the satchel to Biddleman, who in turn handed it back to me.
"Come on, Gary, you're the senior member of this squad."
That being true, I considered pulling rank and forcing Dusek into taking the satchel along with its flinty responsibility. Dan had already started walking off, however, so, summoning up a spot of bravado, I stuck the money under my arm and began a casual saunter out of the bank. The walk back to the theater, a twenty- minute mosey at best, seemed to take about an hour and a half, during which time the satchel was passed between the three of us like a bag of molding body parts. So much, then, for the vastly overrated importance of "$" per se. None of us wanted the damn money.
We filmed Phantom of the Paradise over Christmas holidays, 1974. Everyone was homesick and/or sick literally, as stomach flu was spreading like Cheese Whiz through cast and crew. I hired a doctor to come to the set daily to give shots of B12, tabs of Vicodin, and hand out chewable vitamin C tablets. The crew gobbled up the pain pills like holiday candy.
We were scheduled to film on Christmas Eve. Paul Williams decided to surprise everyone by having a gourmet meal catered to the set. Roast turkey, beef tenderloin, asparagus, mashed potatoes smothered in creamery butter, grapes, avocados, yams, chocolate mousse, and caramel ice cream. Everyone was too sick to eat. We tried to show our appreciation, but could only sit at the perfectly coiffed dining tables, hunched and taciturn as illegals at a border bust.
This week, Tarantino presented a mystery screening at the Cannes Film Festival that turned out to be Rolling Thunder. France 24's David Rich provides some details about Tarantino's subsequent Masterclass at Cannes:
A fixture of the Palme d’Or contest, [Marco] Bellocchio is yet to win a prize in Cannes – aside from the career award he picked up two years ago for his lifetime achievements. His lack of success here stands in stark contrast with that of another Cannes stalwart, Quentin Tarantino, who showed up for a masterclass on Thursday before an ecstatic crowd of several hundred, packed inside the Théâtre de la Croisette.
The superstar director of “Pulp Fiction”, who won the Palme at his first attempt in 1994, is currently at work on what could be his final feature film. His Cannes talk came two months after the release of his book, “Cinema Speculation”, in which he recounts his first steps as a film buff and details his love of the movies.
Tarantino kicked off the talk with a surprise screening of John Flynn’s “Rolling Thunder”, an obscure movie about a Vietnam veteran pursuing the criminals who killed his family – which he introduced as “the greatest revenge flick of all time”. With its gun-blast violence, lyrical badmouth, and cathartic final bloodbath in a Mexican bordello, it had all the hallmarks of a Tarantino favourite.
The screening of “Rolling Thunder” was a chance for the filmmaker to reflect on his approach to on-screen violence, a subject he touched on in his book, describing how his mother would take him to the movies as a young boy and let him watch violent films – as long as the violence was contextualised and “understood”.
Morality should not dictate the aesthetics of a film, Tarantino argued at the Cannes talk. The most important thing is to “electrify the audience”, he added, quoting American director Don Siegel. He did, however, draw a red line at on-set violence against animals, noting that “killing animals for real in a film (…) has been done a lot in European and Asian films”. The taboo applied to insects too, he quipped, eliciting laughter from the audience.
“I'm not paying to see death for real. We’re here to pretend, which is why I can put up with all this violence,” he explained. “We’re just being silly, we’re just kids playing, it’s not real blood and nobody gets hurt.”
Tarantino also asserted his preference for edgy and divisive directors, as well as those – like Flynn from “Rolling Thunder” – who never got the credit they deserved.
“Everyone loves Spielberg and Scorsese, there was no question of me joining the club of the most popular guys, that’s not my style!” he said, echoing a theme he mined in his book, in which he detailed his love for Brian De Palma’s more divisive movies. “Part of my love for De Palma came from the possibility of getting into trouble defending him, sometimes to the point of coming to blows,” he added.
Touching on his last Cannes entry, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019), Tarantino said his primary motivation for making the film was to “avenge” Sharon Tate, the actress who was brutally murdered by members of the ‘Manson Family’ in the 1970s, by imagining an alternative ending to the tragedy.
He was distinctly less chatty when quizzed about his new project, the forthcoming film “The Movie Critic”, billed as another ode to cinema. “I'm tempted to give you some of the characters’ monologues right now. But I’m not going to do that, no, no,” he teased the audience. “Maybe if there were fewer cameras.”
Tarantino has repeatedly suggested his tenth feature film is likely to be his last, based on his belief that filmmakers only have a limited number of good films in them. Whether or not he quits as a director, the conversation about movies will go on, he added, wrapping up the talk with a simple, “To be continued”.
“I don’t know if we thought of a specific spy. But certainly, the work of Brian De Palma comes to mind…not specifically from his espionage films but so much from his ‘thrillers.’ I think that was probably the biggest influence on the look on the feel of the show,” Joe Russo told Interaksyon when asked for spy or film inspiration for “Citadel.”
Angela Russo-Otsot also stressed that while they are fans of the genre and have many references, they still produced the series with the thought of bringing something new to the audience.
“I think that what’s interesting to note here is that oftentimes, even though we are such fans of genre, and have many references that we can point to as great influences successes, oftentimes when we sit down to think about how to approach a genre, we specifically reflect on ‘what have we not seen before?’ And that felt like a really exciting, compelling opportunity here, to not only feature a duo, but a duo that has a complicated past and features a woman in a way that we have not seen in the spy space, to date,” Angela said during the roundtable interview.
“I think felt like the most exciting approach was to really consider all the spy films that we have seen before lean into some of them from a storytelling perspective that appeal to a broader audience and allow that audience an easier access point, but then to subvert their aspects that then frankly, felt long overdue,” she added.
Elfman creates a distinct imprint of near-miss intersections and on-the-fly improvisations as Hunt perceives them. Frequently as haunted and harried as it is high-spirited and heroic, Elfman’s score careens in real-time through Hunt’s cognitive analysis of who has betrayed him and his team. Working in tandem with a hairpin narrative, Elfman perpetually suppresses Hunt’s progress beneath propulsive momentum that this pointman cannot always control.
During “Big Trouble” — as Hunt’s team falls prey to a catastrophic mission in Prague — Elfman undermines the typical connotations of confidence in a trumpet voluntary. He upends the lone-hero motif as a bit of brassy bravado; as fast as Hunt can run, he can only arrive at prime vantage points to watch his colleagues picked off one by one. Burbling timpani and skittering-scorpion auxiliary percussion add to the sense of inescapable dread, like Hunt’s heartbeat aggravated into arrhythmia. Elfman holds the tether with the faintest instrumentation before a car explosion segues into a full-blown, fog-thickened tragedy.
Later, in “Mole Hunt” — as IMF director Kittredge puts the squeeze on Hunt, whom he believes sold out his team — Elfman addresses the accusations like an ascending scale of anxieties for a man still reeling from seeing his colleagues slaughtered. And through dynamics and sound alone in “Biblical Revelation,” Elfman suggests Hunt is hallucinating the reappearance of his supposedly dead mentor, Jim Phelps. These darker passages feel like a variation of Hunt’s vitals, from amplified anxiety to the comforts of certainty he derives amid so much deception.
It’s all the more impressively oppressive given the playfulness of other passages. As director Brian De Palma does with the film itself, Elfman nails the delicate balancing act.
When it comes to Hunt’s nigh-magical acts of spycraft, Elfman puts the presti in his prestidigitation. Accompanying the film’s prologue, “Sleeping Beauty” opens with a martial, percussive momentum. It’s a deceptively hefty introduction, yielding to trilling flutes, jaunty cello and plucked bass (the latter for just a bit of that bottom-end heft Elfman brought to his band, Oingo Boingo). Castanets conjure the fast finger-work of a grifter lifting and pinching, only here it’s the question of the reality we see — blooming into full heroic flourish once Hunt commits his first of the series’ many mask-pulls. Before “Big Trouble” brings the carnage, “Red Handed” rolls off rollicking roundelays amid the typically cheery chatter on back-channel communications. Although the film’s centerpiece CIA robbery sequence unfolds largely in silence, “The Heist” is an emotional pump-primer for the clenched teeth and clapped hands it commands. And when the hammering triplets hit for a swoop in on a bullet train during “Train Time,” it’s simply electric.
Elfman is also judicious with Lalo Schifrin’s iconic but indispensable theme he did not compose — deploying it only for the opening credits, the establishing card for the CIA headquarters and the climax of the furious helicopter-versus-train finish. Even in that latter moment, Elfman’s own “Zoom B” first erupts into a major key as Hunt leaps onto a helicopter skid — a sonic sunburst through the clouds and a full, unfettered act of derring-do as Hunt takes down the bad guys with an homage to his fallen friends.
Coyle quotes Anderson: "I do feel like this might be a movie that benefits from being seen twice. Brian De Palma liked it the first time and had a much bigger reaction on the second time. But what can you say? You can't make a movie and say, ‘I think it’s best everyone sees it twice.'"
The association of local cinephiles Grand Ecran offers, on Monday May 22 at 8:30 p.m., an evening dedicated to the importance of sound in cinema. Thierry Jousse, specialized journalist but also film director, will discuss this subject after the screening of the film “Blow Out” by Brian de Palma. A great specialist in film music, he has written several books on this subject.
Thierry Jousse considers that sound and music are "essential" in a film. “They lead the viewer's gaze. But the sound – a little less the music – still remains a poor relation of cinema for the general public”, estimates the one who hosts a weekly program on France Musique: “Ciné Tempo”.
For Thierry Jousse, "90% of the best memories of spectators in dark rooms are related to music". Even if he does not consider himself an "ayatollah" of music and sound, he deplores the general public's ignorance of these essential elements of a film.
The evening promises to be exciting because the film was chosen by the speaker himself and has for hero... a sound engineer!
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria always makes a splash with its annual “See It Big” film series.
And there’s no way to make it any bigger than this year’s lineup dedicated to summer blockbusters, dating back to when they were invented in the 1970s.
The promo on the museum’s website, movingimage.us, says it all:
“Kick back in the air conditioning and enjoy these summer movies the way they were meant to be seen.”
The series began May 5. “Jaws” (1975), the original “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-83) and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) headline the A-list offerings.
Edo Choi, MoMI’s associate curator of film, programmed the series alongside Curator of Film Eric Hynes and co-editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert of MoMI’s “Reverse Shot” magazine
“We researched the summer movies from each year going back to the 1973 release of “American Graffiti” which we judged to be the historical, as opposed to the mythic (“Jaws”), beginning of the summer movie phenomenon,” Choi told the Chronicle in an email. “We then tried to achieve a selection that had a good mix of mainstream blockbusters, genre films and arthouse hits.”
Choi said “American Graffiti” was not available because the studio is planning a theatrical release around the film’s 50th anniversary. But he did receive a nice consolation prize
“I’m particularly excited that we managed to arrange the loan of a 35mm print of Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” (1981),” he said. “The digital format (DCP) has more commonly circulated in recent years and this is certainly one to ‘See Big.’”