THE ROBERT ALTMAN FILES: FOOL FOR LOVE (1986)

I find myself experiencing deja vu as I sit to write this because I feel like I’ve visited this viewpoint before with an old review of John Cassavetes’s Love Streams. No, I’m not talking about the similarities between that film and Robert Altman’s Fool For Love (especially their big reveals halfway through their respective stories). Instead, I’m talking specifically about having talked about the Cannon Group, Inc., a fledgling studio that was purchased on the cheap by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in 1979, thriving during the mid-eighties by cranking out utter garbage like Over the Top and any one of the ball-busting Missing In Action pictures.

But Cannon was also a studio that was hungry for prestige pictures and marquee directors and would give those vaunted filmmakers quite a bit of latitude to bring their projects to fruition. The aforementioned Cassavetes picture couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for him, Andrei Konchalovsky managed to get both Runaway Train and Shy People produced under the Cannon flag, and Robert Altman found a safe haven with the studio after MGM stuck O.C. and Stiggs on a shelf upon that film’s completion and where it would sit for two straight years before finding its way into a release pipeline.

Instead of going hog wild with Cannon’s purse strings, Altman settled on adapting Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, yet another filmed play for Altman which, O.C. and Stiggs aside, had been his cinematic bread and butter in the 80’s. After a decade of mostly wide-canvas ensemble pieces with busy soundtracks and a thousand other details with which to keep up, Altman found an almost peaceful place of reflection and freedom with those films that relied on one location and only a small handful of players.

With its limited cast and setting, Fool for Love was perfect material for Altman in 1986. Not so much because this kind of material had become his metier over the past few years but also specifically because it’s a piece that takes place in the outer reaches of the soul where past hurts and unrequited feelings can vacation and have too many drinks, creating a kind of combustible inner turmoil. For all of the ups and downs and the demons that Altman seemed to wrestle with throughout his career, Fool for Love comes off downright therapeutic to him.

Fool for Love takes its time before revealing itself. Instead of hitting the ground running with expository dialogue between the players, it favors a dreamy mood where the dusk settles on the El Royale Motel, a horseshoe bungalow monument of desolation set on the edge of nowhere that looks like it’s mere weeks from becoming overrun with a post-apocalyptic motorcycle gang to be used as a hideout. The film doesn’t want to show its hand too early so it luxuriates in a great deal of visual flourishes and sparse small-talk while its seemingly rote and simple story of a broken love-affair plays out in front of us, Sandy Rogers’s songs mixing into the soundtrack to counterbalance the visuals as if Altman is crafting a gorgeous, long-form C&W music video.

The film’s deliberate pace is a hallmark of Sam Shepard’s work. As Shepard’s cowboys are men folded into the wrong time, they always seem like they’ve been snatched out of their time and dropped into the present day, kind of like a bewildered Peckinpah anti-hero who has to take his time to get his bearings. Drifting into the El Royale in his pickup and loaded horse trailer comes Eddie (Shepard), sometime cowboy and sometime stuntman, is in search of May (Kim Basinger), a sad, broken desert flower of lost love for whom the motel serves as both a place of employment and a refugee camp. At first, she deliberately avoids him even when Altman telegraphs that these two people are connected and avoidance is all but impossible. But he soon sees her from a distance and charges back to the motel to either rescue her, reconcile his feelings, or be resolved to reality lest the world explode around him. In the end, he achieves a degree of all three.

As this is not really a two-hander, there are a couple of other characters that inhabit the world of Fool for Love. In a bit of casting that can’t help but feel like an inspiration from the Wim Wenders-directed/Shepard-penned Paris, Texas, Harry Dean Stanton portrays a rambling man at the end of his life; a drifting, rudderless soul lording over both a literal and metaphoric trash heap in his twilight years whose life work was pissing away stability in favor of instant gratification. Randy Quaid pops up in the film’s final third as the civilized “man” who, in Shepard’s world, is worth examination in contrast to the self-governing “guy” and their verbal tug-of-war explores the subject of masculinity and its contextual, shifting definition.

Of all of Altman’s 80’s efforts, Fool for Love is among one of his bravest. It uses Shepard’s familiar and warm cowboy iconography to tell a tale that feels downright European. This clash of styles is what was at the soul of Sam Shepard’s work and persona. For he was a cowboy who nonetheless mingled with rock stars, was awarded more Obies than anyone else, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his florid and haunting words that articulated the split within the soul that can put folks into emotional spaces that are neither here nor there. Here, he shows why he was so good at interpreting his own material as he almost personifies the characters he creates. Then still wrestling with all of the cover-girl baggage that kept her from being taken seriously, Kim Basinger’s May is dishtowel dirty and quarter beer gorgeous and looks like someone you’d pick up in the back of Gilley’s. Though she rounds off her g’s while leaning into her twang a little too hard, Basinger is utterly terrific and gives one of the best performances of her career as the heartsick victim of cruel circumstances.

And, not for nothing, but Fool for Love is one of Altman’s most visually gorgeous films. While the majority of it takes place at night, the opening moment’s desert sundown is both ethereally beautiful and hauntingly portentous. The inner horseshoe of the motel is bathed in soft neon amid a cold blue outer rim creating a true geography; the motel of the mind and the junkyard of the soul courtesy of cinematographer Pierre Mingot’s careful framing and clever lighting. This is a piece populated by damaged people amid a dazzling and poetic detritus heap on the edge of the galaxy, almost like a science fiction film populated with truck stop queens and urban cowboys.

As humans, we all reside in a similar, congenial off-road memory motel. And, like the location in the film, it’s one that looks perfectly functional from the front and, honestly, perhaps it is. But behind it generally sits a heap of baggage and junk we all haul around from the past, some of it half-remembered and some of it fanciful myth-making. Understanding this, Altman’s work is full of characters who will add new wounds to established scar tissue if they think the self-deception will be less painful than the truth they would have to admit, creating more and more material for the junk pile. But, word to the wise, absolutely NEVER think that heap is too cleverly hidden from view nor something that won’t explode if exposed to the the right confluence of elements. If Fool for Love understands anything outside how to doom a film’s commercial prospects by being saddled with a one-sheet that makes the film look like Tender Mercies II: Tender Mercies Gets Laid, it’s most definitely that.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain

A Boy and his Bronzi by Kent Hill

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It has been the dream of many an artist to be able to do what they love for a living. Find the thing you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life…so the saying goes. Thus my cinematic adventuring has brought me to the cinema of Rene Perez…and the man they call…..Bronzi.

It began as a trickle on social media. Fleeting glimpses rumors permeating of the man who would be Bronson. Who was he…was he a relative…the product of an onset love affair…? I went, as I often do, to the director of what would turn out to be bold cinematic statements which would not only shine a spotlight on the incredible one-man-band movie-maker who is Rene Perez…but also…it would cement the coming of a new age DTV or VOD genre icon – his name Robert Kovacs . . . aka Robert Bronzi.

It has been documented by the New York Post, Variety as well as our brothers and sisters in the cinema-obsessed website and podcast community . . . and now, it comes at last….to Podcasting Them Softly. Here I present the furiously, fascinating life of a work-a-day filmmaker. Rene is a man I admire greatly. Surviving via a high output of commercially released B movie productions, he sleeps little and creates much – the price he pays for being in essence, a solo auteur. Generating genre staples in the arenas of Horror, Action and Westerns – Perez has the distinction of having directed Bronzi in such films as Death Kiss, Cry Havoc, From Hell to the Wild West and the most recently released, Once Upon a Time in Deadwood.

So listen now to my chat with the inexhaustible Rene Perez and then continue to scroll down for my interview with the man himself….Bronzi.

In another time, in another place….in the age of VHS…this story of two artists colliding at the right time, at the right place would not be uncommon. There are many stories of thrilling partnerships in genre cinema history. They came together and transformed the B movie into an event. And, in this age where the video stores are dead and the streaming services rule the world…a glorious sight it is to see this…a type of mini-cataclysm…rise out of the rivers of mass media…pooling in an ocean of awesomeness. I give you…A Boy and his Bronzi….

RENE PEREZ

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Rene Perez is a movie Director known for “Playing with Dolls: Havoc” and “Death Kiss”. In addition to being the Director, Perez is also the Cinematographer, Editor and Writer of his films. Born and raised in Oakland California, Perez started writing and drawing comic books as a child and in his teen years he became a musician known as ‘The Darkest Machines’. Perez still composes music under the stage name “The Darkest Machines”. Perez now lives in a small town in northern California with his wife and children. He works full time as a movie director / producer for hire for several producers and distributors

ROBERT BRONZI

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When Rene related the story of how he uncovered a living, breathing…for all intents and purposes the reincarnation of Charles Bronson – and let me go on the record once more when I say to you…he walks like Bronson, he pulls a gun like Bronson, he walks boldly into the face of certain doom like Bronson…in fact…for my money Robert Kovacs, the guy that Rene saw a picture of and figured it to be a digitally remastered photo of an old picture of Charles Bronson, is more than just a guy that reminds us of a dead icon. The truth is…Charles Bronson, like John Wayne before him, left us a-ways back. But they live forever in their movies – we can visit them anytime we like. So, Bronzi, like Bronson will enjoy his moment in the sun. Some would argue that the novelty will be short-lived…? That maybe the case, but for right now, we have ourselves a brand new B movie icon . . . I think that should be celebrated…?

Here’s my chat with Robert Bronzi . . .

KH: Could you tell us a little of your life before you started making movies?

RB: I’m an actor musician and stuntman ,I did a lot of different things in my life. I worked as a horse breeder and horse trainer. I performed at western shows in Hungary and Spain. I’m an accordionist; I played music in bars, in weddings and private parties.

KH: The million dollar question . . . at what point in your journey did people start saying, “Hey, you know you look a hell of a lot like Charles Bronson?

RB: Many years ago in Hungary I worked as a horse breeder where there were a lot of visitors every day. People told me that l looked a lot like Charles Bronson. I worked with my good friend Peter, he would always say that I looked like him and he began calling me Bronzi.  So he gave me this nickname.

KH: Was it purely this attribute that attracted attention and motivated filmmakers to want to work with you?

RB: I would say yes. A short story: Director Rene Perez saw my photo on a saloon wall in Spain in the western village where I worked as a stunt performer. He thought it was a photo of Charles Bronson years ago. He asked the owner about the photo. When he found out it wasn’t Bronson it was me, he told him, “I want to meet this guy immediately!”

KH:  I recently saw a sneak preview of Cry Havoc, directed by Rene – I especially love the scene where you prepare to lay it all on the line for your daughter in the film – your pull the shirt off and walk towards him, staring death in the face. I cheered loudly watching it and woke my wife who was in bed. What was that scene like to shoot?

RB: I really enjoyed it; this is a very important part of the movie as I fight to save my daughter, for life or death. In addition, we were shooting in a burnt forest where thick ash covered the ground. Ashes flew everywhere during the fight.

KH:  You have worked with Rene now on a number of films. Do you enjoy the creative freedom on offer shooting with him? He also told me when I interviewed him, that you also help holding microphones and other duties beside your work as an actor?

RB: Working with Rene is easy, he is a very talented director, he knows what he wants, but if I have some ideas, we discuss them and he is usually open to making changes based on my suggestions. Of course, I help with filming that’s in my own best interest isn’t it? We are often up in the mountains or shooting in difficult conditions. I help him with a few things, and not just me, everyone out there, I think we’re a team and we need to help each other out.

KH: Are you at ease with, in a way, being engulfed by the shadow that is being a performer that is recognized for the whole “he looks like Bronson” deal?

RB: I have used my appearance to my advantage throughout my career as a stuntman and actor and I am grateful for the resemblance that I have to the great Charles Bronson as it has created many opportunities for me.

KH: Would you work on a big budget film should you be presented the opportunity?:

RB: Yes of course I would love to have that opportunity and I’m sure it will happen in the near future.

KH: What are the types of movies ‘you’ want to be in, or are you happy to be offered the type of parts you are making a name for yourself with at present?

RB: So far my roles have been quite varied and I would like to continue making western and action movies in the future.

KH: I can’t get over – not just the amazing and uncanny resemblance – plus the fact that even the way you carry yourself on screen is so similar to the legendary Bronson – would you be happy if this is your mark on cinema history?

RB: I am very grateful for my resemblance to Bronson, and I am proud to be compared to him. I also appreciate the opportunities that I have had because of this but ultimately, I really want to be remembered as an actor in my own right, as Robert Bronzi. I put a lot of work and effort into each role that I take on and I want my personal skills and talents to be my legacy.

KH:  If Charles Bronson were alive today…if you met him…what would you say to him, and what do you think he’d reply?

RB: I would say to him, “Mr. Bronson nice to meet you in person and I am very proud to be your double. I try to do everything well, with my best knowledge and talent as an actor, and I hope you will be proud of me.” And hopefully he would reply, “Nice to meet you too Robert I really like your personality and I think you represent me well. Best wishes for your future career. I give you my blessing.”

You heard it here folks. Out of the shadow of a legend he came. His place in genre cinema…I’d say is a lock!

Be excellent, love movies…

K.