It is always a delight indeed to sit down with the director of one of my favorite movies. Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), acclaimed filmmaker and photographic artist extraordinaire has given us all, not only great cinema, but now his first book, Western Portraits: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen (Edition Olms, 2019). Rendered in evocative tones reminiscent of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s immortal images, the stylized photographs in Western Portraits capture the allure and mystique of the Old West, complete with authentic costuming, weaponry and settings. Among the subjects who posed for the book are the popular actors Karl Malden, David Carradine, R. G. Armstrong, Stefanie Powers, L. Q. Jones, Denver Pyle and 77 others.
From the epic feature film to the TV series and serial, this coffee table book puts the story of character actors and the significance of their memorable roles into an entertaining perspective. Appealing at once to lovers of classic cinema, Western history aficionados, writers, scholars and collectors of nostalgia and fine art photography, Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen will awaken movie memories in people’s hearts while introducing others to the amazing work of these acting artists, serving as a record of the best of the Hollywood Western.
With collaborators C. Courtney Joyner – a writer whose first major output was a string of more than 25 movie screenplays beginning with The Offspring starring Vincent Price, and Prison directed by Renny Harlin. His novels include the new fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising and the Shotgun Western series, which have both been optioned for television – and Roger Corman – Legendary film director-producer – who contributed the foreword for Western Portraits alongside Joyner’s crafted series of insightful essays to accompany the photographs.
He learnt the art of story-boarding from the great Alfred Hitchcock, he learnt to make pasta with Sergio Leone, and has directed the man we remember as the American Ninja. Steve is so full of stories I hope his next book is definitely an autobiography, but in the meantime we have this glorious work to sit and marvel at. Some of the greatest character actors of all time (that have also been my guests, in the persons of Tim Thomerson and Fred Williamson) take center stage in a book the is the ultimate amalgamation of fine art and Hollywood yesteryear.
Brooklyn native Steve Carver studied photography at the University of Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis. He pursued a formal education in film-making at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, also participating in the Directors Guild of America’s apprenticeship program. Prolific motion picture producer Roger Corman hired Carver to direct four movies, including Big Bad Mama. Carver also directed American action star Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade.
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 asDeath 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 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
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!
Michael Parks was one of those actors who could light up a scene, and although you hear similes like that thrown around about a whole lot of people on the business, he was one that more than deserved to have it applied in his work. Originally gaining traction in the 60’s and 70’s for television, feature films and westerns, Parks was put on the Hollywood blacklist for simply standing up to the integrity of a character/show he was working on, a testament to his spirit and refusal to let the work be anything but top notch. The latter half of his career saw him resurrected with a vengeance by the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin and others and it was here that he provided us with some truly unique, compelling performances. Here are my personal top ten!
10. Esteban Vihaio in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2
His second role in the Kill Bill films sees him embody a mercurial Mexican pimp who provides the story with some purring exposition and Uma Thurman’s The Bride with vital information whilst slyly hitting on her at the same time. It’s only a quick scene but he grounds it with some deft humour and relishes every syllable of the Latin accent.
9. Dr. Banyard in Deceiver
More exposition! This is a weird little 90’s neo-noir about two troubled Detectives (Michael Rooker and Chris Penn) investigating the murder of a hooker (Renee Zellweger). Parks plays the psychiatrist they consult about a creepy suspect (Tim Roth) who suffers from a rare type of epilepsy. He’s essentially laying out information for the audience here but Michael was one of those rare actors who could do that and tell you so much about his character without, you know, *actually* telling you. This is pretty obscure for a such a great cast but it’s worth seeking out.
8. Abin Cooper in Kevin Smith’s Red State
Terrifying is the word for him here, playing the maniacal patriarch of a bunch of backwoods extremists who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like choirboys. The key is in the soft spoke dialogue, letting his energy simmer on the back burner so that when the fire and brimstone portion of his performance does show up, it blindsides us.
7. Doc Barrow in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are
A small town doctor who gets suspicious when people including his wife go missing near a secluded rural area, Barrow discovers a family of cannibals living in the hills and must fend them off. This is a brilliant slow burn horror with solid performances all round but it’s his keen, quiet and observant husband who wins the day and becomes the most memorable.
6. Tommy O’Shea in Death Wish V: The Face Of Death
O’Shea is a reprehensible piece of shit Irish mobster who isn’t above threatening or killing women and children and rules his district with casual Joker-esque brutality until, naturally, Charles Bronson kicks the piss out of him. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the franchise in ironically the least memorable film it has to offer, but oh well. He redeems the film with his thoroughly evil portrayal and has a lot of fun along the way.
5. Ronny ‘Del’ Delany in The Hitman
This is essentially just another carbon copy, subpar Chuck Norris action flick but Michael owns villain duties as Chuck’s scumbag partner who betrays and tries to kill him. He’s only in the beginning and end of the film but the character bookends the whole thing and provides a classy, dashing evil prick to do battle with the hero. Too bad he doesn’t win in the end, because he’s eternally more watchable than that goofy ass cocker spaniel Norris.
4. Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter
Real life poet Bierce really did disappear, although he likely didn’t end up in an Aztec vampire bordello like this film imagines. Parks made an appearance in the first Dusk film and gets the lead here, making Bierce a well read, hard drinking, sardonic badass who totally steals the show.
3. Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk
How do you bring dimension to the role of a walrus obsessed serial killer? Start by being Michael Parks. Smith gave him the role of a lifetime here and he chews it up enthusiastically, hitting so many notes in his performance that one could write a dissertation on the character. He makes the guy a monster, no doubt. But a funny ass monster, one with depth, charisma and the magnetism to pull off such an absurd premise.
2. Jean Renault in Twin Peaks
This masterful show is jam packed with villains both earthbound and of other planes so the competition to leave a lasting impression is high. Parks showed up during a season two creative drought as Renault, a psychopathic French Canadian drug kingpin with a taste for blood and the nerve to back it up. Stylish, confident and venomous, he’s one of the show’s great antagonist arcs and plus the dude has a retractable dagger up his sleeve, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.
1. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1/Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn/Planet Terror
Parks is so good as McGraw that the character is pretty much an archetype by now, appearing multiple times across the Tarantino/Rodriguez multiverse to battle zombies, investigate the El Paso wedding chapel massacre and lament that retards are allowed to operate BBQ stands. The laconic nature, laidback yet keen attitude and no nonsense demeanour of this guy makes him stand out in whichever scene he chooses to amble in and grace his true blue presence with.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is based on the violent true life exploits of Britain’s famed criminal Charles Bronson, jailed for decades on purpose and loving it. These type of films usually have a dutiful, glossy biopic mechanism to them, but Refn is ever the extreme stylistic boundary pusher and the way he directs seems as if we’re actually in the hectic subconscious of the protagonist as opposed to looking in from the outside. It’s hazy, hallucinatory, weird, unpredictable and soaked in the feverish neon that has become the Danish maverick’s calling card. Then there’s the performance by Tom Hardy, which defies both description and classification. He doesn’t so much act as he does exist, like an element or a primal instinct, playing Bronson filled to the brim with cheeky aggression, animalistic behaviour, a galaxy of idiosyncratic mannerisms and the likability to keep us entranced through what, upon reflection, is actually a really fucked up and disturbing story. Bronson, born Michael Petersen, was busted barely out of his teens for terrifically botching an attempted post office robbery, chucked in the pen where he’d have been out in four years or so with ‘good behaviour.’ Well. Let’s just say that the good behaviour part isn’t in either his nature or his plan. He loves conflict, fights the guards any chance he gets, incites riots and makes life hell for the British correctional force. That’s basically the film, but the straightforward story only exists to serve a surreal tapestry of episodic, atmospheric interludes where the plot isn’t so much unfolding in a literate manner as it is taking a backseat to Bronson’s unconventional, self aware telling of his own story. There’s editing and colour timing that’s so saturated, so bizarre and out there you feel like the whole thing exists as a dream, resplendent with oddball character interactions, delirious, thumping soundtrack choices and the kind of mood-scape that sucks you right the fuck in. Refn doesn’t try and provide any answers to the psychological nature of a guy like Charles either, and that’s a wise move. It’s interesting to look at the third act in which his behaviour seems to take a turn for the better with the arrival of a helpful shrink/mentor only to have him gleefully fake everyone out and start causing shit again. It’s seemingly arbitrary and his antics don’t hand a purpose, frankly outlined by Refn as storyteller, and not historian. It’s about Charles, and this is *his* story, told by this whipped up, warped version of himself that’s personified by Hardy in what can arguably be called the performance that put him on the map, and whatever your gut reaction to a piece of cinema this provocative and strange, there’s no debate over what a galvanizing, brilliantly concocted sensory experience it is.
There isn’t much I can say about Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West that the mythical, larger than life masterpiece couldn’t say for itself, especially on its magnificent, crystal clear Blu Ray transfer that blows the dust out of the cracks and showcases it’s sunny cinematography in full remixed glory. From the coming of the railroad to a fledgling empire, the corrupt businessmen employing hard bitten thugs to do their nefarious bidding (a prophetic motif if there ever was one), the searing forbidden romance between the archetypal ex-working girl and the silent, lethally dangerous drifter, the dusters adorning gunfighter that sway in a lilting prairie breeze, the trod of hooves, the thunder of impending gunfire preceded by the eerie calm of the showdown before, this is the western to end all westerns, the textbook example, the crown jewel of the genre and the one wheat-stalk saga that I just can’t get enough of. Leone basically patented an entire sub-genre between this and the Man With No Name trilogy, it’s a now timeless flavour that rippled down throughout the generations and changed the face of the western forever. The film itself is perfectly balanced symphonic storytelling, in every aspect of the medium. Charles Bronson’s mysterious loner Harmonica blusters into town, opaque and uttering few words save for the melancholic strains of his instrument brought to wailing life by composer Ennio Morricone. Henry Fonda’s elegant, magnetic and unbelievably evil mercenary Frank hovers over everything like a black cloud of portent. Claudia Cardinele’s drop dead gorgeous Jill violently carves out her own path of survival, lust and grief amidst the unforgiving frontier. Jason Robard’s half injun outlaw Cheyanne tries hard not to wear an obvious heart of gold on his sleeve while seeking retribution for a diabolical frame-job. These mythical, monolithic individuals invite shades of grey into what we’ve become accustomed to in Western archetypes too, which is another hallmark of Leone. Gone are the stalwart sheriffs, stoic heroic leading men and obvious moustache twirling of clearly delineated villains. Bronson is rough, callous and never straight up chivalrous, Fonda is reptilian but oh so charming, the kind blue eyes barely suggesting what evil leers beneath, and Robards for his part turns an outright scoundrel into something of a teddy bear during his arc. It’s in the little, drawn out interactions and moments that we learn what we need to know about these characters, and Leone lets their performances, Morricone’s iconic score and the lingering space between action tell the story, so that by the time the monumental showdown rolls in, we know what we need to know about these wild, complex personalities and can get swept up in the revelatory spectacle of it. One for the ages.
I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.
Breakheart Pass is a wicked tough, badass Charles Bronson action vehicle steeped in the macho charm on the 1970’s, and filled with ever changing photography as a train hurtles across the Nevada and Idaho mountains during a snowy winter. Onboard is John Deakins (Bronson), a dangerous outlaw being transported as prisoner to a remote, well guarded fort somewhere deep in the wilderness. Deakins isn’t who he seems though, and neither is anyone else onboard for that matter. When a murder occurs, he takes it upon himself to wage a bloody crusade on everyone else in order to find the truth about what’s going on, and the truth about their frozen voyage. Bronson is nails tough, doing some deliriously sketchy stunts and engaging in blessedly R rated, pretty intense violence for 70’s standards. The cast is stacked, other passengers include Ed Lauren, David Huddleston, Richard Crenna, Charles Durning and Ben Johnson as the ruthless federal marshal in charge of Deakin’s transport. A rock solid genre picture, thrilling, decked out in western production design and filled with savage, bullet ridden, bone breaking set pieces.