“Pop quiz, hotshot!!” Most action films are comprised of beats, wherein there are exciting sequences and then lulls in between to catch our breath and collect ourselves, but the beauty of Jan De Bont’s Speed is that as soon as the central premise is delivered to the narrative, pretty much every beat is action, the concept airtight in terms of any breathing room creeping in, and that’s one reason why I think it’s endured as a such a classic in the genre.
Dennis Hopper plays yet another wild eyed lunatic here, and it’s scary to think that his mad bomber Howard Payne was once a decorated LAPD officer. He’s now a very pissed off ex police officer who has gone psychotic and started blowing shit up all over the city, attracting the attention of daredevil super cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Howard gets elaborate when he decides to rig a city bus with a device that will blow it the fuck to bits of the driver slows down past fifty miles per hour, and from then on in the film barely stops to grab a coffee, take a piss or collect its thoughts. Howard masterminds the whole deal from a secret surveillance lab, Jack races to board the bus and defuse the bomb and intrepid civilian Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes over the wheel after the driver has a heart attack. Reeves and Hopper play off each other like flint and steel, it’s a hero villain smackdown for the ages between a rock steady officer of the law and a probably once great detective who has lost his mind but none of his wily nerve. Keanu and Sandra also have great romantic chemistry too but it’s underplayed and sort of seems natural, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Throw in Joe Morton, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Alan Ruck, Hawthorne James, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright and scene stealer Jeff Daniels as Keanu’s charismatic senior partner and you’ve got one hell of an ensemble.
This was one of the first R rated action cookouts I was allowed to see (hell, I think I even saw it before Die Hard) and it still blows my mind as much today as it did back then. The stunts and set pieces are all unbelievable and so kinetically explosive its a wonder that talented cinematographer Andrej Bartkowiak could keep his lenses following them. Everything with the bus on freeways and overpasses is extraordinary (that heart-stopping bridge gap!) but don’t even get me started on the balls out underground subway crash that blows the lid off any sound system it touches. A classic.
The first film I thought of while the early moments of Tiger Mountain played before me was THX 1138. This was a trip, dragged forcefully against one’s will and plunged into a murky pond which is a kind of metaphoric representation of being removed from the light and air and smothered by naked oppression and placed under the rule of the hive mind. And it is a mesmerizing submersion into these terrifying depths that are as much about the myth of control as they are the misuse of it. Another part of the allure for me to tackle this movie is the treat of seeing Bill Paxton back on the screen. I remember watching Edge of Tomorrow and delighted in his presence – a kind of measured version of his character from Weird Science. The man was talented – even though he made it all look far too easy. But as I spoke to Tom Huckabee, (Paxton’s longtime friend and collaborator) I quickly was made to understand that this easy-chair nature I’d seen and enjoyed in Paxton was in fact a ruse. Turn’s out Bill was a lot more Near Dark than most people really knew.
Tiger Mountain is a passion project that has survived because of the enthusiasm shared by two buddy’s who were looking for a way into the movie business. It is a product of it’s time, topical to that period and perhaps in some ways even more relevant as a kind of looking glass held up to the world of today, indeed more so than it was then. The journey has taken since 1974 to come before an audience at last in the best and most complete version of the film that exists. It is a picture that has crossed continents and indeed space and time to arrive like some strange and miraculous time capsule which stands as an epitaph to the exuberance of youth and a yearning for greater self expression. So this is the first time since 1983 that you’ll have to witness this compelling cinema experience influenced by William Burroughs – which is then counter balanced with the writings of Valerie Solanas. Portions of text coming from a Burroughs’s novella whose title had already been taken by a chap named Ridley Scott.
This 4K transfer is beautiful and the journey, although sold as the brainwashing of an American draft dodger by militant feminists in order to assassinate the Welsh minister of prostitution, Tiger Mountain is an experience, a fascinating making-of tale to hear and a parable of sorts which speaks of the possibilities that growth and recognition are always achievable as long as art is never abandoned.
Tom Huckabee is a writer, director, producer with over 40 years experience in entertainment. As a student at UT Austin he studied under Tom Schatz, Loren Bivens, and Edward Dymytryk, directed “The Death of Jim Morrison,” nominated for a student academy award, and “Taking Tiger Mountain,” starring Bill Paxton and co-written by William S. Burroughs. He has been a staff producer at Landmark Theaters, a writer of non-fiction TV for Disney and Discovery, a story analyst for 21st Century Films, and a staff researcher for The History Channel’s Modern Marvels. In 1987 he produced and co-wrote “Martini Ranch’s Reach,” a long-form music video directed by James Cameron, starring Kathryn Bigelow, Bill Paxton, Phil Granger, Bud Cort, Judge Reinhold and much of the cast from “Near Dark” and “Aliens.” In 1997, he was associate producer of post-production and music supervisor for “Traveller,” starring Paxton, Mark Wahlberg, and Julianna Margulies. From 1998 – 2001, he was vice president of American Entertainment, underwritten by Walt Disney Studios, where he created and/or oversaw development of feature projects with Touchstone, Universal, Imagine, Image Movers, HBO, Sony, and Revolution Studios. In 2001 he executive-produced Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty, starring Paxton, Powers Boothe and Matthew McConaughey. Also in 2001, he produced and directed a live event, Arthur C. Clarke: Beyond 2001 at the Playboy Mansion, featuring James Cameron, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman, and Buzz Aldrin, He was an uncredited script consultant on Twister, Mighty Joe Young, Vertical Limit, U-571, Thunderbirds, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and The Colony and a quality control supervisor for Lucasfilm (1990-2004), working on films by Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathryn Bigelow, etc.. In 2005 he was a producer/writer on 75 episodes of National Lampoon’s An Eye for an Eye. In 2007 he was the artistic director for the first annual Lone Star International Film Festival. His sophomore feature Carried Away (2010) won three first place festival awards and is available on Amazon Instant View. Recently, he directed the documentary short “Confessions of an Ecstasy Advocate,” story-edited Ghostbreakers, a 20-part syndicated TV series starring Joey Greco, set to debut in 2016 on The Family Channel, co produced The Starck Club, a documentary feature and The Price, a drama starring Randy Travis and James Dupre. In 2014-15, he was the artistic director of the Wildcatter Exhange literary festival, while his short film “The Death of Jim Morrison” (retitled “Death of a Rock Star”) was included in the omnibus package, Jonathan Demme Presents Made in Texas, which premiered opening night 2015 at SXSW and is distributed by UT Press. He teaches screenwriting workshops and offers a wide-range of freelance development services. Upcoming projects include feature films Hate Crimes, ReCharge!, and The Attachment, full length stage plays, Dr. Zombi, PhD and The Reversible Cords; and Great Lives, a live theater festival of one-person historical shows.
Podcasting Them Softly is extremely excited to present a chat with John Marshall, one of the stars and crew members of the 1981 cult classic ROAR, which was written/produced/directed by his father, Noel Marshall, and which also starred Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, and John‘s brother Jerry. ROAR was a passion project for Noel Marshall and Hedren, who had filmed some movies in Africa during the early 70’s, and had fallen in love with lions and tigers and assorted big cats. Upon their return to their Los Angeles home, they decided to turn their living space into a sanctuary for rescue animals, ending up with over 100 exotic animals on their property. Noel then had a stroke of mad genius — film a movie at his house utilizing his family members and a daredevil crew that would highlight these magnificent creatures in all of their dangerous glory. ROAR is a film that just has to be seen to be truly believed, and thanks to the people at Olive Films, a special edition Blu-Ray was released this week! We hope you enjoy!
For me, the primary job of any movie is to show me something I’ve never seen and to take me to a place that I’ve never been. Well, I’ve never been to Africa, and I’ve never been surrounded by 150 lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, panthers, and elephants. So you’ll have to excuse me when I say that Noel Marshall’s berserk, perverse, masochistic, fascinating, totally nuts wildlife “film” Roar is unbelievable. And I should also mention that I’m a life-long cat lover; big, small, wild, domesticated – it’s a species of animal that I’ve been intrigued with ever since childhood, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thankful to have my own little buddy, Gus, who is now looked upon differently after my obsession with this film started earlier this year. You literally feel like an outlaw while watching Roar, which has got to be the single most irresponsible piece of filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. Upon first viewing, you essentially hold your breath for 90 minutes, waiting the other paw to drop. Outside of Grizzly Man, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen mental lunacy of this nature before captured on film. It’s a miracle that nobody was killed, but cinematographer Jan De Bont was scalped, and numerous members of the cast and crew suffered injuries, so there’s that I guess. And let me just say something about the camerawork in this movie – it’s wholly ASTOUNDING. I don’t understand how this movie was achieved. One bit. It makes no realistic sense. How De Bont was able to gather the shots he did I’ll never understand. Why anyone showed up on day #2 I’ll never understand. All I know is that you feel like a criminal while viewing this wild piece of work.
The entire thing is truly staggering in retrospect. If you’re not familiar with the premise of this movie, it seems that actress Tippi Hedren and her late husband Noel Marshall became big-cat enthusiasts after an African safari vacation back in the late 70’s. Upon returning to their Sherman Oaks estate, they started introducing lions and tigers and other exotic cats into their home life, allowing daughter Melanie Griffith to sleep with the animals, while their sons, John and Jerry, also became “friendly” with the beasts. It was customary to see a maid stepping over a fully grown male lion in the kitchen. PURE MADNESS. Marshall then had a genius if potentially deadly idea – why not make a movie that aims to highlight the plight of the wild cat, but also make a “monster” movie at the same time. So, he gathered an unhinged crew of daredevils, stuck Hedren, Griffith, his sons, and a few others into the scenery, and concocted an asinine narrative that centers on a wildlife preservationist (Marshall) bringing his wife and children (Hedren and the gang) into the jungle to visit him, only to have them terrorized by a gang of lions and tigers who proceed to trash and destroy the wooden house that they all “live” in. If what I’m describing sounds fairly psychotic, well, it is. And I don’t want to ruin any of the numerous surprises that this film has, but I will say that the sight of Hedren’s face covered in honey as a young jaguar licks it clean is something I’ll not soon forget. You can smell the fear on all of the “actors” in this film – the honest look of terror in their eyes is palpable, and despite everyone going on the record as saying that they “knew” these animals and that they were “comfortable” with them in the grand scheme of things, suggests an insane amount of hubris or a genuine, bonded relationship between human and animal that is simply extraordinary to ponder.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter though. This movie got made (over the course of 11 years!), people went on to have prosperous careers (look at De Bont’s credits as both cinematographer and director!), and now the film is finding a second life as an oddball cult curiosity, with Special Edition Blu-ray dropping in November. I can guarantee you this – you’ve never seen anything like this movie, unless of course you were there to witness it being created in real time, or if you’ve tracked down a bootleg or the non-anamorphic DVD that’s floating around. It’s sensationally scary and almost too impractical to make sense of. Roar makes you feel like you’ve dropped acid when you absolutely know you haven’t been dosed. It’s a strangely personal piece of filmmaking that while shoddily directed (at times), is still somehow oddly coherent, a $17 million home movie that became a clear point of obsession for its makers. The unintended comedy of the mostly looped spoken dialogue only adds to the bizarre hilarity of the entire piece. Also of note: included on the straight-from-the-source-DVD that can be purchased on line is a vintage “making-of” featurette which includes some talking-head footage from “friend of the family” Richard Rush, sitting in this absurdly ostentatious living room, looking like Jack Horner’s older brother. It’s gold.