Skip to main content

It’s a nudie picture with a two-thousand-dollar budget. No script, a ten-hour shooting schedule, and it opens in twenty-two cities at the end of the week.

Hollywood Boulevard
(1976)

(SPOILERS) Joe Dante’s debut, co-credited with Allan Arkush, came courtesy of his training ground as an editor (cutting trailers) for Roger Corman’s New World pictures. It was producer Jon Davison (later of Paul Verhoeven sci-fi classics Robocop and Starship Troopers) who got Dante and Arkush the gig, suggesting to Corman “Let the trailer boys make a picture”. Corman agreed, on condition what became Hollywood Boulevard was a 10-day shoot and the cheapest picture New World had ever made. The idea was to churn out a “found-footage assemblage”, with newly shot scenes linking existing studio archive material, but the duo, fashioning a ramshackle riff on low budget filmmaking that more or less was their low budget film, pulled together enough of a movie in its own right that only 10 of the 83 minutes ended up that way. Cult status followed, but Hollywood Boulevard is more interesting as a career footnote than as a picture in its own right.


It would be fair to say the movie is replete with longueurs, Danny Poatoshu’s screenplay having an understandably make-it-up-as-you-go-along (or can fit in existing footage) quality that brings naïve wannabe actress Candy Wednesday (Candice Rialson) to Hollywood at the rear end of the food chain. 


Along the way she meets useless agents (Dante instant-regular Dick Miller on tremendous form as Walter Paisley, the name of his character in Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, an excerpt from which we see at the drive-in as Miller reminisces he “could have been a contender”), pretentious directors (Paul Bartel stealing every scene he’s in as Erich Von Leppe, the name of Boris Karloff’s character in Corman’s 1963 The Terror) and, in what Bill Krohn points out is an early example of the slasher movie, jealous film star Mary McQueen (Warhol friend Mary Woronov, who showed up in Nomads the other month) offing her potential pretenders to the throne by way off giallo-inspired stabbings, sporting a cape and surrounded by dry ice. There are also a couple of music montage interludes, and being a Corman film, copious quantities of breastage (Corman wanted to call it Hollywood Hookers), and that found footage, which includes excerpts from Battle Beyond the Sun, The Big Bird Cage, Crazy Mama and most visibly Death Race 2000.


To suggest Hollywood Boulevard wears the era in which it was made on its sleeve is to understate matters. Its dubious regard for women makes Sam Raimi’s early pictures appear the model of progressive representation. One might – if one was really pushing things – argue that a trio of topless actresses discussing the movie business (“Movie guys are all the same. All they care a bout is tits and ass”) is sharp commentary (Bartel concurs: “This is not a film about the human condition. It’s a film about tits and ass”).


But any leniency falls by the wayside amid the wet t-shirt hosings and, in particular, the just-for-laughs rape scene in which Bartel “directs” Candy in a “sensual scene of sexual depravity”; when that movie is shown at the drive-in, she opines, as Sharon Stone would following her career-making snatch flash, “They promised not to use that scene”. We then see it played and replayed until Candy confronts the projectionist, who then begins a comedy assault on her himself, accompanied by an enraged father who just can’t help himself. This isn’t so much contributing to the debate on whether movie violence influences behaviour as reflective of an era when getting comedy mileage out of rape was the norm. Dante’s treatment of such matters could leave something desired even up to The Howling.


Still, it’s instructive that, right from the off, Dante’s approach to moviemaking was entirely self-reflexive. Miller, whose lousy agent gave up acting because “I had a lousy agent” is on the phone at the start advising “It’s a nudie picture with a two-thousand-dollar budget. No script, a ten-hour shooting schedule, and it opens in twenty-two cities at the end of the week”. A parody of the Corman approach, but only a little. Screenplay writer Pat (Jeffrey Kramer) comes to the rescue of Candy at the end; the writer saving the movie? He also cheerfully takes the piss out of Miracle Pictures (“Sure is, if it’s a good picture, it’s a miracle”).


In a sign of things to come, the skydiving death that begins Hollywood Boulevard (the footage comes from Night Call Nurses) leaves a Looney Tunes skydiver-shaped hole in the ground (see also the Bat Gremlin in Gremlins 2, the shed roof in The ‘burbs). Robbie the Robot will show up a few times more too. The drive-in sequence, with Miller reminiscing, before it gets all rapey, shows the kind of affection and nostalgic warmth that would typify many of the director’s later pictures. And, never one to miss an obvious gag, ketchup is used to humorously suggest blood at least twice.


Hollywood Boulevard worked well enough that it got Dante a “proper” directing gig with Corman, a Jaws rip-off that did very well at the box office, thank you, and brought him to the attention of the wunderkind Jaws director himself. So, while it may be the least of his features, although no doubt some will staunchly claim otherwise, it proved vital to his subsequent career.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.