Friday, February 3, 2012

Piper Bowl 2012

Werth: Howdy, Wise.  

Wise: Hello, Werth.  Is that a little pig's blood on your collar? 

Werth: It might be.  Last weekend I got to have one of those great cinematic experiences that only the big screen can offer when the Loews Landmark Theatre did a screening of Brian De Palma's 1976 masterwork, Carrie. With Margaret White herself, Piper Laurie, on hand to talk about making this horror classic, the evening was a revelation—like seeing this thrilling picture for the first time.

Wise: Piper Laurie seems so nice when she's interviewed, but she's turned in some of the most terrifying portrayals of maternal love ever committed to the screen.  And her role in Carrie is probably the apogee of her bad-mommy roles. 

Werth: Laurie's turn as Carrie's bible-stabbing mother is legendary. Quotes like, "And I liked it! I liked it!", "I can see your dirty pillows!" , and "They're all gonna laugh at you!" are familiar parts of our lexicon. 
But the visual experience of seeing this film on a large screen made the entire experience brand new again. The prom scene with De Palma's split-screen filming is transfixing, and with humiliated Carrie (Sissy Spacek) towering over the audience in her blood-stained prom gown like a giant Medea, we all looked around to see if the theater exits were open in case we were next. Not seeing these movies on such a monstrous scale—we forget how scary an image alone can be. As many times as I've seen the infamous ending, I screamed aloud along with everyone else in attendance as if I've never seen that arm pop out of the ground before.

Wise: Nice spoiler, Werth.

Werth: Anyone who hasn't seen or at least heard of that ending is probably stuck praying in a closet. Aside from the visuals, I also took note of how well-crafted the soundtrack is. Pino Donaggio may outright steal Bernard Herrmann's famous Psycho violin licks, but he does a superb job of alternating between tonal moods because at its core, Carrie isn't just a horror story. 
It is a tale about growing up, and the little joys we can find amidst all the teen angst of our high school years. Donaggio has great fun playing dreamy anthems and teen pop tunes as Carrie and Tommy (the white-fro'ed William Katt) dizzy-ingly spin around the dancefloor. In particular, the music as they approach the stage evokes all the golden possibilities we dreamed of when we were that age. 
And it is the knowledge that Chris (Nancy Allen) and her bucket of pig's blood await that teenage dream that makes the scene so tragically horrifying. If you ever get the chance to see Carrie on the big screen, throw on your best strappy prom gown or white tux and go. But if not, it's still one of those movies that you should pop into your DVD or Blu Ray player so you can re-live the tampon shower and Piper Laurie's orgasmic kitchen utensil crucifixion again and again.  

Wise: Piper Laurie plays a terrifying mother of a different stripe with her portrayal of Ethel Gumm in the TV movie bio of Judy Garland, Rainbow (1978).  

Werth: Wise... what do I always say about television movies?  

Wise: That they're more television than movies, but we've gabbed about TV movies before, plus Rainbow comes from the golden age of boob tube flicks when the genre had big budgets and tackled ambitious subjects—offering the kind of sofa-cinema that has become ubiquitous today.  Chock full of domestic drama, Hollywood gossip, Tin Pan Alley hits, Rainbow serves up just as many delights as any popcorn matinee binge.  

Werth: Your nostalgic description has convinced me to allow it.

Wise: Focusing on Judy's teenage years (and directed by Garland's old pal Jackie Cooper), Rainbow stars Andrea McArdle who had recently tossed aside the curly red wig she had worn playing Annie on Broadway.  

Werth: From one hard knock life to another.  

Wise:  Part of what's so fascinating about this film is that McArdle was at a similar point in her career: she and the Judy she was playing were little girls with big voices struggling to achieve the next level of stardom.  

Werth: Only Judy went somewhere in the 30's and Andrea McArdle went nowhere in the 70's.

Wise: Despite the heavy 1930's nostalgia that permeated the polyester decade, the image of girlhood epitomized by these two actresses couldn't be more different.  McArdle has the same smirking tomboyishness of Jodie Foster or Kristy McNichol, which seems precisely the wrong way to approach the yearning vulnerability of Judy's teenage years.  Plus her vocal style, though impressive, doesn't have the throbbing ache that Judy's did.  

Werth: Let's be honest. Nobody's voice has Judy's throbbing ache.

Wise: She certainly doesn't plumb the depths of Judy's soul, but she doesn't have to.  The film is really all about Piper Laurie's portrayal of Ethel Gumm.  She refuses to delve into the handy grab bag of harridan stage mother clichés; instead she makes Ethel a woman brimming with sexuality and ambition, but who's thwarted by a lack of talent and a husband who prefers the company of handsome young men.  She's at turns girlish, alluring and appalling—and she makes this hard-to-find gem worth the trouble of seeking it out.  

Werth: Make sure you seek out Film Gab next week when we will dig up even more cinematic gems

Wise: if Werth hasn't been hitting the "filthy roadhouse whiskey."

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