Friday, April 13, 2012

Curses! Curses!

Werth: So, Wise. 

Wise: Yes, Werth?

Werth: It's Friday the 13th and it's got me thinking about all the cursed movies out there.

Wise: I know, why doesn't Kate Hudson just disappear?

Werth: Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of unlucky films that seem to predict the deaths of their stars. 

Wise: You mean like the John Wayne starring bio-pic of Genghis Khan, The Conqueror, where a flash flood nearly drowned the entire crew and those that survived were all at risk for cancer because they filmed the picture downwind of a nuclear testing site?

Werth: Right. Because the fact that John Wayne and Susan Hayward were lifetime smokers had nothing to do with them dying from cancer. 
My favorite cursed movie is famous outside of its unluckiness. Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) can rightly be called iconic in its defining of the teen movie genre of the '50's. James Dean in his trademark red jacket spoke to an entire generation (and many after) of the teenage angst that roils beneath the surface of high schoolers who don't fit in to society's well-ordered cliques.

Wise: It was Bully for the '50's set.

Werth: Dean is Jim Stark, the new kid on the block who opens the film by being dragged into a police station drunk on Easter Night. Also waiting for their parents after being picked up by the fuzz for various infractions are Judy (Natalie Wood) and John (Sal Mineo). While their interaction in this first scene is limited, these three lives will connect to one another to become the core of the film, symbolizing a lost generation raised after the war in an American society that was obsessed with class and conflicted about the definitions of gender roles.

Wise: I would be conflicted, too, if my mom looked like Rosie the Riveter. 

Werth: Each of these young actors brings something unique to the screen. Wood is beautiful, sexy, and hurtinga daddy's girl whose daddy couldn't care less. Mineo is heartbreaking as the yearning young man whose gaze at John is impossible to be read as anything other than pure desire. 
It's surprising to see such an obvious depiction of gay love in a movie from this erabut since the love that dare not speak its name is never mentionedit evaded the Production Code and gives the film a tragic unrequited romance.

Wise: This kind of thing just doesn't happen on Gossip Girl.  

Werth: And, of course, there's Dean. Much has been made of Dean's acting and screen presence in the three films he starred in. His short life has given a prominence to his performances that while interesting, were probably more indicators of the actor he would become than fully-realized roles. Dean had an innate sensitivitya volatile energy that could explode in anger or charm. This restless quality, this uncertainty of how he would react was nurtured by his Method training and is fascinating to watch. But it is unrefined.  
With Dean, you can sometimes see the wheels turning. There are moments when he seems to emulate Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift who, by '55, had already started the screen-acting revolution that Dean desperately wanted to be part of. But in watching Dean it is exciting to see a young actor on the verge of discovery, sadly a discovery that would never come to full fruition.

Wise: Here comes the cursed part.

Werth: All of Rebel's main cast passed away in an untimely manner. Dean was killed in a car accident during the production of Giant in 1955, Mineo was stabbed to death outside his West Hollywood apartment in 1976, and Wood drowned near Santa Catalina Island in a still disputed case in 1981. Watching the movie is eerieseeing these three young actors discovering their talents and knowing that each would meet tragic ends. But with iconic scenes like the chicken run and the apocalyptic Griffith Observatory planetarium show, Rebel has much more to offer than mere macabre fascination. It is a smart critique of American society and family that resonates across time... and into a Paula Abdul video.

Wise: In The Crow, Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée Shelly are brutally beaten and murdered on the eve of their Halloween wedding, which also happens to be Devil's Night when all the Detroit-area gangs flood the streets to terrorize the inhabitants and incite widespread mayhem.

Werth: Beats t.p. and soaping windows.

Wise: A year later, a mysterious crow lands on Eric's grave and summons Eric from the dead.  Returning to the scene of the crime, Eric vows revenge on his murderers.  
Lucky for him, this blackbird resurrection has made him indestructible, and after donning a sleek black, crime-fighting ensemble and make-up patterned on his girlfriend's old porcelain harlequin mask—

Werth: Because nothing is scarier than looking like a French clown.  
Wise: He sets out to exact revenge with the help of Sarah, the guttersnipe neighbor girl with a junkie mom and a heart of gold, and Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), the cop who investigated the crime.  A savage vengeance ensues—including the blood-thirsty eye-gouging of Bai Ling, the sexy, lisping 90's grunge version of Fu Manchu—and only after Eric has dealt comeuppance to each of his foes is he able to return peacefully to the grave. 

Werth: Bai Ling makes me want to gouge out my eyes. 

Wise: The Crow is famous for the accidental death of its star from an accidental gunshot wound a week before filming completed, but the real curse of the film seems to be the long list of stars who have participated in the increasingly bleak and direct-to-video sequels: Kirsten Dunst, Edward Furlong, Tara Reid, David Boreanaz, Eric Mabius—

Werth: That is a long and lackluster list.

Wise: And I'm not even finished: Danny Trejo, Fred Ward and Dennis Hopper all lent their talents to descendents of The Crow.  Which kind of makes sense since the film was a success at the box office and with many critics, and seems to have been an important stop in the transformation of comic book-inspired movies from the candy-colored pop of the Richard Donner helmed Superman films to the grittier, more stylized fare that floods the multiplexes today.  

Werth: So, Wise, do you think you're brave enough to handle our own mini film festival of cursed movies? 

Wise: I'll only curse you if we're not back next week for more Film Gab.   

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