The Wright Stuff II (part 1)
Okay, wow. Where to start?
Well, AwesomeBMovies.com (you can read about our previous visit here) returned to the New Beverly Cinema recently for the second installment of New Beverly Cinema Presents: The Wright Stuff II. The festival features a selection of favorite films that have been selected by guest programmer Edgar Wright. Edgar Wright is the writer/director responsible for such films as Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010). This is Wright’s second round as guest programmer as he returns 3 years later from his first round… I’m already looking forward to ‘The Wright Stuff III”.
Alright so things kicked off with a triple bill of Edgar’s films Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead & Scott Pilgrim on 1/14/11. I wasn’t there for this one but you can see the pics of the Q&A with guests Simon Pegg and Lucey Davis and host Edgar Wright by visiting http://www.facebook.com/newbeverlycinema.
I was however able to attend on Thursday 1/20/11 for the American Graffiti (1973) and Animal House (1978) double bill with one of my all time favorite film makers… Mr. John Landis as guest/host!
Because Wright wasn’t able to open the evening due to some Oscar business he had to tend to (though Edgar did arrive for half time), the charismatic John Landis stepped in and took over as our host for the evening. Edgar did his prep and picked a few trailers “to get us in the right mood” for watching American Graffiti, Stand By Me being one of them! Both films presented are “Coming of Age” movies, and as Landis explained, in Edgar’s mind, it was as if Richard Dreyfuss walked out of American Graffiti for college then walked right into Animal House. Simply an awesome justification for putting both films together!
After American Graffiti ended, the question was asked by Edgar Wright, who was now able to join us, if there were any “American Graffiti Virgins” in the audience. I had to raise my hand, I hadn’t seen it all the way through before. I will tell you this, seeing American Graffiti on a big screen in a theater takes on a whole new meaning. I have never known how great or how important that film is nor what a truly great filmmaker George Lucas is, until I saw it in on a big screen. I also didn’t know American Graffiti was produced by Francis Ford Coppola either. Who knew there was so many rape and orgy jokes in American Graffiti, thus making it truly ahead of it’s time!
Landis had a different take on American Graffiti, it had been 20 something years since he’d seen American Graffiti. Landis reminisced that while making Animal House, he and his gang had some sort of imaginary rivalry between their film and American Graffiti. Landis was trying to make the anti-American Graffiti at the time. Which is the truest compliment from one director to another. In other words, American Graffiti was the standard Animal House had to beat. Landis further related the similarities, by pointing out that both films not only shared some of the same music, but also took place in 1962 during the Vietnam War. For kids going out into the world, he recalled, getting drafted was a very real and very scary thing at the time, and he remembered it well. Landis, gave praise to American Graffiti, calling it, “A beautiful piece of art.” Perhaps, having dismissed it too casually in the past. He further pointed out, that the “where are they now” tags in American Graffiti, had Dreyfuss’ character living in Canada as a writer. It was a subtle touch on Lucas’ part. “Does anyone know what that means?” Landis asked us. Nobody did. “It means that Richard Dreyfuss’ character Curt, was a draft dodger!” I’m certain Landis admired Lucas’ finesse on this point, he also pointed out, “That’s too sophisticated for todays audiences, people need it spelled out for them I guess.” Agreed, and guilty as charged myself.
Alright, next was National Lampoon’s Animal House! Edgar’s trailers to get us in the right mood for this were Up the Creek and Porky’s!
During Animal House, Wright and Landis sat right behind me. Apparently, he likes to talk during movies, or at least during his own movies. Which was fine by me because I got a live commentary by John freakin’ Landis while watching Animal House! For the record, sitting in front of Landis while watching Animal House can be stressful. Is my head to big? Am I blocking Landis from seeing his movie? Am I laughing at Animal House properly? Etc. Seriously.
Listening to Landis’ hearty and robust laughter behind me, while watching Belushi dressed up lik a pirate and swinging from a rooftop in front of me, gave me chills. A moment I’ll never forget. Later, I realized that movies back then were made to be on the big screen. They actually play way different on a big film projected screen, with emotional resonance and striking power. Because I’ve seen the Belushi pirate bit before on TV and DVD and it’s okay. But somehow, it became this epic end piece for Animal House. American graffiti never, in my opinion, looked so good either.
I would describe Landis as that great teacher we all had who made learning about science fun and interesting. The guy is an Encyclopedia of film. The way he talks about his body of work is very forthcoming and matter of fact. It’s as if Landis knows he’s a text book and has been assigned to be required reading, and accepts it so completely. Landis, also hammered one point home to me personally: Directors aren’t rivals, but rather brother’s who belong to a long standing Hollywood Fraternity.
For the record, sitting in front of John Landis while watching Animal House can be stressful. Is my head to big? Am I blocking Landis from seeing his movie? Am I laughing at Animal House properly? Etc. Seriously.
Sure he has great stories, From Hitchcock to Speilberg. He talked about Belushi and making Animal House, but it’s way to much info for this article. Which is why I decided to write a separate recommendation for Animal House. I’ll share this, Landis did say the only one who truly got how important Animal House would be was John Vernon, aka The Dean. He would walk around telling people on set that, “Nobody gets what this movie is going to be”. For your information, Animal House is getting a 2011 Bluray release that he’s over seen directly. As a matter of fact, Landis, said they removed all the scratches and polished it up, but he had them go back and put the scratches back in! It’s a long process done frame by frame. In the audience was a guy named Jeff who played one of the Delta pledges and I believe, was also a body double for ‘Otter’ in Animal House. Jeff and Landis had a nice exchange, but I’ll let you read about his experience at Jeff’s Blog.
During the Q&A Landis asked if we know what he thinks his funniest film is? I almost blurted out The Three Amigos, because that could be my favorite Landis film. But I thought better of it, because I thought others would think I was heckling Landis. But, that was the one, Landis thinks The Three Amigos is probably the funniest of all his films. I was able to catch up with him outside, and we had a nice conversation about Michael Jackson’s Thriller which was directed by John Landis. I had a book about the making of Thriller I brought with me that he signed. When I showed it to him, he seemed genuinely happy to see it. He said he was glad to see that these pictures made it. We looked through the pages of the book, and he shared some more of his stories with Edgar and myself. Honestly, it was really cool.
I tried to look online to see if any paparazzi took a better pic, no such luck. So the pic below, is probably the worst pic any 3 guys ever took, but it’s all I have to share.
Many thanks to Julia Marchese and the gang at the New Beverly Cinema, Edgar Wright and John Landis for giving me one of the truest theatrical experiences I’ve ever had on 1/14/11. And of course a shout out to the man himself Quentin Tarantino, without whom none of these get together’s would be possible! For more on the New Beverly Cinema check out this wonderful blog by Julia Marchese.
This concludes Part 1 of The Wright Stuff II. Coming up in part 2… Walter Hill, Frank Marshall, Bruce Dern, Laura Dern and David Lynch!