Old Reviews, Volume #1
The following movie reviews are from The Eastern Echo, the campus newspaper of Eastern Michigan University. This was the second college newspaper for which I’d reviewed. The first was The Oakland Community College Reporter the year before in 1975. Those reviews, however, are so old and stupid that I haven’t got the audacity to post them. These reviews are also old, but not quite as stupid, so I’ll start here. I was seventeen years old at this time.
Monday, March 22 1976
New Film Fails
By JOSHUA M. BECKER
Echo Staff Writer
I really admire the idea behind “Inserts.” It was supposed to be a pornographic film that had taste, dignity and sex woven into the story. It even has a star, Richard Dreyfuss of “Jaws” fame. Unfortunately, “Inserts” doesn’t work on any level. Dreyfuss plays the Boy Wonder, who at one time was the hottest director in Hollywood. Since he has become an alcoholic, he has fallen to the depths of depravity and is now making porno films.
“Inserts” (which are the little shots put into films between and during main scenes) all takes place in one room, which, in essence, makes it a filmed play. The room’s decor is nice but that doesn’t help keep the film interesting. As a matter of fact it is almost impossible to keep a one-room film interesting even with terrific material like Eugene O’Neill. The screenplay was written and directed by John Byrum, whose past credits are the screenplays for “Have a Nice Weekend,” which I don’t believe was ever released, and (hold your breath), “Mahogany.” Byrum’s screenplay is totally inept in everything except its idea. My prevailing feeling after seeing the film was that “Inserts” could very easily have been great, but alas, it didn’t even come close. The film is advertised as “A degenerate film with dignity,” and after seeing it, this sounds sarcastic. It is neither degenerate nor does it have the least particle of dignity. It is just a poor expansion of an interesting idea.
Wednesday, March 31 1976
‘Adele H’ lacks real spark of life
By JOSHUA M. BECKER
Echo Staff Writer
Francois Truffaut is a brilliant filmmaker and a true “auteur” of cinema. What one sees in a Truffaut film and either likes or dislikes is all the responsibility of Truffaut. The best films Francois Truffaut has made are comedies. He is a master at light comedy and “aw-shucks” emotional films. “The Story of Adele H.” falls under neither light emotional nor light comedy and is also not one of Truffaut’s best. As a matter of fact, it is closer to his worst.
“The Story of Adele H.” is about Adele Hugo, daughter of Victor Hugo, who falls madly in love with a British army officer. The officer is a real woman’s man and after a short affair with Adele, drops her and goes on for other quests. Adele stays steadfastly in love and follows the officer to Nova Scotia. There, Adele makes a constant nuisance of herself to the officer and begins to go crazy. By the end of the film she has followed the officer to Barbados and is totally lost. She wanders about aimlessly and doesn’t even recognize the officer when he comes by.
Adele is played by a new French actress, lsabelle Adjani, who aside from being fabulously beautiful, is a terrific actress. Adjani is tense and emotional, sometimes evoking pity, sometimes embarrassing and also nominated for an Academy Award. Because of Isabelle Adjani’s great performance, “The Story of Adele H.” can not be termed a poor film, but it certainly is lacking any real spark of life.
Truffaut keeps the film ponderous and slow, letting things sink in for longer than the audience needs in order to pick them up. Characters enter and reenter, but never resolve themselves, nor do they make much of an impression.
At one point, Adele sees the back of an officer and rushes to him thinking it is her lieutenant. The soldier turns around and it is Francois Truffaut himself, who says nothing, gives Adele a blank stare and continues on his way. That seems to be the same way Truffaut wrote and directed this film—blank and unknowing of exactly what he wanted to say.
Wednesday, April 14 1976
‘Lipstick’ lacks luster despite attractiveness of cast
By JOSH BECKER
Echo Staff Writer
“Lipstick” is an exploitive, badly scripted, poorly acted, stiltedly-directed film that for all practical purposes should have been at least tolerable. Before seeing “Lipstick” my foremost interest in wanting to see it lay in the fact that Michel Polnareff, the French rock and roll star who is unheard of in this country, did the musical score. Some of the backing musical track is exceptional, but most of the music is not background, and what isn’t is ungodly, electronic noise.
The story is so damned simple that if you have seen the coming attractions you know everything that will happen.
Chrissie McCormick (Margaux Hemingway), one of the world’s top fashion models, is brutally raped. She presses charges against the rapist (Chris Sarandon) and loses. The rapist then gives it to Chrissie’s little sister (Mariel Hemingway) and Chrissie takes a rifle and blows his brains, balls and guts out. The end.
If you think I have just ruined the film for you, you’re wrong. “Lipstick’’ is one of the most predictable films to have come out of Hollywood, or anywhere for that matter, in years. With almost no story to speak of, every major event (all four of them) are so foreshadowed that by the time director Lamont Johnson gets around to showing the event, you really don’t give a damn.
With some large-scale editing, “Lipstick” could possibly be mildly excusable trash, but with it based so totally around the Hemingway sisters it is simply intolerable. Granted, Margaux is an absolute knockout and Mariel is a real cute kid. Nevertheless, that does not make up for their total lack of acting ability.
Producers seem to think that if a women or man is sufficiently attractive or muscular it will compensate for their inability to act like semi-natural human beings. It does not. However, if the unfortunate fashion model or Mr. America has a really good director to work with, it can be gotten around. A good example of this is Cybil Shepard in “Taxi Driver.” Director Martin Scorsese realizes that Shepard cannot act and works it into the story. Lamont Johnson does just the opposite.
There are extreme close-ups of both Hemingways going through hysteria in major, minor and in-between phases and they all look ridiculous. Chris Sarandon fares better as the rapist when he is given a chance to act, which is seldom. Sarandon generally plays a boogie man who is waiting around every corner, waiting to molest any animal, vegetable or mineral that happens to pass his way. Ann Bancroft is completely wasted as Chrissie’s radical, feminist, baggy-eyed, frizzy-haired lawyer. Then again we only see her sitting and looking macho in the court room rasping, “Objection,” every few seconds for about a quarter of the film, so it really isn’t fair to judge.
Nevertheless, getting back to Michel Polnareff’s music. It is obvious that his electronic compositions were intended to be noisy, but I do not think by him—but rather by Lamont Johnson, probably. Anyway, I just think that it’s criminal to give America such a poor first view of a real musical talent in such a poor film.
“Lipstick”is a vehicle film for launching careers and putting across views, but as a vehicle it would be better driven off a cliff.
This article from the L.A. Weekly was the first piece that I had published outside of a college newspaper. This was the second time I’d lived in L.A., when I was twenty years old.
May 3, 1979
“Go West Young Man”
by Joshua M. Becker
A young boy of seventeen from a culturally diseased city in the Midwest decided to move to Hollywood and see if he could make it in the film biz. His plans were vague, his money limited, but his drive was excessive, so he loaded all of his belongings in the back of his automobile and drove west.
To make his limited funds go further he found an apartment in a lousy neighborhood right near Paramount Pictures (which he considered atmospheric) and set up house. The apartment was not quite the size of his bedroom at home (bathroom included), and a fairly large variety of insects already inhabited the place and didn’t seem to understand that he was supposed to be the only occupant. The insects and the young man came to a mutual agreement that he could have the living-sleeping area and they could have the bathroom and the closet.
The young man enrolled at a local, low-level film school (since the high-level schools wouldn’t even consider him) and took seven classes in the evenings. As it turned out, most of these classes were TV oriented, which interested him little to not at all. However, the school’s policy was that one had to take TV classes before getting into the film classes. Not being a terrifically assertive person he accepted the situation and spent half of the money he had brought with him on one semester of education. Later he would learn that most of the people enrolled in the film classes had never taken any TV classes, simply because they had objected.
To make ends meet he began his search for a job that wouldn’t drive him crazy (as most of his previous jobs had). For one week he sold office supplies over the telephone, but wasn’t good enough at lying to the clients about brand-name products which were, in actuality, cheap Japanese imitations. After two days he went from three dollars an hour to commission and abruptly stopped making any money.
Next he sold sandwiches on a route through Brentwood. He would go into a
small shop in Westwood each day and pick up a basket of strange, over-priced health- food sandwiches, then drive to Brentwood and walk around for three or four hours trying to sell them. If he sold everything in his basket, he might bring home $15; he rarely sold more than half. After a week it became clear he could no longer justify the drive to Westwood.
He then got a job in a bookstore in Westchester that was on the verge of going out of business. He and another “stockboy” spent the entire day wrapping large, hard-cover books in saran-wrap. When someone wanted to look at a book he would have to tear the saran-wrap off. The book was then immediately re-wrapped. He was able to
stand a week and a half of this insanity.
Six Months to Starvation
This was not a snap decision. Not by any means. He had been working for three months in a delicatessen as a cashier, being abused daily by the cooks, the bus-boys, the waitresses and the bosses and making less money than all of them. So after counting and re-counting his reserve of money, he decided he could exist on a poverty-level without working for approximately six months.
During this time he was attempting to procure some sort of work dealing with writing or film. He took his scrapbook of published material (from school newspapers) to every place he thought might need a writer. Even the porno papers turned him down. He decided he wasn’t nuts about journalism anyway and elected to write a screenplay.
At a discount store he found reams of cheap, canary-yellow erasable typing paper for two dollars. He purchased two reams (one thousand sheets) and set to work with one idea: fill up all the paper.
He found that he was far more productive in the middle of the night than during the day. Within a few more days he was arising at 3:00 in the afternoon and retiring at 5:00 in the morning, and was producing upwards of a thousand words a day (about four typed pages). He kept a daily journal and wrote film articles and reviews and short screenplays. On days he had nothing to say, he solved the problem by describing the view from his window.
He watched Bob, the neighborhood drunk, roll his shopping basket into the movie theater parking lot, turn it on its side, place himself upon it and drink away the day. For the sake of background material he spoke with Bob and found that he had been drinking on that corner for 30 years and had seen the Golden Age of Hollywood come and go, but couldn’t recall too much since he had been drunk the whole time.
He began meeting the people in his apartment building and found that all of them were male and almost all were gay. After turning down propositions from most of them, he found himself to be an object of ridicule.
He began wandering around Hollywood in the early hours of morning after he had completed the day’s writing. There wasn’t anything to see in his neighborhood, so he would walk up to Hollywood Boulevard and wander there. After being accosted several times he began wearing his tattered army coat, intentionally mussing up his hair and
assuming a horrible twitch in his eyes whenever anyone passed by. He was no longer accosted.
And his two boxes of canary-yellow, erasable typing paper began diminishing and collecting in stacks on the floor. For two months he worked on a novel which reached 57 pages, but didn’t seem to have a logical ending and was abandoned. And then he began his full-length screenplay.
Is This Failure...
It took two months to write it, then another month to re-write. At some point during the re-write he realized that it wasn’t very good, but that didn’t seem to make any difference—it had to be completed. When it was, he Xeroxed six copies and gave them to everybody he knew, including a childhood friend of his Father’s. The results were unanimous: it was terrible.
His writing came to an abrupt halt. Thirty sheets of canary-yellow, erasable type-writing paper remained.
He spent another couple of weeks wandering up and down Hollywood Boulevard in the early hours of morn, but it all seemed pointless and the 30 sheets of paper remained untouched. All of the people he had previously considered “colorful characters” now annoyed him and made him feel uneasy and out of place.
And so, without much further ado, he loaded up his automobile with all of his belongings, bid his few friends farewell and drove straight back to his culturally diseased home in the Midwest in sixty-two-and-a-half hours.
The moral of this true story becomes evident.
He spent the next two years shooting super-8 movies, writing another not-so-good full-length screenplay and driving a taxicab. He stayed productive, appeared to become an adult and was actually on the verge of “settling down” when he packed a single suitcase, removed all of his taxi driving money from the bank, bought a $69 “Anywhere in America” bus ticket and came back to Hollywood.
He’s presently hard at work on his third full-length screenplay and is assured it will make a dynamite film.