IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY, DELIRIOUSLY NERDY

A review of “Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection” by David Bertrand

 

In a weird, wonderful world awash with genre film fanaticism, Cashiers du Cinemart stands tall as one of the best-written, best-titled, most engrossingly enjoyable print-and-stapler zines on the racks.  Driven by the “hackademic” style of CdC mainman Mike White, Cinemart has been enriching lives, sparking film debates and upsetting fans of Tarantino since 1994.  It’s the best Michigan export since The Stooges but somehow I had never picked up a copy – until the release of the brand-shwanking new tome from Bear Manor Media, Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection.  This 377-page jewel grafts together the best features from issues #1 to #15 (1994-2007), as well as “13.2% all new stuff”; or so blares the marquee of a neon-lit 42nd street fleapit theatre, illustrated by Jim Rugg and Jason Lex on the glorious wraparound cover.

Mike White

Cinemart’s editor, author, ranter, raver, proprietor and ticket ripper Mike White first became a figure of infamy in the early 90’s for his film Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?, a video project compositing clips from Reservoir Dogs opposite near-identical scenes Quentin lifted from Ringo Lam’s 1987 Hong Kong heist flick, City on Fire – most notably the climactic Mexican stand-off.  As the subject of Cashiers greatest notoriety, Reservoir Dogs is an obvious subject to kick off the book, but I must say that by 2011, where Tarantino-styled “homages” to 70’s cinema are so common as to be du rigueur, the debate over Quentin’s role as the world’s #1 rehash king feels like, well, a tired discussion from 1994.  Luckily, Funky gets funkier.

White’s greatest reward to his readership is the sheer breadth of source novels and never-filmed scripts he has dredged up, read, absorbed, analyzed, and can’t frickin’ wait to tell you about.  Most in his element tracing the path from that first germ of an idea into a final film product, Cashiers du Cinemart is driven by Mike’s obsessive appraisal of the would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve beens: those bastard scripts that slipped through the cracks of the Hollywood studio backlots.

For starters, Mike White is a voracious devourer of hardboiled pulp literature, and Impossibly Funky is loaded with essential essays comparing the original prose of his favourite novelists to the great/awful films they spawned, including David Goodis (Dark Passage, Shoot the Piano Player), James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia), and Richard Stark’s Parker novels (Point Black, Payback).  There are also chapters dedicated to A-list franchises, from Planet of the Apes, to Catwoman, Incredible Hulk, and Superman as these staples of American pop culture are dragged and quartered through dozens of wildly divergent writers during the 1990’s, leading up to the eventual “re-imagings” of the 2000s that we’re familiar with (and generally, bemoaning).

Most fascinating to me, is Mike’s long, dark journey through every known script of Alien 3.  His detective work goes well beyond even the insightful documentaries found on the Alien Quadrilogy boxset, and many of his revelations actually made me drop my jaw (in the first script by William Gibson, the lead characters are Hicks and Newt from Aliens, with Ripley in a coma and MIA throughout the film!) and allowed me to finally recognize this close-but-near-miss sequel’s greatest failing: the pre-mature death of Clemens (Charles Dance), Ripley’s first consummated loved interest.  By tracing through previous script incarnations where Ripley was absent or sidelined, we can see that Alien 3 was at various times based around a character that would morph into Clemens, and his story of redemption, with Ripley merely the apocalyptic catalyst.  With Clemens gone, the heart and drive is gone from the film, and Ripley is left with little to do but offer rousing speeches to a gang of rapists.

Funky’s biggest highlight?  It could be this one, found inside an enlightening and mildly depressing interview with Richard Crawford, director of the rarely seen early 70’s Vietnam critique, Captain Milkshake.  Crawford recounts a visit he made to the American Zoetrope office in 1971 to discuss a distribution deal.  As a scrawny George Lucas hustles in and out of the office, struggling with the edit of THX-1138, Francis Ford Coppola is shouting into the phone at an exec from Paramount Pictures: “Goddamn it, just because I’m Italian doesn’t mean I know about gangsters! Mario Puzo can’t write for shit! I hate his book and I don’t want to do any goddamn mafia movie!”

I was lucky enough to pull Mike White aside to answer a few questions about Black Shampoo, stillborn film projects, and why he hates Return of the Jedi:

How did you get hold of so many early scripts incarnations, especially in the pre- or nascent days of the internet?  Have you ever felt the heat from film studios for letting these aborted babies out of the bag?

Mike White: Oddly, the only heat I ever got about a script review came last year when I reviewed a draft of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES back when it was known as CAESAR.  More than giving away the plot, I was attempting to place it in the larger context of the Apes series.  As for other scripts, a lot of those came from conventions and even a few from the writers themselves.  There are a lot of disgruntled screenwriters out there that have seen their hard work ignored or butchered.  One of these days I hope to pen a book about aborted projects or those that went awry between page and screen.  I know this has been done before but I don’t know if it’s been done with the obsessive/compulsive nitpicking of someone like me.

What, in your view, is the most glaring botched opportunity, or stillborn could-have-been film project of them all?

Mike White: That’s a tough one as I’m sure there are a bunch of movies, be they beloved or bemoaned, that have secret histories waiting to be discovered.  I’m presently doing a lot of research with my podcast partner, Mondo Justin, into the nuts and bolts of Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons for The Projection Booth (www.projection-booth.com).  I’m tempted to put that one at the top of the list.  I’m always happy about the bullets that Hollywood has dodged–some of the horrible ideas that get floated out there have actually been far worse than some of the worst things you’ve seen.  But, to answer your question, I think that the best screenplay I read that didn’t make it to the screen while a wretched abomination did has to be I AM LEGEND. The draft I read years ago by Mark Protosevich was wonderful.  But, even then, they wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger for the lead and this would have been terrible.  As it was, the Akiva Goldsman rewrite and final Francis Lawrence film was pretty darned awful.

Speaking of crappy final products – rarely have I felt such bile for a film leap off a critic’s page quite like I feel when reading your description of Return of the Jedi.   Why is this movie above all others the object of your wrath?

Mike White: It’s because we could have gone anywhere in the galaxy with Return of the Jedi.  The Empire Strikes Back put us on a path — Luke ignoring his training, Han trapped in carbonite, Leia in love with Han, “the other” that Yoda refers to, and at least three new characters — Yoda, Lando, and Boba Fett.  Taking the last point first, we barely see Yoda before he dies in ROTJ, Lando puts on Han’s old clothes and gets saddled with Nein Nubb, and Boba dies in a terribly inane way.  ROTJ takes all of those set-ups and dismisses or mishandles all of them.  The other ends up being Leia — making the third point in the love triangle between Luke/Leia/Han into this bizarre incestuous relationship.  Han’s out of carbonite by the end of the first act.  And, apparently, Luke doesn’t have any problems since he prematurely stopped his training.  Additionally, going back to Tattooine begins to take the whole Star Wars franchise from a globe-hopping story to what it is now — a tiny galaxy of coincidences where Tattooine is the most important place (rather than the asshole of the galaxy it was portrayed to be).  I can’t believe I’ve talked for this long without even saying the word “ewok.”

You are the world’s greatest proponent of Greydon Clark’s Black Shampoo.  To quote Impossibly Funky: “Seeing Black Shampoo was a revelation.  I’m not a religious man, but I have witnessed the power and the glory of the universe.”  You ritually watch it at least once a year with a group of friends, on December 26th.  You claim to have seen the film over 500 times.  You wrote the liner notes for the 2005 DVD release.  Yet, I am ashamed to admit I have never seen Black Shampoo.  Can you give me the pitch?

Mike White: Now that is a crime!  You’ve never seen anything like Black Shampoo — even if you’ve seen Hal Ashby’s Shampoo.  It’s the story of a successful African American hairdresser, Mr. Jonathan, who does a little more than washing and setting his clients’ hair.  He’s a Lothario who finds true love right under his nose; his secretary, Brenda.  Alas, she was once involved with the mob who steal her away.  It’s up to Jonathan to get her back, using any means necessary, including guns, chain saws, and pool cues.  There’s also a surprising use for a curling iron.  Interested?

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BUY THE BOOK ‘IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY’ AND ISSUES OF CASHIERS DU CINEMART HERE

 

 

About the author:

David Bertrand

David Bertrand is the Operations Manager for the Fantasia International Film Festival, a writer for Fangoria Magazine and DJ at Toronto's Fear Street.

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