Three Make a Match: Design For Living
Christmas: Lights, Trees & Eyes Wide Shut

Three Obsessions: Black, Game, Jackie

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It's that time of year to make lists, those ubiquitous year-end lists. I'm working on my best of of 2011, and I'm struggling, as usual. So, for now, I'm returning to some obsessions narrowed down to the nice number three.  

Of course, given the season, the first entry is an obvious one. For me, anyway...

1. Black Christmas (1974) I've already started watching it...

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Black Christmas might be one of the greatest slasher films ever made. It's certainly my favorite. I've watched it too many times to count -- and not just around this holly jolly season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, on annoying friend's birthdays, the ones who expect 2000 Facebook greetings and so much attention you want to sic a drunken Margo Kidder on them (actually, that would be a treat, maybe just get John Saxon to tell them they're assholes...), it's perfect for any special occasion and any regular day. It's just perfect. Director Bob Clark (who I had the thrill of meeting after he introduced Black Christmas at the New Beverly just two years before he tragically passed away) is also famous for that little subversive yuletide favorite A Christmas Story, made a first of its kind: a sorority house slasher flick, complete with deranged lunatic (whom you never see), extra crazy obscene phone calls and sexy girls -- especially Margot Kidder and the lovely, sad-eyed Olivia Hussey. Darkly atmospheric, gorgeously shot, tense, wonderfully acted (Saxon is terrific here), filled with genuine goddamn scares while also being genuinely touching, Black Christmas is a masterpiece in any genre. Added bonus: Olivia Hussey claims that this was Elvis Presley's favorite Christmas movie. He had his own personal copy and watched it on Christmas. I don't know if that's true, but she told a packed New Beverly audience and I choose to believe her. I love the idea of Elvis forgoing his Blue Christmas for a Black one...

2. The Only Game in Town (1970) 

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I'm fascinated by the saggy, depressing, accidentally (maybe not accidentally?) quirky picture. Something of a disaster in its day, the movie deserves consideration not only for its interesting and downright strange performances by Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor but for its effectiveness in showing just how lonely and depressing the idea of winning can be. Any kind of winning. Earning tremendously bad buzz for going over budget and for catering to Elizabeth Taylor’s location demands (the film wasn’t shot in Vegas but in Paris so the star could be with Richard Burton while he was making another movie), the picture is indeed bizarre at times, but its claustrophobic weirdness and poignant sadness gives it a power that wasn’t appreciated in its day. Both Taylor’s ex Vegas showgirl and Beatty’s compulsive gambler are losers waiting for their jackpot (Taylor to marry a rich guy, Beatty, to simply win big) which makes their relationship understandable even while being somewhat... off. I like how they appear mis-matched and yet, perfect/terrible for each other at this stage of their lives (on-screen and off). Directed by George Stevens (his final film), the picture moves slowly, but it’s peppered by some intriguing dialogue and memorable interplay between a blousy, still beautiful Taylor and a beautiful, always beautiful Beatty. Incidentally, I own the original one sheet, it comes with the tagline: “Dice was his vice. Men, hers.”

3. Jackie Wilson again...

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I love Elvis. But you can’t appreciate Elvis without understanding his influences, and one major artist who knocked the King for a loop was the sublime Jackie Wilson, a performer who burned bright and had one hell of a tragic ending. I’ve written about Jackie before (he was featured in my list of the tragically musically departed) and for good reason -- the man with the operatic range, boxing background and spine tingling octaves was one of entertainment’s greatest innovators. There are countless acts I would kill (kill!) to have seen live and Wilson, a.k.a. “Mr. Excitement” (whom Elvis attributed much of his style to) is very near the top of the list. Check out genius Wilson doing the most inspired, hair-raising, heartbreaking, soul stirring and about every word I can't articulate but the kind that utterly destroy me, version of "Danny Boy" on Shindig! Who sings like this anymore?

Comments

ben schwartz

I still haven't seen THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN (did they ever put it out on disc or tape?) but I've kinda had enough with filmmakers using Las Vegas as the prosaic city of losers. Der, I get it, they hopelessly dream of the big score they'll never get ... or do get the big money it doesn't mean anything ... You can find losers anywhere. A lot of people in Bedford Falls look like losers to me. I'm also sick of heist films where the thieves don't get the money in the end. A lot of people get away with stealing. Filmmakers think little people who want big scores need to be taught a lesson – a lesson taught by people with no other way of thinking except big scores in 3000 theater Friday openings to get all their money back by Monday morning. Whatever ...

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