Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Award for Best Use of a Coffee House in a Film Goes To...

Sunday night, my Dad and I went to Second Spin so he could pick up a copy of the John Candy / Dan Ackroyd classic "The Great Outdoors". It was a pretty specific mission, and we found the film right through the gate. However, we still managed to kill another hour perusing thru the boxes of assorted sci fi and cult classics, public domain jems bound together in box sets, some for under 10 bucks. We got to talking on the way home about the fact that so many of those films are more interesting to read about in books than they are to actually watch from beginning to end, but that every now and then you'll come across something that's actually entertaining beyond it's cheese or nostalgia factor.

Roger Corman's classic "A Bucket of Blood" is as watchable and timely for the cafe whore now as it was in 1959. It is, quite simply, the Citizen Kane of Killer Beatnick movies - a genre not as thin as one might imagine. The 50's and 60's were filled with morality play exploitation films about counter cultural threats to the white teenager's virginity. But Corman the man stood at the fringe of the fringe, and always displayed sympathy for the Hell's Angels, "Trip"sters and hippies who were the characters (and, as often as not, cast and crew) of his films.

The film begins with a tracking shot that would make Corman protege Marty Scorsese jealous, sweeping through the interior of the Yellow Door, an archetypal, cavernous cafe that I'd like to franchise and put in the carcass of Casa Bonita if that culinary institution ever shuts down. We hear a pome ("I will talk to you of art!") which, while not actually good, is certainly on par with the vast majority of "spoken word" that you'd hear at the Mercury on a Friday night. We meet waiter (yes, kids, coffee houses used to have waiters. Sort of like Paris on the Platte does. But men.) Walter Paisley (played by the actor who has made a career of playing characters by that name, Dick Miller). Walter is teased and kicked around by the hipsters at the shop, but still he grovels to their every whim, because he wants what anyone who ever worked at a coffee house wants, to be an artist. And to make time with the boho hottie hovering over her sketchpad.

Back at his studio apartment, in lieu of a blog, which wouldn't be available for another 40 years, Walter wrestles his creative pretensions onto an unwieldily mound of clay. True inspiration comes at last in the form of a mishap involving the landlady's pet, trapped in his wall. Just add clay and, voila! an early Paisley, from his impressionist period. Titled, appropriately enough, "Dead Cat".

Walter becomes a sensation the way everybody does in a local art scene; by making something and showing it to a public too chicken shit to point out that the emperor has no clothes. The demand for his work grows, and so too, does the body count.

Of course, this couldn't be a B-movie classic without the requisite amount of fromage, and here, too, the film delivers. The undercover cop looking to make a heroin bust really does look as ridiculous here as the parody/homage in "So I Married an Ax Murderer". And the chase scene at the end feels like a race to the finish before the camera runs out of film. (The ending is exactly the same as "Little Shop of Horrors", which was shot, like, 15 minutes after Bucket wrapped) The cast of Corman's movies were often supporting players in bigger films, where they were labeled "character actors". But, ultimately, this is an asset. One reason Corman's best films work is that life, like the best cafes, is filled with "characters". While the plot of the movie becomes more and more unlikely, the characters never fail to seem familiar.


locomocos said...

sounds awesome! can't believe i haven't seen it!!

And as for Paris on the Platte having waitresses....i guess if you count some chick coming to you once and then never checking on you again, than yeah. i can see how there are still waitresses at coffee shops....
Although i agree, it is a dying trade.

i like your writing! i can't wait for another installment.

totalvo said...


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