Romy Schneider in Uniform, on the Trail to Bandit Country

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

While writing a comedy dedicated to Luis Buñuel last summer I initially refrained from watching anything other than his films, so as to accustom my imagination with both Buñuel’s timing and framing; I also gave myself the excuse to catch up on a few from his Mexican period, which I had been saving (such as Illusion Travels by Streetcar). But eventually I began making exceptions. You see, when I’m writing fiction I tend to use real people as models, in order to help me visualize the characters and scenes. And since three of the leading characters in my comedy were physically inspired by actors Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Michel Piccoli, I carefully selected and viewed films in which they starred but that I had not yet seen. Three of these with Piccoli allowed me to feel comfortable with taking a break from Buñuel—without the fear of losing my inspiration—and introduced me to the films of Marco Ferreri (with La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead, and Don’t Touch The White Woman!). Other memorable films I watched during those months, with Alain Delon, were Purple Noon, Borsalino (co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, who had also inspired another one of my characters), and The Swimming Pool (with Romy Schneider).

The project was a spur of the moment reaction I had undertaken after reading the original film treatment it was based on, which was to have been presented with my blog’s third post. But this blog itself was prompted by the desire to share my movie finds and writing hobby while organizing my first screenplay and second Western.

The first images that gave birth to Bandit Country, which I am very happy to be pursuing again, were conceived of only a couple of days into February of 2011, after having had a repeated viewing of Dirty Little Billy (before its DVD release) and upon concluding my exploration of director Paul Morrissey’s feature films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. While I had known and loved Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula for many years, I hadn’t felt inclined to sample his other work, besides Flesh for Frankenstein. But that changed in late January, after stumbling upon Mixed Blood thru my online rental provider. Upon noting the consistency in humor of the latter crime film and those earlier horror-satires, I simply had to catch up with what else I had been missing out on. And within a couple of days I had managed to track down and watch all but one title (L’Amour).

The laughs and fun I got out of those Morrissey’s (especially two starring Holly Woodlawn: Trash and Women in Revolt) combined with my interest in the Billy the Kid origin story (Dirty Little Billy), as well as impressions left over in my subconscious from an Argentinian intersex drama I had seen months earlier (XXY with Inés Efron) must explain what the hell it was I had swimming around inside my head when I got the funny idea involving Morrissey regular Joe Dallesandro and Fellini Satyricon’s Gitone (Max Born), which left me itching to write a story to accompany what I’m still chuckling about. Incidentally, it’s when I went searching to find out what became of actor Max Born that I found the excerpt from Ciao, Federico! (click on his name) in which he sings a Bob Dylan classic that lead me to find this version of it. And it was the playful mood in that cover of Don’t Think Twice (performed by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) that allowed me to imagine my two leading characters’ train ride out West and the unveiling of Bandit Country’s story. No, neither of those ‘kids’ is the one that’s Dallesandro-inspired. They meet up with that brute later.

To pick up additional ideas and inspiration for the benefit of one my leading protagonists, I’ve spent the following months, on and off, carefully selecting and viewing films with an LGBT theme. (It’s worth noting that before I began my research I had just watched a great Mexican Western featuring gay outlaws, recommended by director Alex Cox: Alberto Mariscal’s Los Marcados.)

I began with Querelle, which not only introduced me to the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder but also helped me resolve the only scene I had left to figure out before completing my comedy (it was the presence of Jeanne Moreau that inspired Ardie’s Redheaded Woman). Besides the visually stunning Querelle, other titles which have impressed me most so far have been Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (apparently influential on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Fassbinder’s In A Year With 13 Moons, Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, fashion designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Nagisa Ôshima’s Taboo, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and the 1958 remake of Mädchen in Uniform starring Romy Schneider. I immediately knew upon my initial viewing of the latter film that I wanted to comment on it here, and thought it best to save for when I returned to work on Bandit Country. But when Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films recently invited me to contribute to a guest blogger series in which the author had to review a title which featured a celebrity he or she had a crush on, the timing and opportunity felt just right.

Back in late 1996, when I got myself a Laserdisc player after a close friend gave me a new appreciation for movie making, I wanted to read about and learn from the film giants. And the first two books I picked up were The Complete Films of Orson Welles by James Howard and Scorsese on Scorsese edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie (the October 1996 edition). Among the titles I jotted down to seek out, I was powerfully drawn to Howard’s section on Welles’ The Trial, which included two photos (click here and here) with a lovely young actress that had just as much to do with my interest in finding that film as the appealing sound of Welles adapting Franz Kafka. Fortunately I shortly found and purchased two VHS/EP copies, and for many years I’d tell everyone that The Trial was my favorite movie, as I related to the story at the time and loved its sense of humor; I later purchased and still own the Roan Group’s Laserdisc release of it, and was thrilled to have seen it on the big screen at Bill Cosford Cinema with a receptive group of appreciative friends.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

While favorites have changed throughout the years, Romy Schneider remains in that special place in my heart that I can’t say any other actress has ever dug themselves into, and there have certainly been others whose charms I’ve fallen for. Both beautiful and immensely talented, there’s something about Schneider’s face that pulls a protective big brother-like love out of me nearly every time I see her in a film, sort of like what she does to Servais Mont (Fabio Testi) in L’important C’est D’aimer. It disturbs me whenever I see her sad or even nude on film. (I laugh at myself now for wishing horrors on director Claude Chabrol, along with a couple of the actors, for her character’s abuse and humiliation in Innocents with Dirty Hands.) Schneider actually had more than her share of tragedy in her personal life, including the accidental death of her 14-year-old son.

Reviewed here for Forgotten Films, Mädchen in Uniform was one of my ten favorite older movie discoveries in 2011, and remains among a handful of titles starring Romy Schneider which I simply adore and will continue to revisit for both entertainment and for inspiration as a writer. It’s no coincidence that my muse resembles Schneider a bit.

More details on Bandit Country and its other inhabitants to follow, along with two more posts; one focusing on ‘cooking up a better villain’. I’ve been watching a lot of older Westerns lately (including treasures like Monte Walsh, Buffalo Rider, and The Wonderful Country), so there just might be another Western film review too.

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“Bad” Movies I Love (for Brian Saur)

Straight to Hell (1987)

Straight to Hell (1987): Norwood (Sy Richardson, center) confesses to his pals Simms (Joe Strummer, left) and Willy (Dick Rude, right) that he loves them.

My last post in December was inspired by and dedicated to Mark Johnston of the now defunct Shocking Videos. Shortly afterward I cut together a video to celebrate the twentieth anniversary reissuing of John Zorn’s Elegy, and then began writing a review of Microcinema’s DVD release of Highway Patrolman (1991). But I couldn’t concentrate when it came time to working on the latter. I suddenly became overwhelmed with new ideas for a screenplay I’ve been developing for quite a few years now, and so I just decided to resume working on it. Almost immediately, I was provided by a mutual friend with a talented new artist to handle the illustrations and storyboards, and the project quickly got bigger and better than ever.

What went wrong? Frankly, the story got too big. There are so many scenes and characters which seem to belong to different kinds of movies that I have yet to find a satisfactory way to sew it all together, without having to reconstruct it as a mini-series. Perhaps it needs to be, although I’m still not convinced of that yet.

So, upon having been inspired by the music in a video directed by Aki Kaurismäki back in November, along with discovering that cartoonist Vaughn Bodé performed his most famous character’s voice in a fashion similar to W.C. Fields’ (as does a leading character in a Western I cooked up early last year), and being recently offered the opportunity to contribute to a series of posts on a favorite film-related website, I’ve decided, despite months of reluctance, to shelve The Superkiller for a third time and do something both fun and which could be quickly done.

I first stumbled across Brian Saur’s Rupert Pupkin Speaks (named after Robert De Niro’s character in The King of Comedy) a few years ago while searching for a movie poster. I clearly remember being instantly taken by his series of lists consisting of an expansive appreciation for different grades of film—an eclectic mix which I also enjoy—and so I quickly saved it to my Favorites folder and have been going back there ever since. Brian may be the online maestro of compiling film lists consisting of both classic and cult titles; some widely respected, others less so. What I’ve always found particularly interesting about some of those less popular works is that even when they suffer from a lack of quality or simply just fail to be appreciated with the general public, there are so many of them with good ideas beneath the surface. And Brian’s website is a fellow film enthusiast’s resourceful guide (as were the books and Psychotronic Video magazine edited by Michael J. Weldon before him), which leads toward obtaining more unique film experiences than even by those to be found written by the more popular film critics; which isn’t a call for completely dismissing them.

Since June 12th, Rupert Pupkin Speaks began a series of posts written by special guests titled “Bad” Movies We Love. As the title suggests with the quotation marks, the author’s task is to list and comment on any reasonable amount of movie titles that are either poorly crafted or heavily  flawed and/or generally frowned upon, but which he or she finds entertainment value in. (The first one was appropriately written by Brian.)

I’ve had the great pleasure this year of briefly communicating with Brian, along with many other interesting cinephiles and bloggers on Twitter. And during one of these brief exchanges he offered me the chance to contribute to the series, which resulted in my becoming obnoxiously happy amongst friends and family, as my head swam with images of one movie I’ve been saving commenting on here.

Straight to Hell (1987)

“Strangers, Frank.” From left to right. Spider Stacy, Fox Harris (in the background), Shane MacGowan, Sue Kiel, Biff Yeager, and Elvis Costello.

What is it I love about Straight To Hell so much that made me hang it on my muse’s wall? I’m delighted to say that you’ll find my thoughts on that film, and three others I chose to talk about, at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. But I’d like to add here that now that Brian has prompted me to discuss this 1987 movie months before I planned to do so, I’ve decided it’s time to dive into the Western screenplay I outlined early last year before my first post on My Kind of Story; and which I honestly thought was going to be the first writing project I was going to tackle then.

Named after the Mexican restaurant in my last story, Bandit Country is to be an homage to Straight to Hell, as well as to cartoonist Vaughn Bodé. Having said that, the actual idea for this humorous adventure came to me after my first viewings of Dirty Little Billy (1972) and Mixed Blood (1985), which is why I’ve written about them.

One of my favorite plots in film history can be found in director Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1984). If there’s one story I wish I could have written, it’s that one. I love a story that can be both fun and inspiring with a treasure chest full of ideas to play with. (I should note that the title for my own project actually came from a line by actor Walter Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.) While Bandit Country may not be as urgent or as epic in scope as The Superkiller, it’s got the themes I’m most interested in that I’ve yet to see explored.

I’ll be back soon for a few more commentaries. After that, Bandit Country “is where [I’ll] be going”. Hope you enjoy my post on Brian’s website, as well as the links provided below. Glad to be back.

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