FIVE FROM THE FIRE #4
eric pfriender, john cribbs & christopher funderburg
Sunday. 6 am. Jersey City. Something jolts you awake from a deep whisky-induced slumber. A thin haze of smoke stings your eyes and the acrid air burns your lungs. A black, tar-y smoke billows from the spacious warehouse across the street from your fancy-schmancy new apartment. Bright orange flames lick the sky. You spring to your feet, knowing that the collected works of five directors are stored therein - if you hurry, there might be just enough time to pull five films from the enkindled print depository. But you barely have time to think as you throw on some pants and sprint out the front door. The five directors are:
Takashi Miike William Friedkin Steve James
Abbas Kiarostami Ted Kotcheff
I remember that Sunday like it was my first day in hell...
It was hot. Hotter than the devil's ball-sack, and drier than a hippie's bathmat. The place was going to go up fast. There was no time for a quick cigarette to think things over. I took one last deep breath of fresh Jersey City air and pushed my way though the doors into the inferno.
Inside, through the smoke, my heart sank when I saw how enormous the place was. It was like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark in there. I was going to need some guidance if I was going to get out of there alive. I felt my way to the wall and started scanning for a directory. I finally found one, although I "burned" precious seconds.
"Now let's see... who's films are being stored here... what the fuck? Who the hell is running this place? Why are these five directors being housed in the same facility? And why do they need a warehouse this big? Christ, Steve James? I'm risking my life here! I thought there'd at least be some Herzog or something. This sucks. Fuck this, I'm getting out of here."
I was about to leave and watch the place burn, when I heard the music from the opening credits of Naked emanating from my pocket. Recognizing this immediately as John Cribbs' ringtone, I answered the phone.
"Little busy here, big guy."
"Dude, if you let Friedkin's ouvre go up in smoke, you have received your last text message from me containing an obscure quote from Point Break."
"I don't care if that kid you have coming is a boy or a girl. If I go back in there, you're naming it Eric."
"Done. And don't forget Sorce---"
I hung up. Resigned to my fate, I grabbed a dolly and body-surfed it to the Miike section. If I was going in, I was damn sure going to save something I liked.
As soon as I hit the Miike section, I realized why the warehouse was so big. The guy's been making three movies a week for a decade and a half. Luckily, I've only seen about six of them. I grabbed Audition. It was a no-brainer. Then I scanned the shelves. I could have grabbed another one of his big, iconic movies. The ones that built his rep over here. But I've never seen Dead or Alive, and Ichi the Killer was honestly never one of my faves. Instead, I snatched Gozu. That movie contains one of my two favorite cuts, as in single edits, of all time. (Near the begining of the film, the two leads are driving along a road, and all of a sudden they stop short. Cut to: the fucking ocean. Or at least a large body of water, which somehow they didn't notice until the last second. [it's a river inexplicably cutting through the middle of the road - christopher] That cut is a better representation of dream-logic than all of David Lynch's films put together.)
That done, I felt a little better. Chris was going to be happy with me, anyway. (I hoped so- I think he's a big fan of Happiness of the Katakuris.) I headed for Friedkin, back at the front of the warehouse. On my way back, I passed the Steve James section. I was pretty sure that's the guy who made Hoop Dreams and Stevie. Meh.
Abbas Kiarostami. Never seen anything. I was pretty sure he's Iranian, and my white liberal guilt almost made me look for a copy of A Taste of Cherry, but then I realized: not only is that probably the kind of movie I don't give a shit about, but I also hate the taste of cherries. Except on a sundae, or in a whisley sour....
Shit, the fire! I hurried on...
"Ted Kotcheff. Fuck. Who the fuck is this guy? I'd better not get outside and then find out he directed a couple of early Bill Murray films or something."
I kept moving.
I grabbed The Exorist, cause its the only movie of his that I've seen that I actually like. It's iconic, and I actually think the first half of the movie is genuinely scary, when you know something weird is going on but its not supernatural yet. Reagan peeing on the rug and getting an MRI is as bad as the crucifix masturbation and the head spinning and pea-soup vomiting. But it took me well over three minutes to figure out which canisters contained the original cut and which ones held the revised version that came out a while ago. Then, once I had them both, I couldn't decide which one to take. I tend to go with original cuts, but that spider walk looked pretty cool... I kept the new one, knowing I'd hate myself when I got outside.
And then I was stuck. Friedkin for me is one of those canonized seventies guys who isn't as good as his rep. I tried to watch French Connection once and couldn't get through the first half hour. And that movie has Hackman and Scheider in it, so you gotta figure I was cutting it all kinds of slack.
I kind of remembered liking the knife fights in that movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, but couldn't remember what it was called. For a minute I thought it was called The Edge, but then I remembered that that was the movie with Baldwin, Hopkins, and a Bear. And for some reason, the bear made me think of Operation Dumbo Drop, and then I started wondering if Ted Kotcheff directed Dumbo Drop. Maybe he was some Hollywood hack who specializes in, like, movies with animals. Like the one with Rene Russo and a monkey in a hotel.... Is that Dunston Checks In? I thought George Costanza was in that...
I was shocked out of my reverie by the realization that the soles of my shoes had melted to the floor. I had to just get this over with and get the fuck out of there.
Okay. I had never seen it, but I have it on good account that To Live and Die in LA is awesome. And its got William Peterson and Willem Dafoe, and I had been meaning to get around to seeing it for like four years now. I grabbed it.
I had just enough time for one more. I was quickly able to narrow it down to two movies which I don't like. Cruising has Pacino, Karen Allen, and a cameo by Leo Burmeister, and John loves the ending. But it is awful. And then there was Sorcerer, which on top of being god-awful, is a remake of one of my favorite films, so its blasphemous in my book. I decided to keep Sorcerer, because if nothing else, it makes Wages of Fear look even better by comparison, and is awful enough to help kill the Friedkin legend. I threw it on the dolly with the rest of the cans and then made like a banana and split.
I wheeled my films across the street and turned around. The place was completely engulfed. It was done. I could hear the sirens in the distance, still miles away. Nothing else was getting out of there. I looked down and surveyed my batch of rescued films.
Gozu Audition To Live and Die in LA
The Exorcist Sorcerer
Curious, I pulled out my iphone and did a quick imdb search. I was right on James and Kiarostami, but then my heart broke. Kotcheff. Director of, among others, First Blood, Winter People, and... no... NO! WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S! I had made a terrible, terrible mistake. I looked back down at the canisters. There it was, staring back at me. Like it was laughing at me. Sorcerer.
I thought of Clouzot. I thought of Johnathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy. And then I thought of Jack Palance, in a screening room with Fritz Lang, watching rushes early in Contempt. And I realized what I had to do. It was poetic justice.
I picked up each reel of Sorcerer, and, one by one, I threw each one of them like a discus back into the pit of hell from whence they came.
And then I lit a cigarette and I watched them burn.
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