CineSavant Column

Tuesday April 16, 2019


I’m at present thinking of things to distract myself from what has happened to Notre Dame de Paris — it doesn’t look as if I’ll be going inside the great cathedral, as I always thought I would someday. A coherent reaction is hard to come by at the moment… maybe I should watch Is Paris Burning? again soon to contemplate more about impermanence in general.

Here’s something stirring, that might cut the sadness: Mireille Mathieu singing Paris brûle-t-il by Maurice Jarre.

You thought the IMDB couldn’t be trusted: Stuart Galbraith IV checked in to remind us how absurd publicity handouts can be. The following was written up by Universal-International on behalf of newsmen seeking production information on 1957’s The Deadly Mantis:

“To create the film’s special effects, a 200-foot (61 m.) long by 40-foot (12 m.) wide papier-maché model of a mantis, with a wingspan of 150 feet (46 m) and fitted with a hydraulic system, was built.”

Stuart asked, “A miniature as big as a 747?  Made from papier-maché, yet fitted with a hydraulic system?  Too bad Universal never published any photos.”

Yes, I wonder if that Mantis blurb might have been a parting shot by a bitter pub writer who had just been fired. But much of the studio publicity of the past was always hokum, and I’ve read copy by writers and disc producers that don’t understand the ‘print the legend’ aspect of vintage ballyhoo, which often reverted to making up whatever story would get printed. At UCLA I once came across several pages of typed pub material from the Mexican location for 20th Fox’s Garden of Evil, all apparently invented by a pub writer ordered to produce stories about Susan Hayward. In the whopper story, Hayward was made out to be instrumental in saving a local boy’s life. That kind of stuff was common enough, but I didn’t expect to read it in pub sheets for modern discs of the movie.

I started editing Video Press Kits and pub materials around 1990 or so, and have watched so many hours of interviews that it became easy to tell when actors or whoever were just making up stories, or outright lying. It was also obvious when the set was not a happy one, or that an actor didn’t like being told that his contract mandated cooperation with presskit people. Interviews frequently began with the actor complaining that the stupid interview was an ambush. One black actor on a Disney baseball picture put obscenities in everything he said, in an effort to make sure it wasn’t used. One actor (whose work I admired) was openly hostile; his interview was unusable because he wouldn’t affect the ‘everybody loves everybody’ attitude needed for fluff flackery, and answered questions by saying everything was screwed up.

Editors swap stories that can’t be believed, but the weirdest ‘interview subject gets fed up with the interviewer’ incident I remember seeing first-hand was for a long-ago documentary for the 007 film Thunderball. An editor from the next cutting room called me in to watch the raw camera footage of special effects great John Stears losing his temper on-screen. Apparently fed up with the questions and the delays and the interruptions — ‘could you say that all over again, the tape wasn’t running?’ — the visibly incensed Stears ended the session with a ridiculous whopper, saying that to make Emilio Largo’s hydrofoil yacht Disco Volante explode, his demolition men blew up the real boat with dynamite. Stears said the explosion blasted it right up into the sky, so that it didn’t come down until a half hour later!   The producer didn’t even seem aware of why Stears would say something like that; amazingly, the nonsese story made it into the final cut.

Last week I was able to get in contact with my old friend and fellow MGM editor Todd Stribich again, and had a good time watching old WW2 propaganda films made by Disney. I follow Todd on facebook and watch him building these intricate wooden ship and airplane models from scratch, using the kind of skills I only wish I had… Todd would have been a natural for the 1941 miniature crew.

So I was surprised when he showed up with a gift, a beautiful P-40 model with a wingspan of about 30″, all painted up to resemble Wild Bill Kelso’s plane from the 1979 movie. It even has a bullet hole in the cockpit windshield, the one that John Belushi stuck his finger through… in this .jpg, the bullet hole is a little white dot!

CineSavant’s host page for reviews Trailers from Hell just got a fine plug in an article at Culture Sonar entitled The Most Addictive Kind of Coming Attraction. It may be purely a praise-o-thon, but it’s appreciated anyway. The trailers and the authoritative and/or funny commentary make Joe Dante’s creation a worthy resource. And the words ‘outstanding’ and ‘Glenn Erickson’ appear in the same sentence, which makes it a rare collectable!   The writer of note is John Visconti.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson