The Landis Has Eagled

In an attempt to recover some dignity after devoting a column to “Skidoo,” this week I cover two undisputed classics of the New American Cinema, both freshly issued on Blu-ray: John Landis’s “Animal House” (1978) and “The Blues Brothers” (1980). Funny then, funny now, funny on the far side of the Apocalypse.

In other good news for Landis fans, his British feature “Burke & Hare,” produced by the revived Ealing Studios, will open through IFC on September 9. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis star as the celebrated 19th century grave robbers, one of whom makes an actual, in-person appearance in the film. It’s Landis’s first fiction feature in twelve years — another sign, as if any more were needed, of how seriously screwed up studio filmmaking has become.

85 comments to The Landis Has Eagled

  • jbryant – I’m sure your eye is as good as mine. And I should say the KC CONFIDENTIAL blu is perfectly watchable (I’m generally not too picky about image quality), just that, as you say, MGM probably has better material. But if I manage to catch the Netflix stream, I’ll let you know what I think.

  • mike schlesinger

    I love OSCAR–it’s the film that made me think Stallone’s true talent was for comedy, an opinion not shared by many others. And has anyone mentioned BLUES BROTHERS 2000? The music alone makes this a gem.

    Dave, of all the lines that came from ANIMAL HOUSE, it seems to me the one most referenced is “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.” Though in the Michele Bachmann era, I wonder how many people still recognize it as a joke.

  • Of OSCAR I only know the Louis de Funès version directed by Édouard Molinaro, and that only since recently, since at the time of its premiere, in my cinephilic youth, nothing could have interested me less than a mainstream Louis de Funès hit comedy. But now having actually seen OSCAR it’s impossible to deny the mastery of the well-made French comedy, and Louis de Funès is perfect in the role. It would be interesting to learn how faithful the Landis-Stallone adaptation is to the Claude Magnier play. I belong to those who appreciate Stallone’s talent for comedy, and my favourite Stallone film is DEMOLITION MAN, a funny scifi spoof with a good cast including Sandra Bullock, Wesley Snipes, and Dennis Leary at their best.

  • Alex

    Ten best “Great Depression” movies, in no particular order:

    American Madness
    Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
    Grapes of Wrath
    Heroes for Sale
    Easy Living
    Our Daily Bread
    Sullivan’s Travels
    My Man Godfrey
    Emperor of the North Pole
    Thieves Like Us

  • mike schlesinger

    Hard to quibble with any of those, but no room for WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD?

  • One of my favorite films from the depression era was a Renoir’s 1937 great La Grande Illusion. It was a brilliant film about how war changes the social norms.

  • Robert Regan

    For movies about the Depression, don’t forget Man’s Castle and Little Man What Now.

  • I really think Chaplin’s Modern Times is a great film about surviving in the depression. The Tramp captures the frustration of finding work, keeping work and the never-ending search for food food food. It was also kind of bittersweet because it was the film in which Chaplin bid farewell to the Tramp.

  • Alex

    Great additions to my crude list, but i was thinking of films about the Great Depression, so WWI film “La Grande Illusion” wouldn’t qualify.

    Were there European films about the Depression? Japanese?

  • pete

    OT: Anybody interested in Sam Fuller TV work, Antenna TV is showing the second episode he directed of ‘The Iron Horse’ this Sunday, 8/7. The channel is showing the series in order, albeit one per week, so the rest of the Fuller eps, one more of which he also wrote, should all make appearances this year (if they keep up with it, of course). I don’t know how rare it is for these to be on TV, but the show doesn’t have much of a profile at IMDb, for one.

  • jbryant

    I haven’t watched it yet, but an almost three-hour interview that Kevin Pollak did with John Landis went up recently at blip.tv: http://blip.tv/kevin-pollaks-chat-show/kpcs-john-landis-121-5430365

    EDIT: Landis doesn’t come on until about 19 minutes in, and I it looks like ads are dropped in at random moments.

  • jbryant

    A little over an hour in, Landis mentions that the new ANIMAL HOUSE and BLUES BROTHER Blu-Rays get a good review in the New York Times, though he doesn’t mention Dave by name.

  • @ Alex. How about Modern Times?

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Pete -

    Thanks for the Iron Horse tip – I had no idea I got Antenna TV until now

  • Alex

    Jerry, I love “Moden Times.” A complete oversight by me. (Perhaps I fotgot it because its vividly imagined world doesn’t have much 1930s verisimilitude for me: seems more like a vision of the Depression evoked by 30s statistics, Marxian abstractions –however apt and well rendered– and memories of earlier –1913-14? 1920-21? –bad times.)

  • mark Johnson

    All the talk about ‘Oscar’, reminds me of Landis saying something along the lines of, paraphrasing here, Stallone was hilarious and charming off camera, but something changed when he went in front of it, and all the humour dissipated.

    Also , a recommendation for those that have not seen Landis’s 1994 documentary ‘Slasher’.

  • Oliver_C

    “Were there European films about the Depression? Japanese?”

    Certainly Ozu’s I Graduated, But… (made the same year as the Wall Street Crash; the title says it all) and 1931′s Tokyo Chorus (which name-checks President Hoover at one point).

  • @ Oliver_C. I may never had heard of Ozu had it not been for Roger Ebert. He once said that Floating Weeds was one of the best films that he had ever seen. I treasure what he wrote:

    “Sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu. He is the quietest and gentlest of directors, the most humanistic, the most serene. But the emotions that flow through his films are strong and deep, because they reflect the things we care about the most: Parents and children, marriage or a life lived alone, illness and death, and taking care of one another.”

  • @ Alex. It is an outsized version of the world. Just as distressed, just as oppressed but seen through Chaplin’s lens, just as demoralized. He deals with several issues at once: Issues of prejudice, poverty, oppression, depression, survival and endurance.

    The most enduring image in that film is the first one, with mobs of workers marching down the sidewalk then superimposed over sheep marching in the same fashion.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Re films of the Depression: I happened to be (re)reading Tag Gallagher’s “John Ford” last night and came across this in his section on FLESH, regarding the character of Lora/Karen Morley:
    “Yet her terrible realism, thrust into Polokai’s compassion, in time enables us to feel her suffering, dread her isolation, and admire her guts; she seems to typify the Depression era.” (86) In a footnote Gallagher adds “Period evocations in films today have every prop accurate but ignore period atmosphere for ‘realism,’ and impose, as demythicization, revisionist mythologies upon bygone eras’ feelings and beings.” I’m passing over the specific point about “realism/demythicization/revisionist mythology” (applicable to post-Fordian westerns as much as a film set more or less when it was made — 1932) to emphasize the last phrase, about how the mood of an era is lost to filmmakers working past that era. Comparing films made in the 1970s (even if Aldrich and Altman were kids at the time, as they were) to films made in the 1930s are like comparing “apples and fish” (to borrow another phrase of Gallagher’s from a few pages earlier, regarding comparing Ford and Hawks). To get the feel of our time audiences of 2041 are going to have to watch THE HANGOVER II and CRAZY SEXY LOVE, not the well made reconstructions of the coming mid-century’s Scorsese (to pick a 2011 filmmaker well-regarded for period films of undoubted prop accuracy; cf work from NEW YORK NEW YORK to BOARDWALK EMPIRE).

    Beyond that point, the specific Ozu films cited by Oliver are excellent choices to reflect the era (and don’t forget AN INN AT TOKYO).

  • Oliver_C

    Cinema can never have enough love for Ozu, but it’s important to remember that, for all his image as a serene and refined director, he was also a hard-drinking, Fantasia-admiring man whose sense of humour, at times, wouldn’t be out of place in Animal House, from the salary envelope dropped into a urinal in Tokyo Chorus to the farts of Good Morning and the herbal Viagra jokes in An Autumn Afternoon, three decades later.

  • Ozu’s last (surviving) silent and first (feature-length) talkie reflect depression-era Japan — and are two of his finest films.

    Tokyo Inn (the silent) follows a homeless man and his two young sons as they roam about the desolated outskirts of industrial Tokyo, as he looks (fruitlessly) for work. Thir funds are so low that it comes down to choosing between food and a place to sleep. It also shows a young mother with a little daughter — who become (briefly) quasi-family.

    Only Son (the talkie) shows a rural mother who sacrifices everything so her son can get educated. After he has graduated (and she has sunk into poverty), she goes to visit him in Tokyo (hoping she might be able to retire in comfort, even if not luxury) — only to find he is married with a baby, and can only find work as a part-time night school teacher. (Sort of a dress rehearsal for some of the themes he would later use in Tokyo Story — but with a depression era edge).

    You also get rural reflections of the depression in Hiroshi Shimizu’s Arigato-san — which follows one friendly bus driver’s route and the passers-by (including migrant Korean road workers) and passengers (including a woman on the way to a bigger town, to sell her daughter into prostitution, because the family can’t make ends meet).

    You also find reflections in several of Naruse’s films — such as Flunky, Work Hard (featuring an impoverished life insurance salesman) and Every Night Dreams (featuring an estranged couple — the wife is a waterfront bar hostess and the husband is a kind but dreamy individual who is unable to find work).

  • Robert Garrick

    Regarding films about the Depression:

    Steven Soderbergh’s “King of the Hill” (1993) captures the era in a matter-of-fact way, which makes it all the more powerful. This is Soderbergh’s most underrated film. I’m not sure what kind of a rep Soderbergh has around here, but Andrew Sarris was a huge fan of “Out of Sight” (1998).

    I also like “Skippy” (1931), which literally shows us life on the other side of the tracks.

  • Robert Garrick, I like Soderbergh very much, and along with SOLARIS, my favorite is KING OF THE HILL.

  • I want to mention the Our Gang shorts from the early ’30s as being interesting Depression films. The kids were literally dressed in rags and several shorts played on the contrast of the poor gang with richer kids.

  • I’m partial to KING KONG myself.

  • pete

    @ Tom Brueggemann: I always appreciate the ‘TV alerts’ that pop up on the forum from time to time, something I’ve known you to do in the past, so *thank you*.

  • Alex

    MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW!

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Cinema can never have enough love for Ozu’

    There is 800 page edition of Ozu diary now published in French language.

    Pro Kino Film Group making many movie about economic situation in Japan until disbanded 1932 because of government suppression. These movies was news reel, documentary, short drama about working class and peasant.

    Hollywood movie about economic situation in America known in Japan is WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD, HEROES FOR SALE and OUR DAILY BREAD.

  • I enjoy him, don’t exactly admire him. I liked Animal House, Trading Places, Coming to America and the like, even that vampire flick, and laughed through most of Kentucky Fried Movie, even appreciated the makeup effects in that werewolf flick, mostly for the jokes on occasion for the ideas, but where Dave K sees precision I keep seeing clunkiness. Much prefer his contemporary, Joe Dante.

    As for the Batman movies–Burton has an eye too. Tho I can see the holes in the first one, I did enjoy Daniel Waters’ dialogue for the second, even if they did cut out the more interesting ideas. Waters, incidentally, did the script for my favorite Stallone picture, Demolition Man.

  • Robert Garrick

    Noel Vera’s piece on “Mr. Arkadin” at his site (click on his name above) is well worth a look.

  • I may have read this thread lazily but hasn’t anybody mentioned THREE AMIGOS? It must be my favourite Landis. In-jokes, film history and a combination of sight-gags and one-liners.

    KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is an excellent film, for me second only to 99 RIVER STREET among Karlson’s films.

  • Thanks, Robert.

    Three Amigos is fun, as with much of Landis’ work. I don’t feel the admiration welling up, tho.

  • stephen

    I, for one, would like to see an interest over the unjustly maligned INTO THE NIGHT. Anyone?

  • Kentucky Fried Movie has some riotous stuff in it, the Chop Socky spoof “Fistful of Yen” in particular. And that final scene with the, um, amorous couple with the Eyewitness News in the background was about as naughty as R-rated got back then, and the 17-year old me appreciated it very, very much.