Tag Archives: Toho

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The Other Manson Family or Bottom Feeding In The Overseas Distribution Aquarium – An Exploitative Memoir

 

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            My significant other and I arrived in Los Angeles in 1977. We’d driven a “drive-away” Impala through a cross country blizzard from Boston.  Her mother Natasha had snared us a one bedroom in the apartment sprawl she lived in.  It was a terraced bunker uphill from the  Whiskey a Go-Go.  Dionne Warwick had been the only notable tenant there until Motley Crue in ’82.  Warwick had left eons back but long time dwellers acted as if she was still there providing glittery gravitas to the joint. It was neglected and battered but Clark Apartments was all dream exotica to former denizens of Boston’s Back Bay.  With its soaring palms, floodlit pool and a glimpse of L.A. basin sparkle this was cockeyed heaven.

Bouncing from temp spots at IBM legal to Pepperdine’s lost Watts’ campus I was longing for some Hollywood glitz appointment. Natasha offered an opening at her company, a film distributor mere blocks away from our Clark Apartments. I interviewed with Manson Distributing Corporation’s president, an anxious, awkwardly jovial gentleman named Michael Goldman. After mild chit chat, Goldman hired me. Obviously Natasha’s recommendation was key, tinsel town nepotism at work.

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Manson Distributing Corporation was situated at 9145 Sunset Boulevard in the Aladdin Building, blatantly accented by the fat brass Aladdin’s lamp hung over the entrance. It was, and still is, an undistinguished two-story square which in 1977 sat across from the Cock’n Bull tavern, birthplace of the Moscow Mule and Jack Webb’s daily waterhole.  Next door was La Maganette, our usual takeout choice, a dimly lit Italian mock swank with regulars from Sammy Davis to Richard Deacon. Further east on Sunset was Scandia, considered L.A.’s premiere eatery alongside Ma Maison.  In that era L.A. had a narrow gastronomic belly. Other neighbors included Dick Clark Productions, Dick or his wife were often out front trying to curb their massive dogs, and the old school Paul Kohner Agency, my first agent’s quarters, with John Huston carefully squeezing himself and his oxygen tank through the front door.

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Jack Webb was never perched far from the feast at the Cock’n'Bull.

 

                  The rest of Sunset was ripping itself from the clutches of the sixties as it stumbled through the seventies. Filthy McNasty’s and its flooze were in last gasp. Power Burger gave super beef shots. Turner ruled the booze front. You could eat the same bubbling quiche at both Old World and Mirabelle’s. The Rainbow served decent crunch pizza (and still does) but the Hollywood Vampires had gone bye-bye and metal heads were beginning to ooze in.  The Roxy and the Whiskey had ace acts then (before they succumbed to pay-to-play to survive.) And Tower Records was the center of the vinyl cosmos (sorry Licorice Pizza.)

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Edmund Goldman, Michael’s father, started Manson around 1953 with Sam Nathanson, the name “Manson” came from their surnames’ last syllables.  Sam had departed and Ed was settling into a more patriarchal role as Michael commandeered the company through the next phase. Ed’s fame claim was that he purchased domestic rights to Gojira from Toho for twenty-five grand and brought it to Harold Ross and Richard Kay at Jewel Enterprises.  Ross and Kay with Terry O. Morse transformed Ishiro Honda’s ground busting anti-nuke fable into the castrated American Godzilla, King Of The Monsters. There were a number of accounts as to how Ed discovered the film. One had him seeing it in a Little Tokyo movie house (did Ed really stray from the Westwood or Beverly Hills theater circuit?) Another was that it was brought to Ed’s attention by his friend Paul Schreibman, an attorney and distributor, and importantly legal consultant for Toho. But the tale I favored was from Manson’s bookkeeper Margaret who said that during the war when Ed was the Far East emissary for Columbia Pictures he was put into a Philippines detention camp by the Japanese. He struck up a friendship with one of the guards and after the war that guard became an executive at Toho. As a token to their friendship the former guard alerted Ed to the wonder which was Gojira.  I never asked Ed for verification preferring to just savor the myth.

But I did demand back story on the framed photo in Ed’s office of him being attacked by the Three Stooges on the Columbia lot. In the pic Moe has Ed in a nasty hammerlock while Shemp and Larry are doing unmentionable things to his extremities. Regarding the gouging Ed commented, “Moe Howard was friendly enough but if a camera was around he’d become dangerously violent.  Those other knuckleheads would follow his lead.”

“How often did you go to the track with Shemp?”

“We weren’t that close.” he replied.

My annual bonding with Ed came as the various foreign film markets approached. Whether it was Cannes, MIFED, or the local newbie American Film Market Ed and I would go in the company car to Smart & Final on Melrose to buy a snack spread for the hotel sales room. We’d spend a day choosing the perfect client confections.  Ed believed food was crucial to making sales.  Ed in sweater vest and dress pants resembled the Monopoly man, sans top hat, gone casual. Ed said I looked like an extra from Satan’s Sadists (one of Manson’s many Al Adamson titles.) It wasn’t off the mark when the Smart & Final cashier suggested I was Ed’s “personal hippie valet.” Ed chuckled then muttered something about Al Adamson and Sam Sherman liking Red Vines.

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I was stationed at Manson with the boys in the shipping department. The “boys” were actually two gents in their late forties and one drag queen. Devon, a determined thespian in a magnificent but obvious toupee ran the scene with expert devotion, spiked wit and high drama. Devon’s long time friend Hal assisted.

Hal was a notary and professional eccentric who had developed his own axis and orbit. At first flush Hal was the spitting image of Ernie Kovacs homophobic conception Percy Dovetonsils, including bottle spectacles and moustache, although Hal’s tongue wasn’t Percy’s. Hal expounded on Marxist principles and the anti-carcinogen benefits of cinnamon in coffee and ground up apricot pits in everything while tirelessly playing a cassette of Edith Piaf’s best. He would display his weekend acquisitions from Bargain Circus and every yard sale in a 20-mile radius of Griffith Observatory, while indulging you for your take on their value, “Guess how much, how much?” He spoke endearingly of various “mudderfuggers” who had wronged him in his global trots, tales which included his excommunication from Israel, his deep romance with India (where a soothsayer said he’d die one day, the teller was off Hal took his dirt nap in Ireland) and the glorious Roma days with Devon dating Vatican cardinals and bishops while waiting for movie roles. Hal and Devon were in Catch 22’s whorehouse scene with Charles Grodin but that “mudderfugger Nichols cut us out!” Hal didn’t hit the editing floor in Cast A Giant Shadow where he can be seen briefly as Kirk Douglas’s secretary.

The drag queen, who Hal called Queenie, was the messenger.  He jockeyed Goldberg cans from Manson’s storage (a garage with a flea size studio apartment over it behind The Palm on Santa Monica) to Nossecks’, Aidikoff’s, and Sunset screening rooms around West L.A. and Beverly Hills.  But he spent too much time on the phone arguing with fabric stores over his next costume construct. Queenie’s days were numbered as his outside curriculum was encroaching on his workaday performance.

Shipping’s main responsibility was contract fulfillment of a title’s publicity and film elements or sending out sales materials to potential buyers.  70’s overseas sale promotion required mailing salt lick sized ¾” NTSC video cassettes (a 60 and 30 minute part for each title) along with brochure sheets like these:

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Manson’s library was primarily exploitation and a hefty part of that was adult fare or as Devon discreetly tagged it “fuck films.”  Not surprisingly there was concern when sending out screening cassettes about territory censor guidelines.  This meant that features needed to be clearly marked as “hard” or “soft.”  I was appointed to determine which library screeners had “erect” as opposed to “flaccid” organs on display.  Proper labeling would decide (sometimes) whether a title made it through customs or whether it ended up in the custom house’s private library. (Greece’s postal board held “art film” fests on the second Thursday of every month.)

Japan allowed adult importation as long as a metamorphosis occurred.  Japanese distributors would purchase a feature positive 35mm print and then carefully go through it frame by frame removing all  pubic hair and genitalia, intricately “painting” it out.  From the new “clean” composite they’d make a “dirty” (low grade) negative to create release prints.

In pre-video days most territories had no public outlet for things pornographic. The Mideast was an impossible sell for anything vaguely sexual. A breakthrough came when the new Manson salesman Pete (who had moved into sales from shipping hence opening my position) sold Sinderella and the Golden Bra, a very soft skin offering, to a Lebanese distributor. After governmental slice and dice the film could have been sold as live action Disney.

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The Manson library was morphing when I came aboard.  There’d been a past deal with Janus so classics like Chimes At Midnight had been sold alongside Orgy of the Golden Nudes but overall little strayed from b to z-standard sex and violence. Now Mark and Marilyn Tensor’s Crown International was providing Manson with a new wave of youth attractions.  Crown had gone from producing Weekend with the Baby Sitter and Blood Mania to mild teen romps like The Van and Van Nuys Blvd. The Crown feature The Pom Pom Girls was second to Disney’s The Rescuers in France’s 1977 box office, a defining prize for Manson and Crown.  Another source would come from producer Charles Band with nil-budget, humdrum sci fi like The Day Time Ended, Laserblast and End Of the World. That last title brought Christopher “Playgirl After Dark” Lee and Sue “Lolita” Lyon together for the first time. Not venturing completely from stroke flicks, Band also provided an adult musical Fairy Tales (in the tradition of Bill Osco’s Alice In Wonderland and Band’s own Cinderella.Fairy Tales was notable for finally pairing Martha Reeves with Professor Irwin Corey.

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But the bulk of titles remained in the grand bottom feed tradition. Many of the purveyors were loyal pals of Ed Goldman and no one truer than Bulgaria’s gift to the world Stephen Apostolof aka A.C. Stephens.  Steve’s amazing history has been detailed capably elsewhere (particularly the interview gangbang in Psychotronic No.8, Winter 1990.) He was a habitual visitor to Manson often bringing a box of “stinkweed” cigars for Ed which Ed would dispose of as soon as Steve was out of sight.  Manson distributed such A.C. works as Class Reunion, Snow Bunnies, Fugitive Girls and Lady Godiva Rides, with its trailer narration “Filmed on two continents… in Hollywood.”  Steve was presently trying to get Edmund to pick up his latest title Hot Ice. (Hot Ice was a caper film with intended and unintended comic overtones, that unique A.C. Stephens blend. As I recall it had almost no nudity which didn’t help the sale.)  As part of the new Manson prescience there was a reluctance to acquire Hot Ice. Steve was having difficulty with this and confessed openly about it to Devon and myself. He was certain this was his greatest film and possibly the last one his buddy Eddie Wood was capable of working on. “I’m worried about the son of a bitch. He just drinks and watches TV. If Manson distributes Hot Ice it’ll help Eddie.”

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This was before major hoopla over the Ed Wood oeuvre. Like many in the tri-state area my brother and I were big fans having watched Plan 9 and Bride every time they were on Zacherly’s Chiller Theater. I asked Steve to bring Ed with him next time and we could have lunch at Cock ‘n Bull and discuss the tender side of the “The Super Swedish Angel” Tor Johnson. Steve said Wood never leaves his chair unless he falls off it.  I pleaded some more and Steve said, “If Manson distributes my Hot Ice I’ll bring Eddie to lunch.”  After Steve left Hal and Devon described Eddie Wood as “a transvestite drunk” who they didn’t want near the office. They continued with how decrepit Criswell and Vampira had become haunting the aisles of Hollywood Ranch Market at midnight. I’d seen Vampira there once and she looked heavy but fine for late fifties. Devon added “Do you really want to eat lunch with a stinking old rummy in drag?” From then on whenever Hal and Devon saw a distressed female on the street they’d suggest I take her to lunch since it might be Ed Wood (akin to “don’t step on that spider it might be Lon Chaney.”)

The ribbing continued up to the day in ’78 when a despondent Apostolof came into the office and told us Eddie was dead. Steve mused, “If Manson had picked up Hot Ice maybe Eddie would still be alive and we could have lunch. That’s something to think about.”

Manson was a compact crew in 1977, with around ten employees.  Sales and acquisitions were handled by Ed, Michael and Pete. Natasha was Michael’s assistant.  Michael as a CPA oversaw finance and was a supreme organizer.  He oversaw a paper system with multiple title, agreement and client files with every telex and soon FAX copied in triplicate regarding every contractual burp. I would never see this level of order again at another film company, anal fascism at its best.

Margaret the Manson bookkeeper was in another realm, a chain smoker who looked like Ben Franklin in a muumuu anchored to a cyclone torn office. Her desktop was a document layer cake topped by charred invoices from smoldering Pall Malls. Margaret always wore sandals; shoes couldn’t contain her toes with their elongated, twisting, never manicured nails. Margaret’s life goal was to purchase federal land in Nevada and build an underground home for herself and her son. She’d show me house blueprints and cackle about the brilliance of her plan. It would never be but she did have a novel approach to financing. South Korean distributors often paid in cash due to their government restrictions for moving money overseas via transfers or checks. So Margaret sometimes would deposit hefty greenback payments in the Sunset City National on the Beverly Hills line. Once while walking cold thousands to the bank Margaret was robbed. Or so she said. Margaret had pulled a pathetic con. Instead of her underground home she ended up in a state run facility. Poor Margaret.  As I remember she made a first-rate lasagna.

Margaret used to complain about many things including tracking “short film” distribution. “What a waste of time these aren’t even real films.” Manson did distribute short films, one was The Legend Of Jimmy Blue Eyes which was nominated for an Oscar in ’64, directed by Robert Clouse who would later helm Enter The Dragon.  The other was Minestrone written and directed by Danny DeVito. DeVito during this time was mainly known for playing Martini in the play and movie of Cuckoo’s Nest as he hadn’t yet nailed the part of Louie on Taxi.  So like Apostolof DeVito had nothing better to do but hang around the shipping department chatting up Devon.

One fine day DeVito was to drop by to pick up some Minestrone flyers.  Devon left them out for Danny and headed to an audition. Hal was making his daily lunch concoction which consisted of Laughing Cow cheese cubes, wheat germ, Lipton’s onion soup mix, apricot pit powder and boiling water shaken up in a thermos. Queenie was out running errands. The shipping department was a unified jumble of desks and chairs, no partitions, telex machine, file cabinets and plenty of wall cases slotted for pub materials. Each of us had a chair but there was no space for guest seating. While passing Queenie’s chair I noticed its cloth seat was damp, badly stained.  I asked Hal if he’d dropped some of his thermos slop on Queenie’s chair.

“No, I did not.  Lemme take a look at it.” Hal examined the chair, feeling and sniffing it. “There’s K-Y all over it.  Wait‘ll Devon sees this he’ll have another heart attack.”

The bohemian occupant of the residence over the Manson storage garage had told Devon recently that Queenie was bringing visitors there.  It wasn’t to peruse stills from The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies of which there was an unusual glut of 8x10s in the garage.  The connect between Queenie’s chair and the garage would likely occur to Devon.

“Don’t touch that chair.  I’ll be right back.”  Touching it was far from my mind. Hal ran off to pick up Dirty Western dialogue continuity copies nearby at “Henry Jaglom’s copy joint”, “Jaglom’s” because he tended to stake out there.

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Edmund G. buzzed me to take a print of Cries Of Ecstasy, Blows Of Death across the street to Nosseck’s.  “Right this minute?” “Yes, right this minute.” I grabbed the print and left, leaving the shipping department unmanned. Nosseck’s Screening Room was in the rear basement of a building which would soon house David Geffen and Lookout Management. Run by Don and Marilyn Nosseck it was a historic little theater. Don was there between screenings so we struck up the usual conversation about the months Howard Hughes holed up in ’58 watching Republic horse operas while chasing Hershey bars with Alta-Dena quarts. As I examined the carpet for ancient cow juice stains I envisioned Queenie’s chair and DeVito sitting in it.  I hightailed it across Sunset.

DeVito was indeed in Queenie’s chair talking non-stop to Devon.  Hal walked in with the Dirty Western continuities. As he was about to inform DeVito about the state of things I intervened, “No, Hal, some things are best left… you know.”  DeVito departed with his flyers and Hal updated Devon on Queenie’s chair. Devon didn’t have a heart attack but he had one of his more striking outbursts, transparency sheets and an ashtray took wing, Devon’s skull rug did an Edgar Kennedy 360.  Queenie vamoosed to Las Vegas where someone believed he died in the 1980 MGM Hotel fire.

In ’79 Hal found some old lysergic acid in his freezer and dropped it before a dinner party.  At the soiree Hal had chest pains and ended up hospitalized.  It was a minor attack but he was put on lengthy bed rest.  This by the way doesn’t suggest a correlation between LSD ingestion and heart function (refer to Sidney Gottlieb’s CIA studies for further analysis.)

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With Hal temporarily gone Devon brought in a close pal (and perhaps past romance) to sub for him. I came into work to find a familiar face dressed in Johnny Cash black seated at Hal’s desk.  The distinctive Oklahoma accent, which graced Rod McKuen LPs, called out, “Hey, Todd, didja hear Sid Vicious is finally dead.” It was Jesse Pearson, Bye Bye Birdie’s Conrad Birdie announcing that Sid Vicious had OD’d in NYC.  Jesse was now directing porn having given up acting after a mountain top revelation while shooting Bonanza in’69. He’d tired of playing   cowboys and “Birdie types” like Johnny Poke on Beverly Hillbillies and Keevy Hazelton on Andy Griffith. Jesse was a sweet guy and very funny. A recent Manson acquisition was Olly Olly Oxen Free starring Katharine Hepburn (it paired well with Atom Age Vampire.)  Jesse did an imitation of Kate singing Sid Vicious’s version of My Way.  Jesse got smacked with cancer later that year and headed to Louisiana for his final days. My significant other and I went to his going away gala at erotic producer Tod Johnson’s Hollywood Hills castle. She spent the party crying in the bathroom as she’d had a pre-teen crush on his Birdie character.  Jesse regaled the rest of us with gallows humor about crossing Cedar Sinai’s striking nurse picket line to get to his dentist. “Let me through. Gotta get my cavities filled before I’m dead.” The last film Jesse directed, The Legend Of Lady Blue won best picture at the 1979 AFAA Erotic Film Awards and Jesse under the name A. Fabritzi won a posthumous best screenplay trophy.

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While Manson started picking up fringe mainstreamers like Charlton Heston’s Mother Lode, Philip Borsos’ The Grey Fox, Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline Of Western Civilization, Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and the Oscar winning documentary Genocide there was still room for top grade exploitation. Answering my prayers Jimmy “Salacious Rockabilly Cat” Maslon brought Herschel Gordon Lewis’s ‘60s classics Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! to the Manson family.   As well Mr. Lewis was being coaxed to revisit Blood Feast with a follow-up (it was finally completed in 2002.)  Canadian productions under the Great White North tax shelter began showing up like Roger Vadim’s The Hot Touch and David Cronenberg’s Scanners.  There was morbid interest in how the Dorothy Stratton tragedy would impact sales of Crown International’s Galaxina (not much bang there.)

Reoccurring visitors made appearances in the shipping department.  Johnny Legend bopped through trawling for trailers for his comps.  Holly “Tuxedo Warrior” Palance and Tanya “Tourist Trap” Roberts dropped in for hot clips for their promo reels and cocktails at “La Maggot.” Richard “Soft White Underbelly” Meltzer came by and did a tap dance because his tune “Burnin’ For You” was climbing the charts. Jim Wynorski was our “one-day trailer maven” before he made his directorial debut with The Lost Empire beginning his eighty and still counting features.  Jim would bring his cohort Linda “Humanoids From the Deep” Shayne who hijacked my IBM Selectric.  Al Adamson and Regina Carroll would peek in on occasion.  And Steve Apostolof usually showed up around film market time still shopping Hot Ice.

Sometimes surprise guests hung around longer than they wished. Manson had a small screening room on the second floor with a booth for 16mm projection and ¾” NTSC playback.  The projection room door had a troublesome lock. Once while passing the room I heard banging and a voice yelling in French and English. I went in to discover Roger Vadim trapped in the projection booth.  I freed the understandably distraught director.  I asked him if he thought Bardot would have been a more superior Barbarella than Fonda and he punched me in the face.  No, actually he was so upset by his entrapment he barely said “Merci” and took off for the safety of Sunset Blvd.

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I made numerous excursions up to Charlton Heston’s home on Coldwater during the promotion of Mother Lode. He was usually wearing a corset for a back injury. “Damn tennis.” Heston would go through the color transparencies I’d chosen approving the slides we needed to support the film. He seemed often to be in pain so I didn’t engage him in heavy conversation.  But one time after throwing out complimentary jazz about Touch Of Evil and Will Penny I got around to his most recent stage turn as Sherlock Holmes and the role of Holmes in general. I asked him if Robert DeNiro would be better as a Watson or a Holmes. ”DeNiro can pretty much play whatever he wants to play and I’m sure he’d play it well.”  What about Clint Eastwood? “That would be an interesting portrayal.” What about Mickey Rooney?  Heston handed me the pile of slides. He made a guttural noise, adjusted his corset and strode into the next room. I never got to ask him about his co-star in the play Crucifer Of Blood, Jeremy Brett who played Heston’s Watson. At that time Granada was just beginning to court Brett for their Holmes series.

The next time I visited Heston he and his house staff greeted me outside by the tennis court and they kept my visit quick without dialogue or gracious house entry. It may have been my earlier mention of Mickey Rooney or the furtive gestures of the crazed individual, actor Johnnie P. from San Jose Confidential, who was sitting in my company Toyota in the drive.

 

Devon was getting more stage work and spending less time in the office.  Other than the time Mae West kissed him at the Crown International premiere of Sextette  the happiest I’d seen him was when he found the discarded brand new 40” TV in the building dumpster. Someone had deposited the TV and remote and Devon was the first to spy them. Devon carried them into the office proclaiming “They’re mine!”   Both items were in cartons shrink wrapped with colored cellophane.  Feverishly elated he set them aside by his desk and planned to take them home at day’s end.

In the hallway outside shipping the owner of the Aladdin building, a Beirut millionaire, accosted me and Adam, the non-drag queen new shipping guy, and asked us what happened to the TV set out by the trash.  We told him that Devon had snatched it up. He began to laugh maniacally.  “I put it out there to see who would take it. It’s a complete goddamn fake.”  A peculiar prank indeed, like bad Allen Funt on lithium.

When Adam told Devon I knew there’d be a compressed acting lesson in the offering.   Devon violently tore off the wrap, smashed open the carton and removed the TV shell weighed down with worthless ballast instead of tube and circuitry.  The TV remote turned out to be a pack of cigarettes.  Devon pushed everything to the ground.  Then he picked up the phony remote.  “Well at least I got a pack of cigarettes out of it.”

Devon would go on to star as Waldo Lydecker in a staging of Laura at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.  It was great acting, a critic pronounced him better than Clifton Webb.  Christopher Guest and Peter DeLuise were in the cast. The only down side the night we went was that Peter’s father Dom sat in front of us and  seemed to be doing a monologue for himself competing with the play.  The night of Laura’s final performance, after the last curtain call, Devon dropped dead back stage; he finally had that second heart attack.  It was like a cheesy Busby Berkeley plot only there was no need for an understudy to step in.  One odd note, days after Devon’s death the director of the play, Dick “East Of Eden” Davalos, called the office asking for Devon to go to lunch. He obviously knew of Devon’s demise but acted as though he hadn’t. Taken aback I told him Devon wasn’t in. Dick inquired about Devon the next day as well. I asked him if this was some sick joke. He said “Don’t worry about it.” and hung up.

Manson had a wonderful Christmas wingding each year at the Beverly Hills Hotel.   It was a fine arena for prattle and pratfalls.  A place for buyers, producers and talent to mingle in a festive moment.  Where Michael “Timerider” Nesmith would recall how Hendrix traumatized parents as the Monkees opening act and how his mother had invented Liquid Paper. Director Penelope Spherris debated the magnetic appeal of Albert Brooks vs Darby Crash.  A German distributor pulled a knife on a Scandinavian distributor. I tried to convince Mark and Marilyn Tensor to no avail that Crown should do a teen zombies flick. Richard Farnsworth acted out horse stunts making the ladies swoon. My future boss Andy Vajna declared First Blood would change the foreign marketplace forever. My future wife grabbed a violin from the string quartet and played hot gypsy improv. And Charlton Heston passed through quickly due to back problems. “Damn jai alai.”

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I quit Manson to go to Texas seeking lost romance and ended up spending time with a charming carnival freak show in Beaumont (Hall and Christ Sideshow I believe).  When I returned to L.A. Manson welcomed me back into their fold but it was a-changing.  Manson International eventually moved from Sunset to a “more prestigious” building on Olympic in West Los Angeles. The bigger digs were required for the larger Manson Family of twenty plus employees.  As part of its expansion Manson got hitched to production, financially floating Albert Pyum’s concrete boat Radioactive Dreams.  All production is high stakes gambling but some of us were concerned where Manson was placing its bets.  Employees jumped ship to more lucrative ventures. In 1985 Michael kicked me and two other “non-team players” out the door. It was the beginning of streamlining for eventual sale of the Manson library to Jonathan Krane’s MCEG in 1987.

I resurfaced at Carolco, a foreign distributor and producer which did not feed off the bottom, a company that transformed Hollywood financing for better or worse.  Carolco’s filing system was absolute chaos compared to Manson but for Carolco that may have been insurance.

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Godzilla, Whitewashed: A Special Report

As a new Godzilla (2014) is unleashed upon the world’s multiplexes this week, there is poetic justice in the fact that Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Japanese monster ur-text Gojira is, at the same time, quietly touring U.S. art-house cinemas in commemoration of its 60th anniversary. The Honda film is a reminder of Godzilla’s highly politicized origins, rooted in Cold War tensions and the conflicted postwar relationship between Japan and America. As most everyone now knows, the monster became a simple and crude metaphor for Hiroshima, but GOJIRA was really a clever and restrained indictment of the doomsday scenario that Harry Truman set in motion. Without ever mentioning the United States, Honda spoke truth to superpower.

Go to daftar slot online if you want to have fun and potentially earn at the same time.

But now that Hollywood has, for the second time, spent hundreds of millions of dollars to refashion Japan’s celebrated low-tech monster in its own image (an ironic proposition to begin with), it’s clear that America is incapable of making an honest Godzilla. Consider the ways in which the new movie contorts and distorts history in order to avoid confronting the uncomfortable facts of American culpability in the monster’s origin: It offers a vague scenario in which Godzilla is an ancient sea creature that began appearing after World War II to feed on radioactive material; in footage made to look grainy and faded, the huge beast swims ashore at the Marshall Islands just as a hydrogen bomb is gloriously detonated on a beach. We subsequently learn that the nuclear testing program at the Pacific Proving Ground (comprising 105 atmospheric nuclear explosions from 1947 to 1962, with a total yield of roughly 210 megatons, equal to thousands of Hiroshimas) wasn’t intended to prove the killing power of the world’s most deadly weapons of mass destruction, but “they were trying to kill it”: the whole operation was just a big, unsuccessful Godzilla extermination project. And what of the hundreds of tests performed by the Soviets, British, French, and Chinese during this period? Would the filmmakers have us believe they were trying to kill their own Godzillas?

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Perhaps it’s debatable whether Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have an obligation to honor Godzilla’s origins after paying untold millions for rights to the character. But given Gojira‘s basis in actual events of the war and its aftermath, the brazen mendacity of the new film’s revisionism is rather astounding. It is not only an affront to the legacy of Honda’s Gojira, but it relies on the audience’s ignorance of and apathy toward history. Its inherent function—one that the screenwriters probably never paused to consider—is to maintain the American historical narrative about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, events that needlessly killed nearly 250,000 Japanese civilians yet continue to be falsely remembered as necessary and justified actions to hasten the end of World War II and prevent an invasion of Japan, saving untold thousands of American lives. This narrative began with the U.S. military nearly 60 years ago and has prevailed with the cooperation of the education system and the media, including motion pictures. There have been great antinuclear films such as Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, but these assailed the madness of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine while avoiding questions about the legitimacy of Hiroshima. Hollywood’s only meaningful challenge to the narrative was the 1983 television film The Day After, which showed Americans being flash-incinerated by a Soviet nuclear attack, and used a doctored photo of the Hiroshima ruins to depict the post-World War III remains of Kansas City. The film was loudly protested by conservative groups, who feared it could endanger President Ronald Reagan’s nuclear arms buildup; the ABC network capitulated by cutting certain scenes and following the broadcast with a panel discussion of Washington right-wingers, who concluded that the film’s true message was that America needed to beef up its arsenal.

The new Godzilla is just the latest effort to negate the monster’s politics for American consumption, a whitewashing that began when Honda’s film was first imported to the U.S. in 1956. The images of death and destruction in Gojira, made nine years after the war, are harrowing references to not only the atomic bombings, but to the fire raids of Tokyo in 1945 and the Lucky Dragon incident of 1954, in which a Japanese trawler was contaminated by the worst nuclear fallout accident in U.S. history. The film shows vast swaths of Tokyo engulfed in flames, and the aftermath of the monster’s attack is a smoldering ruin, resembling photographs of the flattened Hiroshima. A makeshift hospital overflows with the wounded and dying, their skin scorched with radiation, and a doctor waves a clacking Geiger counter over a small child, the most innocent of victims. Godzilla itself was not an animal but a soulless killing machine, a manifestation of the bomb that created it; unlike King Kong or the Beast from 20,000 fathoms, it did not prowl the city looking for its mate or a place to spawn—its purpose was simply to destroy. A Hollywood distributor repackaged the film as low-budget, atomic-age science fiction film of the type so popular at the time, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! famously included new scenes with Raymond Burr playing a journalist trapped in Godzilla’s path. By placing a bloodied and bandaged Burr in that hospital, this version portrayed America as the monster’s co-victim and thereby blurred references to Hiroshima. The movie was heavily re-edited, and most significantly, a closing speech by a disillusioned scientist (Takashi Shimura, star of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) was cut entirely: “If we keep on conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible another Godzilla might appear, somewhere in the world, again.” Certainly the world’s biggest practitioner of such tests wasn’t about to be lectured by a country it had just conquered and turned into a client state.

Then, 30 years later, Japan’s Toho Studios rebooted the franchise in 1984 with a new film, also titled Gojira, which ignored all the sequels, none approaching the import of the original, that had come in between. Godzilla was resituated in a world of heightened Cold War tensions and Reagan’s “peace through strength” mantra; in this outing, an American diplomat pressures Japan’s Prime Minister to abandon the country’s nuclear-free principles and allow the U.S. to attack Godzilla with atomic weapons. A Hollywood distributor with right-wing leanings got hold of the film and again re-cut it, this time with the effect of portraying the Soviet Union as the nuke-happy villains. And finally, there was Hollywood’s first attempt at adapting Godzilla in 1998, a mostly forgettable big-budget film directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick. This time, the legacy of Hiroshima was sidestepped entirely, as the filmmakers tied the monster’s appearance to a series of controversial French nuclear tests in Polynesia.

Legendary’s Godzilla is the most egregious of all because, intentionally or not, it manages to turn Honda’s antiwar symbol into a spokes-monster for the nuclear status quo, all the while feigning an interest in the legacy of Hiroshima. In it, the military’s plan to exterminate Godzilla and its foe, the laughably named M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism—pity the fine actor David Strathairn, who had to utter those words without chuckling) involves—wait for it—nuclear weapons. Much of the film’s run time involves an inexplicably difficult operation to transport a single warhead, one out of the U.S. arsenal of roughly 4,800, to the desired location. There follows shopworn dialogue, straight out of a 1950s sci-fi flick; actor Ken Watanabe, as a scientist who divines Godzilla’s motives (because, we must assume, he’s Japanese), urges Strathairn’s brass buttons to reconsider the nuclear option. “We tried that before!” Watanabe pleads, and Strathairn retorts emphatically, “Millions of lives are at stake!” The climax has the monsters destroying San Francisco, while the assortment of uninteresting characters face a third-act screenwriter’s device borrowed from the 1997 Nicole Kidman-George Clooney actioner (!) The Peacemaker: the nuclear bomb with a ticking timer that can’t be disabled. The hero, a handsome young soldier and family man, gets the nuke onto a boat and out of San Francisco Bay before it detonates just a few miles offshore. We’d been told earlier the bomb is a massive one (“We’re talking megatons,” a commander says), yet the next morning the city’s residents are out and about, rummaging through the wreckage of the Embarcadero, not a speck of fallout anywhere. There was a teachable moment here, but that would have spoiled the happy ending. Instead, the world’s most deadly weapon is just harmless fireworks.

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“When the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Americans felt both deep satisfaction and deep anxiety, and these responses have coexisted ever since,” write scholars Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell in the introduction to their landmark study Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial. “Americans continue to experience pride, pain, and confusion over the use of the atomic bomb against Japan … It has never been easy to reconcile dropping the bomb with a sense of ourselves as a decent people. Because this conflict remains unresolved it continues to provoke strong feelings. There is no historical event Americans are more sensitive about. Hiroshima remains a raw nerve.” In our reluctance to prick that nerve, the authors observe, we have accepted a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are aimed at us, where we live in ever-present fear of extinction yet look to those same weapons for safety and survival. The likelihood of another Hiroshima, or many of them, grows.

Shortly before his death in 1993, Ishiro Honda said it had once been his hope that through the metaphor of Godzilla he might provoke a discussion about ending nuclear proliferation, but lamented that he had failed. His pessimism was understandable, and perhaps it was naive to think a monster movie featuring a man in a rubber costume trampling through miniature cities might inspire a serious debate about the dangerous precipice on which we all stand. Still, Honda—a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army, who often told of passing through a decimated Hiroshima on his way home from the China battlefront—should be remembered for his willingness to challenge the prevailing Hiroshima narrative. By contrast, Gareth Edwards, the British director of Legendary’s Godzilla, does the opposite, offering a trite moment wherein Strathairn’s general and Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa (whose father died at Hiroshima, pegging Serizawa at 69 years old; he looks maybe 50) share a hope that it never happens again, tacitly accepting the gospel of Hiroshima as necessary evil. Edwards has claimed that his film’s disaster pornography—digitally realistic images resembling Fukushima, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Katrina, 9/11—contextualizes the story for our dangerous modern world. But his film does not comment on those images or what they might mean, and so they unspool as hollow exercises in technical prowess. Godzilla is said to be a force of nature reawakened, but by what? Without that answer, the latest Godzilla reboot is about nothing.
Steve Ryfle is author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star, a history of the Godzilla film franchise. His writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Cineaste, and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.

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DVD Review: “Admiral Yamamoto” (1968)

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Admiral Yamamoto (Rengo kantai shirei chokan – Yamamoto Isoroku, or “Combined Fleet Admiral – Isoroku Yamamoto,” 1968) is one of a long line of war epics produced by Japan’s Toho Studios featuring elaborate miniature special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, the man behind Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, et. al. This one, directed by Seiji Maruyama, is a bit different, functioning partially as a biopic of one of the few Japanese “heroes” of the Pacific War, a man whose reputation, at least among the Japanese, remains unimpeachable. Yamamoto, played in the film by the great Toshiro Mifune, vehemently opposed Japan waging war against the United States and the other Allies, recognizing America’s vastly superior industrial might against a Japan notably lacking in natural resources. Nonetheless, he was one of the architects behind the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s early victories in late 1941 and early ’42.

Postwar Japanese movies about World War II generally fall into one of four categories. A tiny number, mostly confined to a handful of movies produced by Shintoho in the late 1950s and into 1960, whitewash Japan’s militarists and their culpability. Others, such as Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959-61) trilogy, uncompromisingly depict the war as it truly was, a great tragedy during which Japan inflicted unimaginable harm on both foreign peoples and its own citizenry. A third type, exemplified by Kihachi Okamoto’s Desperado Outpost (1959) and The Human Bullet (1968), are grimly comical and cynical.

Toho specialized in the fourth type, large-scale epics full of romanticized action and spectacle similar to concurrent American-made war movies like The Longest Day (1962) and Battle of the Bulge (1965). However, these films temper iconography recognizable to western viewers with equal sobering doses of bitter reality, through protagonists recognizing the great folly that ultimately leaves Japan in ruins and a generation of men wiped out for nothing.

That particular sub-genre peaked with Shue Matsubayashi’s marvelous Storm Over the Pacific (also known as I Bombed Pearl Harbor, 1960), the biggest of these big-scale productions, and which co-starred Mifune. In that film he played a real-life admiral named Tamon Yamaguchi, though Mifune’s characterization was virtually indistinguishable from his later portrayal of Isoroku Yamamoto, a role he’d go on to play twice more (in Toho’s The Militarists, 1970, and the American film Midway, 1976). Matsubayashi had himself been an officer in the Japanese Imperial Navy, and brought to Storm Over the Pacific and his other war movies a verisimilitude lacking in almost all other films of this type. He’d been there, even aboard a ship sunk by Allied fighter planes. He saw these films as sad memorials to his fallen comrades.

By 1968, when Admiral Yamamoto was made, domestic box-office figures were plummeting fast industry-wide, mainly due to the growing popularity of television, in virtually every household since tuning in for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Undoubtedly Admiral Yamamoto was prompted partly by Akira Kurosawa’s widely publicized deal to co-direct the 20th Century-Fox financed Tora! Tora! Tora!, a long-in-gestation multi-million-dollar epic from which Kurosawa was notoriously fired shortly after filming began, and which, unfortunately for Kurosawa, brought the controversial production even more press.

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Toho’s decision to make Admiral Yamamoto amidst all this couldn’t have pleased Kurosawa, especially with longtime muse Mifune in the title role, to say nothing of the myriad other actors (Yoshio Tsuchiya, Masayuki Mori), writers (Shinobu Hashimoto) and others (composer Masaru Sato) with which Kurosawa was so closely associated.

Dramatically, Admiral Yamamoto is a mixed bag. It’s so damn reverential Mifune has little opportunity to be anything more than a God-like pillar of stoic and savant-like wisdom, but there are many nice moments throughout. The picture opens well, in 1939 Japan where Yamamoto, back in his hometown of Nagaoka, enjoys a leisurely boat ride along the local river at the height of cherry blossom season. He challenges the skilled boatman (Ryutaro Tatsumi) punting him downriver to bring him to shore while Yamamoto stands on his head. This attracts a lot of attention and the two men eventually end up in the drink, much to Yamamoto’s delight. This is neatly bookended late in the film when Yamamoto encounters the boatman’s son on the battlefield.

The movie integrates facets of the historical Yamamoto’s personality well: his love of gambling, his passion for (Japanese) calligraphy, in addition to his various successful and (mostly) unsuccessful naval strategies. What it does not show or ever even vaguely allude to is any aspect of Yamamoto’s private life. His wife and four children are never mentioned once, nor the Geisha mistress he reportedly kept (according to the wife). Quite possibly this was a deliberate decision for legal or other reasons (the film, after all, was made barely 25 years after Yamamoto’s death) but their absence hinders Mifune’s and the screenwriters’ efforts to humanize the character.

In other respects the movie soft-pedals Yamamoto’s personal contributions to Japan’s militarism. In one fascinating scene, it is Staff Officer Kuroshima (Yoshio Tsuchiya), one of Yamamoto’s adjuncts, who delivers and makes the case for Yamamoto’s proposal to attack Pearl Harbor rather than the admiral himself. This might be historically accurate, but it also seems a deliberate attempt to downplay Yamamoto’s culpability for what was a tremendously successful sneak attack with disastrous long-term consequences for Japan.

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As with virtually all other Toho war movies of this type, a significant amount of screen time is allotted to a younger supporting character, always played by a rising Toho star. In Storm Over the Pacific the role of the idealistic young pilot was played by Yosuke Natsuki; in Matsubayashi’s Wings Over the Pacific (also known as Attack Squadron!, 1963), also starring Mifune, it was Yuzo Kayama; and here it’s fresh face Toshio Kurosawa as 1st Lt. Kimura, a poor farm boy Yamamoto helped get into the Naval Academy. Here, with the focus squarely on Yamamoto, more than ever this subordinate character seems to exist solely because there had always been one like it in Toho’s past successes, and that the studio was loathe to tamper with a proven formula.

And, as in past Toho war films, virtually every male actor under contract to the studio, along with a few big independent names, appear in Admiral Yamamoto: Daisuke Kato, Yoshio Inaba, Seiji Miyaguchi (that’s three of Mifune’s Seven Samurai co-stars), Yuzo Kayama, Makoto Sato, Masayuki Mori, and Susumu Fujita, as well as talent familiar to kaiju eiga fans, including Akihiko Hirata, Akira Kubo, Kenji Sahara, and Yoshio Tsuchiya. Yoko Tsukasa and beautiful Wakako Sakai turn up in token female roles, and Tatsuya Nakadai narrates.

Declining attendance figures seems to have impacted the film’s budget. This may be the first Toho special effects feature to utilize extensive stock footage from earlier successes. Toho was already doing this to a lesser extent in its giant monster movies, but never to this extent. For Admiral Yamamoto, nearly all of the attack on Pearl Harbor and much of the Battle of Midway are special effects lifted from Storm Over the Pacific while footage from Wings Over the Pacific turns up elsewhere.

However, Eiji Tsuburaya and his Toho Special Effects Group team still came up with several impressive effects sequences. The first is involves an effort to drop barrels containing food, presumably rice, off the coast of Guadalcanal, hoping it will reach the starving Japanese soldiers marooned there. As the stranded men desperately swim toward the dropped barrels, enemy fighters arrive and begin strafing and bombing the light cruiser transporting the food, eventually sinking it while the doomed men frantically try to swim back to shore and the relative safety of the jungle. The effects shots are a complex mix of miniatures and well-executed mattes and represent some of the department’s best-ever work in a Toho war movie.

(Spoilers) For the film’s climax, Tsuburaya’s team recreated the downing of the bomber carrying Yamamoto over Bougainville. The sequence matches historical records of Yamamoto’s death pretty closely, and yet the miniature effects are almost poetic in the way they are photographed. Indeed, they’re more stylized and cinematic than all but a few of the live-action scenes.

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Admiral Yamamoto arrives on DVD from an unexpected source: Spain’s Tema label, which also released Storm Over the Pacific, Wings Over the Pacific and a few others simultaneously. The DVD is a real deal, just 8,25 Euros (USD $11.23) versus the usual $50-$65 Toho Video typically charges for its own domestic DVDs, and those are without English subtitles. Here, Admiral Yamamoto is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital mono in both Japanese and Castilian Spanish, supported by Castilian Spanish and English subtitles. The English subtitles aren’t great, with their share of typos (e.g., “Scared War Unit” instead of “Sacred War Unit.” “Ensing Kimura” instead of “Ensign Kimura”) and a few lines of dialogue here and there aren’t subtitled at all, but overall it’s a decent job.

The region 2/PAL video transfer, 16:9 enhanced and thus preserving the original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is surprisingly good. Extras include a photo gallery and original trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Admiral Yamamoto rates:

Movie: Very Good

Video: Very Good

Sound: Good

Supplements: Photo gallery, trailer.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English and Spanish

Tema Distribuuciones

1968 / Color / 2.35:1 CinemaScope / 130 min. / Street Date April 9, 2013 / Euro 8,25

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Yuzo Kayama, Yoko Tsukasa, Toshio Kurosawa, Makoto Sato, Daisuke Kato, Masayuki Mori, Wakako Sakai, Koshiro Matsumoto..

Cinematography Kazuo Yamada

Art Director Takeo Kita

Music Masaru Sato

Written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Seiji Maruyama, and Katsuya Susaki

Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka

Special Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya

Directed by Seiji Maruyama