We say goodbye to the great Stuart Gordon

And we catch up with two quarantine viewing picks

Transparent honesty… this week’s taking it out of me. And waking up to the news that Stuart Gordon has passed away was a real kick in the balls.

It’s sinking in that the guys who I grew up considering the modern masters of horror are at that age now where we’re going to be losing them, and I’m really not ready for it. I wasn’t ready for it when we lost Wes Craven, and I’m just as ill-prepared this time. These aren’t just names to me. These are filmmakers who directly influenced me and who I was lucky enough to also know as people. Stuart, like Wes, was way more than I think he was given credit for by most genre fans.

Theater people are wired a little different than film people, and it’s not always easy to make the jump to film. I love the way Stuart’s theater background informs his film work and the way he directs actors, and I wish I had been able to see his Organic Theater work. I’ve read about it, and he sounds like he was a boisterous, adventurous theater director and producer. Hell, he got arrested in the late ’60s for obscenity over an anti-Vietnam production of Peter Pan. That’s the kind of rowdy I admire.

That’s certainly how I’d describe his films, too. I saw Re-Animator in a theater when I was in my teens and it marked me. It was one of those moments when I realized that they let genuinely crazy people make movies, and I approved. Stuart’s career was fiercely independent, and that means he hit plenty of walls over the years. We’ll never know what he might have done with the full support of the studios, so if you like his work, that means tracking down his films like Stuck or Edmond, worthwhile efforts that were never particularly widely-seen. But he created something iconic, something unforgettable, and it was so moving to see Barbara Crampton’s words about him this morning.

I was lucky enough to get to know Stuart just a little bit and break bread with him, and I will treasure that time. It gave me a glimpse at just how rich and wild a brain he had, and how warm and funny a person he was. I am so grateful for the experiences I had connected to Masters of Horror and Fear Itself and the opportunity it gave me to get to know some of my heroes better and see them for the really wonderful human beings they are.

Catching Up On The QPOD

I owe you a Quarantine Pick O’the Day from yesterday, and I owe you one from today. I’m swinging back into the positive here, and before we get going, let’s list all of the QPODs we’ve had so far.

Popeye
Amélie
Hairspray (2007)
Mars Attacks!
Cinema Paradiso
The Black Stallion
Fighting With My Family
Monos
Snowpiercer
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
¡Three Amigos!

Now we’re going to do two films back-to-back to catch up. First, I’m going to throw Tucker: The Man & His Dream out there. A deeply underappreciated film from Francis Ford Coppola (you know he’s serious when he breaks out the middle name), this is the story of Preston Tucker and his attempt to make a car that could compete with the Big Three out of Detroit. It’s really the story of Coppola’s attempt to make American Zoetrope into a company that could compete independently with the studios and his own frustration at being crushed. It is a deeply heartfelt film, and it might be the single most beautiful thing that Coppola ever made. Vittorio Storaro’s photography is luminous and feels like you’ve fallen into the richest, deepest paint you can imagine. Jeff Bridges gives a spectacular lead performance here, all charisma, careful to show you the desperation that drives the dream, and he is matched note-for-note by Martin Landau, who should have won every award there was for his supporting role as Tucker’s lawyer. Top it all off with a Joe Jackson score that shakes, rattles, and rolls, and you’ve got a movie that feels like a big beautiful piece of candy.

And why not make it a Coppola’s underappreciated double-feature by tracking down the brand new The Cotton Club: Encore a spin? The movie is a moderately successful drama, but when it becomes a musical, it’s more than successful. It’s magic. This is, for my money, a far more worthwhile director’s cut than any of the versions of Apocalypse Now that Coppola’s tinkered with over the years. That film was just fine in the theatrical cut, while The Cotton Club never really worked right. The long-lost “Stormy Weather” number here is wonderful to finally see, but there’s so much music reincorporated that it really does feel like a different movie. Plus anytime you can add more of the Hines Brothers dancing together, you do it. No question. You just do it.

Overall, these films are both so big and stylish that they feel like a different voice for Coppola. I think Tucker is, by far, the more successful of the two, but if you want to be transported today by a filmmaker who is just letting it rip, these two will steer you right. Tucker’s streaming on Hulu and available for rental in a bunch of places, and The Cotton Club: Encore is rentable everywhere as well.

And Finally…

Lots of new releases this week. I sat through both Dolittle and Bloodshot this week, and they are both numbing vanity exercises that you should avoid. Even if you think “Hey, I kind of like this genre,” don’t. Seriously.

I’m a big fan of Birds of Prey and Emma., though, and urge you to give both of those a try. And I’ll be watching The Way Back and The Gentlemen tomorrow, catching up almost completely for the year in the process. That’s a weird feeling. The year ahead is so uncertain.

But I’ll be here, and I’ll rev back up for the daily content. Sorry that I let yesterday and today sort of knock me down. It’s a strange time for all of us, and the more consistency I can offer with this, the more of a grip it feels like we’ve got on normal.

Today’s Formerly Dangerous is free, and if you like it, why not sign up for more free issues. If you really liked it, subscribe now! It’s only $7 a month or less than that if you go annual!

Image courtesy Re-Animator Productions
Image courtesy Paramount Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd.