Sunday, July 6, 2014

BOWFINGER TOUR

For those of you that remember my Blade Runner Tour of LA, you know that I love going to various film locations. Any trip to LA provides a plethora of movie locations, so last week  I decided to do a BOWFINGER tour of the City of Angels. The tour has nothing whatsoever to do with Star Wars, but I thought it was worth sharing all the same…especially since Bowfinger (1999) is in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bowfinger, here’s the trailer (although this trailer really doesn’t do the film justice):



The following contains minor spoilers. You’ve been warned…

The tour begins - but where else? – at the home of Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) in Hollywood.


For exact addresses of this and other locations, check out the link at the bottom of this post. In the movie, they added columns and an archway reading “Bowfinger International Pictures.” See...


Below is a shot I took on my phone. This is roughly one of the same angles used in the film (but in the film, there was no iron gate between the house and the road).Note the Capitol Records building in the back.




From there my buddy Josh and I went to the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood which doubles as MindHead HQ in the movie. Here it is in the movie:


And here it is with Josh...


This is a really cool building all the way around with cubist architecture and gigantic sculptures – like this Mega-Chair…



From there, we went over to Westwood Village for the theatre which hosted the premiere of Bowfinger’s sci-fi film “Chubby Rain.” 



Unfortunately, they were not showing Chubby Rain. Instead, they were screening Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie. Bummer.


From there, we went to the original location of La Dome, the real life restaurant that served up many a power lunch. It is here that Bowfinger scores a deal with Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey, Jr.).


La Dome closed shop for good in 2005 and, as far as I can tell, a few businesses have set up shop and failed in the same locale. This is my impersonation of Bowfinger’s proclamation of a “go picture!” at the one-time address of La Dome.


Next stop: the home of Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy).  In the movie, they visit this location several times: Bowfinger enters through these gates to give Kit the Chubby Rain script, they film a scene with Daisy (Heather Graham) chasing Kit’s car, etc. One scene ends with Bowfinger jumping out of the bushes and yelling “Cut!” like I’m doing here…


Perhaps the most practical location is Rae’s Restaurant in Santa Monica which is an operating diner that’s appeared in several films including Bowfinger


Here’s my good friend Scott and his daughter Emerson in the same area where Bowfinger’s crew realize that Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy) is actually Kit’s brother. 


And that plant in the background is the same plant in the movie! Here's a still from the movie...



There’s plenty of additional locations I didn’t hit this tour – including the iconic Griffith Observatory (which I’ve been to numerous times - if you haven't been there, you should go). For most of the addresses and additional information regarding a BOWFINGER tour of LA, check out this link: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/bowfinger.html#.U7m8U_ldX5w

My tour took only 2 days – thanks to my friends Josh and Scott chauffeuring me around. But, in theory, you could hit all the above locations in one day – with careful planning and minimal traffic. Either way, it only costs a tank of gas and a meal at Rae’s – well worth it, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Son of Digging Star Wars


An aspiring, young sports writer (that just so happens to live under the same roof as me) has started his own blog on the 2014 World Cup. Please check it out and post a comment if you're so inclined. Here's the link:


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Neighbours (1952)

Despite several articles (like this one) and interviews that acknowledge the multiple influences art films like Neighbours had on George Lucas, it surprises me how little interest or patience many Star Wars fans have for art films.

In 2004, I was lucky enough for LucasFilm and AtomFilms to select my Star Wars fan film as one of 10 finalists in The Official Star Wars Fan Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con. This was very exciting as Mr. Lucas personally screened each of the 10 finalist films himself – in order to award one the “George Lucas Selects” award. My film entitled MADE TO SUFFER was based on his earlier “arty” student films (like Herbie) and presented an experimental representation of the dual nature of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and his golden creation: one-time “binary load-lifter” programmer, C-3PO. Upon meeting some of the other Star Wars fan filmmaker finalists who made clever SW parodies or EU narratives, I was met with icy cold receptions and comments like, “Oh. You made that film.” Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that day.  But that didn’t matter. George Lucas saw my movie and it was played repeatedly at the LucasFilm pavilion at the convention. That was almost good enough for me. Here is my less-than-one-minute film…


Most certainly, MADE TO SUFFER is a different type of fan film. However, there truly is plenty of room for all types of inspirations and genres within Star Wars. And so, a seed was planted and would blossom six years later when I launched the Digging Star Wars blog…

Many of the Star Wars faithful heard the stories of George Lucas watching Saturday serials, reading comic books and the like as a kid. Few fans acknowledge his art film legacy. Lucas’ college film buddies, mentors, and collaborators were a crafty bunch – creating cutting edge cinema in ragtag facilities, often geared more for art houses and film festivals than the mainstream movie theater. This avant-garde bent is most prevalent in Lucas’ early short films and his first feature, THX-1138.



Lucas also ingested art films with as much enthusiasm as the beloved serials. One such film – that inspired a number of Star Wars elements and film techniques – is Neighbours (1952).

Not to be confused with the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy released last month, “Neighbours” is crafted by Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and is the tale of two neighbors that fight over a single flower that pops up between their properties. While the story grows darker and darker during the course of the film, the storytelling method – using variable-speed photography and stop-frame animation – is incredibly playful. Here is the short film in its entirety…



Neighbours won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). While the film is clearly an artful narrative, the anti-war theme is the main message.



Wikipedia lists that the film has had an interesting number of American re-edits throughout history as our country’s attitude towards war changed from the 1950s to 1970s and so on.

After seeing Neighbours, several Jedi references – both technically and thematically – lept out at me. From the “fencing” to the stop-motion “flight” of the men, I saw nods to lightsaber duels and speeder bikes. Jedi, as mentioned in our Saving Private Ryan episode, is perhaps the most political film of the original trilogy when it comes to depicting warfare. In Neighbours, the continuous fighting warps the faces of the men battling each other over the flower. The tribal-like distortion of facial features is very similar to how Anakin Skywalker looks like once Luke takes Vader’s mask off. This is no coincidence. Vader is the ultimate symbol of the galactic civil war, of innocence lost, and how a man can become “more machine now than man” thanks to the evil and ruthless pursuit of power and domination.



Likewise, the pale, wrinkled face of the Emperor illustrates a man that is so bent on controlling the galaxy, it has warped and mutilated his own face…

Movie lovers often complain of film snobs that won’t see mainstream movies. In my humble opinion, movie-watching is a two-way street. If you love a “popcorn-movie” like Star Wars, you should give the films that inspired the saga – including little, bitty art films like Neighbours, a chance. And, fellow fan filmmakers, leave a little room in your heart for weird tiny experiments like Made to Suffer. Because you never know who may watch a film like “that”…maybe even George Lucas himself. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Labyrinth (1986) and Star Wars: Episode VII

When it comes to Episode VII, you never know what rumors or insight to believe or not...unless it comes from J.J. Abrams himself, that is. Check out this message from the director of the latest SW movie...




Great! Puppets, right? Well, the first thing that popped into my head was the George Lucas/Jim Henson collaboration, Labyrinth starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, and "The Junk Lady" - who seems a lot like the backpacking alien above.


Check this out this clip (and, no, I don't endorse or know what the website at the top of the clip is all about)...




Pretty cool, in my humble opinion. If Abrams is as big of a fan as he says in the first clip, expect to see more wonderful nods to great classic films within the next chapter of SW. After all, it's embedded in Star Wars to reference the past.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Message fom the 501st

My good friend C.J. Witherspoon went across enemy lines, conspired with The Empire, and brought back this incredibly awesome video from the Dark Lord of the Sith and his minions! Truly honored Garrison Carida of the 501st took the time to do this. Thanks, CJ, Chad and the whole 501st!



Thursday, May 1, 2014

The War of the Worlds (1897, 1898, 1938, 1953...)



“…vast and cool and unsympathetic…”

While these words may sound like a description of Hoth, they are actually describing Martian invaders...


Much has been written about and inspired by H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds. It was one of the first stories to lay out an alien invasion of Earth – a concept keeps popping up in science fiction from Radar Men from the Moon  to Close Encounters of the ThirdKind to Robotech.

The War of the Worlds first appeared in serialized form in both UK and US magazines in 1897. A year later, the entire tale was released as a book for the first time.

In 1938, it was retold in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre radio program. The broadcast was mistaken for an actual news report of a Martian invasion by many Americans – including my own grandmother who feared Martians abducted her twin sister when she failed to come home before curfew that late October night.

1953 brought the George Pal film production of the Martian invasion with a sinister-looking alien, sleek Martian machines (with killer sound effects for the Heat Ray) and the captivating Sylvia Van Buren - portrayed by the beautiful Ann Robinson. Robinson would later make cameos in the 1988-1989 War of the Worlds TV series and the 2005 Steven Speilberg/Tom Cruise remake.

Ever since 1980, I heard The War of the Worlds referred to as an inspiration for The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciated the intergalactic battle aspect of both films, I once struggled with the comparison. And that really bothered me, since I have been just as big a fan of War of the Worlds as I have been of Star Wars. The seemingly obvious connection was the Martian invasion of Earth to the Imperial assault on Hoth.

The part that tripped me up was that the Martian “fighting machines” – also referred to in the classic book as “tripods” – didn’t look anything like the Imperial Walkers (a.k.a. AT-ATs) in Empire. This was especially the case in the aforementioned 1953 movie where the Martian machines didn’t even have visible legs (but an awesome design nonetheless)…


The War of the Worlds was also retold numerous times in comic book form, too. A few years ago, I received this 1955 “Classics Illustrated” comic as a gift. Then it became a little clearer why Empire is tied to The War of the Worlds:


Isn’t this 1955 rendering of the Humans vs. Martians remind you of rebel troopers struggling in the Hoth trenches as the massive Imperial walkers conduct their attack on Echo Base

Besides the visual comparison, think of this thematically. In Wells’ original story, the Martians land in the UK’s sand pits of Horsell Common. They attack the nearby large town of Woking and move their invasion onto various parts of the civilized world.  At the time of the first publication of The War of the Worlds, the British Empire was spread out through the real world. By placing the UK under the attack of superior war machines/Martian oppressors, Wells was turning the tables on the British. The real-life, worldwide oppressors were now forced to see life as the oppressed under the might of an off-world Empire.

In The Empire Strikes Back, the Imperials land in the ice fields outside the Rebels’ Echo Base (presumably the only civilization on the ice planet) and attack the rebels head on. It is quite clear that the Imperials have superior technology with Luke Skywalker’s comment “That armor’s too strong for blasters…” and whatnot. The rebel underdogs are fighting for the oppressed across the galaxy, but they are no match for such well-equipped Imperial foes.



I find it also quite delicious that the AT-ATs are commanded by the British-sounding Imperial officers (once again, the tables are turned – the oppressed British in Wells’ tale are the oppressors in Lucas’ movie).

The beginning of these two “invasion” tales are the same: a mistaken meteorite hits “the ground near here” (as Luke puts it) and winds up being the first step in a full-fledged invasion. However, the final outcomes of each invasion are completely different. And that’s what makes these classic film comparisons so much fun. It’s so cool to see what Lucas borrowed from certain established stories…and left behind, too.

The 1953 The War of the Worlds remains one of my favorite science fiction films of all-time. I listen to the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast every Halloween. My sons are War of the Worlds fans, too – the above comic now resides in their room for their perusal-at-will. The War of the Worlds – like Star Wars – will last forever. If you haven’t read, listened, or watched any of the available versions of The War of the Worlds, please do so. It’s simply a must-experience for Star Wars fans… and any other sci-fi fan as well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Disney's The Love Bug (1968)


Now that Disney owns Star Wars, it seems only fitting to finally address one of my wildest but fully-endorsed (by me) classic film connections to the Star Wars saga.

Just as Maria in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis inspired C-3PO, the little Volkswagen bug in Disney's The Love Bug - also known as "Herbie" - was clearly an inspiration for R2-D2.

Crazy, am I? Well, then: Let’s go crazy.

Any Lucas follower knows Lucas was really into cars in his teen years and, as the legend goes, if he never had that dreaded car accident as a youngin’, he may never have gone on to college, made American Graffiti, and so on and so forth.


That said, once he started making films in college, cars were prominent in his films – like in his film “1 42 08 A Man and His Car.” Or, better yet, see the George Lucas student film named “Herbie.” Oh, have I got your attention, now?




Granted, “Herbie” in Lucas’ film is a nod to jazz musician Herbie Hancock – but the love of “the car” is present, too. And, if you haven’t seen American Graffiti yet, and call yourself a Star Wars fan, well…you should see it. All I’ll spoil is that cars are very, very important to the film.

In The Love Bug (1968), a whiny, downtrodden racer inherits a small Volkswagen bug soon-to-be-named “Herbie” and quickly learns Herbie has a mind of its own and often disobeys commands with the best interests in mind for everyone. With a chrome and white chassis, Herbie features red, blue and black markings and communicates to others through a series of beeps and whistles. The nemesis of Herbie’s owner sends men to repossess Herbie. They fail repeatedly, but do manage to hurt Herbie on occasion. In the last stretch of the big finale, Herbie – after having been sabotaged by the villain multiple times – falls apart before the final victory, seemingly destroyed forever. However, Herbie’s team goes on to win the final race. Thankfully, in the film’s final scene, Herbie is already put back together – good as new and ready for another adventure.



 In Star Wars (1977), a whiny, depressed space farm boy acquires a small Astromech droid named R2-D2 and quickly learns that “Artoo” has a mind of its own and often disobeys commands with the best interests in mind for everyone (In Artoo’s case, it’s the best interest of the Rebellion against the Empire). With a chrome and white chassis, Artoo features red, blue and black lights and markings and communicates to others through a series of beeps and whistles. Darth Vader, the nemesis of Luke Skywalker/Ben Kenobi, sends stormtroopers to Tatooine to repossess Artoo.  They fail repeatedly, but Vader does manage to blow up Artoo in the last stretch of the big finale – the trench run. Artoo is seemingly destroyed forever, right before the final victory – the destruction of the first Death Star. However, Artoo’s fellow rebels go on to win the final battle. Thankfully, in the film’s final scene, Artoo is already put back together – good as new and ready for another adventure.

Go ahead, call me crazy. Or agree with me. Either way, write a comment below and let me know your thoughts.