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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:41 pm 
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In anticipation of this set, I rewatched Tough Guys Don't Dance for the first time since it was released.

Ouch! It's still insanely bad, naturally, but the keyword there is "insanely". It's not a conventional bad movie, since technically it's proficient and even visually attractive at times, and the badness mostly arises from an unconvenionally bad script and an entertaining variety of terrible performances.

Basically, it's an extremely banal plot (Miami Vice-level drug shenanigans) that Mailer has tried to titivate in a ludicrous number of ways, by adding a barrowful of neo-noir tropes; an equal number of lurid family melodrama ones; rather bland kinky sex elements; and - the piece de resistance - absurdly purple dialogue.

The performances are all over the place. Ryan O'Neal, as stilted as ever, actually fares better than some of the others, who seem to be acting in a different film entirely (or wish they were), or phoning in a villain-of-the-week cameo on a lame 80s detective show. Wings Hauser has no idea what approach to take with his absurd character - and who can blame him? - so he tries all of them, and even gets to draw on the most ridiculous lesson from some long-ago acting workshop in his final scene. But the prize stinker is Debra Sandlund (who? indeed): when she's done with the film's sets, she threatens to crawl out of the screen and start chomping on your furniture.

Although it was still a bit of a chore to get through the whole thing, watching it has inspired an acceptable number of running jokes in the household, so I think we're even. I'll spoiler these, not because you'll care anything about the plot, but because I don't want to mar your potential merriment when they unfold before you like a car accident:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
There's an inexplicable scene in the middle of the film that leads to the immortal line, all too mortally delivered by O'Neal: "Your. Knife. Is. In. My. Dog." The thing is, this man's best friend appears only in this scene, even though the film's flashback structure covers nearly a month. The poor thing appears out of nowhere only to be immediately killed and milked for ersatz pathos. The dog in the film seems to be anonymous, but we speculate that his name is Snuff.

"Oh God. Oh Man. Oh God. Oh Man. Oh God. Oh Man." Useful for any tiny crisis (e.g. running out of milk).

Oddly enough, the most quoted line hereabouts turns out to be the following, delivered in a stroke-slurred voice from the side of the mouth: "You have no womb." That one even got a slightly unfortunate airing during Prometheus.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:26 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
"I just deep sixed two heads. . ."

Only a two time Pulitzer Prize winning writer could come up with dialogue that good.

Jonathan Rosenbaum is a TOUGH GUYS supporter. Saw him give a schpiel on it once. Here's his old review: http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=7762

He seems to prefer it to the 60s films. I don't, but, it has an undeniably sinister and quirky quality to it. Seems like making it Mailer was heavily influenced by Blue Velvet (features one of its lead stars. . . has a Angelo Badalamenti score. . .) I remember when Mailer was at Lincoln Center, some woman in the audience gave him the riot act about how bad she thought the film was. In response, Mailer goes to her "Look, lady. . . I'm sure you can find friends. . . " Pretty funny. Jerry Stiller was in the audience and defended it! Fun night. I think it might of been one of Norman's last public appearances, if not the last. . .


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 2:08 am 
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All the negative comments have placed this into a firm blind buy for me.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 2:15 am 
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Yeah, I'm a firm believer that Mailer knew exactly what he was doing making Tough Guys... although the question still remains: why exactly did he do it?

And supposedly the story goes that Ryan O'Neal begged Mailer not to use the beach take, as he knew how lousy it was. That, however, was precisely the reason Mailer wanted to use it.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 2:26 am 
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I've only seen that last one, but it is such a controlled failure that I'm eager for these three. I wouldn't be surprised if he did the film as a prank to lose the company money (with the unfortunate side effect of killing off O'Neal's career), but then it is so like Blue Velvet and shares those two major players makes me wonder if he was just trying to make that, but failed upward instead. Either way it is so fascinating a failure that I need these three for the context.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 1:23 pm 
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Funny thing is I studied playwrighting and direction under Mailer for a couple years in the early 90's (also shot a horror film with one of his sons, though I wont say which) . . . and I never heard of these films until this set. As for Tough Guys, the less said, the uh, you know, the better.

I remember all prostateclenching embarassment that ran rampant when that flick came out. All of a sudden all of Hollywood was one big supercool cocktail party and Norman was some guy walking in dressed in buckle shoes, a mauve bowtie with sparkling neon lights, a shirt made out of olive loaf, tap dancing and singing Tears For Fears and intermittently blowing on a whistle.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 1:30 pm 
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knives wrote:
I wouldn't be surprised if he did the film as a prank to lose the company money (with the unfortunate side effect of killing off O'Neal's career).

Not to sidetrack the thread, but I think it's safe to say O'Neal's career was already dying and it was all his own fault for being such an awful actor. He wasn't even good with Kubrick directing him, which is a testament in and of itself, and after starring in the earlier Fever Pitch, Tough Guys, as awful as it is, was kind of a lateral move for the guy. Of course things only got worse for O'Neal (hello An Alan Smithee Film), but it's not like he was falling from great heights. I can't think of a good performance the guy ever gave in his whole miserable career.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 1:42 pm 
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Ouch. I always loved him in his first two films with Bogdanovich.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 3:39 pm 
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Ditto Swo (and I also like him very well in the Kubrick). The hate against him has never made much sense to me.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 3:45 pm 
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Between the lack of charisma and the inability to read a line without sounding like it's his first script read through, I don't see what there is to like. Oh, and don't forget the constant sweaty-browed nervousness.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:25 pm 
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Everyone from Zero Effect gets an automatic defense in my book


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:29 pm 
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I forgot he was in that. Really underrated number, though my favorite is his Harold Lloyd impersonation in What's Up, Doc.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:10 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
all i can say is that if Tough Guys was a "controlled failure" (nice analogy, btw) the sixties films are totally uncontrolled failures that are interesting and entertaining for that very reason. Maidstone is a film where NM really rolled the dice and, in the end, caught a bad one. Don't won't to spoil it if you've never seen, but the film did drive him into debt for many, many years after. I think the epic insanity of Maidstone (and what resulted from it) changed him as a writer. His stuff became a lot less dramatic and introspective afterwards. In OF A FIRE ON THE MOON, published in 1970, he writes about the "loss of ego" he experienced at the end of the 60s. It's also interesting to note that the theme song in Maidstone, sung by Carol Stevens (Mailer wife numero 5), was also used by Mailer as the frontispiece to Executioner's Song which is about as low key a Mailer voice as you're gonna get. I was gonna write a dissertation on all this stuff, but decided, long ago, that life was too short. Glad the box set is coming out though!!

You know if people despise these films as much as they seem to--- there's gotta be something worthwhile there. They're polarizing---- as good art should be


Last edited by Buzz Cameo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:10 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:30 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:40 pm
What do people think of Mailer? His ego, the perceived chauvinism, the fact that he stabbed his wife, the fighting?

A trailer for Norman Mailer: The American

There's a lot of great videos and interviews with him on youtube.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:40 pm 
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You know, I still haven't read a single thing by Mailer. I don't know if I ought to before I watch any of his films (they sound all the more fascinating for likely being failures). I thought this clip of him making an ass of himself on the Dick Cavett show amusing, tho'.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:10 pm 

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Apparently he was drunk, and he also headbutted Vidal afterwards.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:25 pm 
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Mathew2468 wrote:
Apparently he was drunk

That does seem likely.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:30 pm 
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They just don't make authors like they used to! Can you imagine Jonathan Safran Foer headbutting Jonathan Franzen at a Ruby Tuesday's or whatever? If only.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:49 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
The Vidal, Janet Flanner, Cavett thing is legendary. Vidal had published a piece in NYRB likening Mailer and Henry Miller to Charles Manson-- so you can see why NM was pissed. He was loaded, head butted Gore before the show and remained pretty menacing throughout the whole thing. Eventually, Mailer had Vidal, Flanner, Cavett and the entire audience against him. He kind of holds his own for awhile and by the end gets in a couple of good points, but it was too little too late. His best performative appearance around this time is in Hegedus and Pennebaker's Town Bloody Hall. Mailer is by turns brilliant and a total asshole in it--- debating Germaine Greer and other feminist leaders. It's kind of like watching Andy Kaufman or something.

I saw Norman Mailer: The American at Lincoln Center. It's pretty cheap and exploitative and uses footage from other directors whose films on Mailer are far superior. The best Mailer doc is the PBS American Masters one that was edited down from a three hour French TV version called Norman Mailer: Histoires d'Amerique.

http://www.editionsmontparnasse.fr/video?v=k5f0yL

The best book to read in relation to the 60s films, i think, is The Armies of the Night. Also, Advertisements For Myself, particularly the introduction, and any of the interviews from the late 60s--- especially the Playboy one from January 1968 (Godard uses part of this interview in the Eve Democracy scene in ONE PLUS ONE). Mailer also wrote essays about film that are collected in "Existential Errands" and "The Spooky Art". There's also a Maidstone book with a bunch of essays. His review of LAST TANGO IN PARIS is pretty wild as well.

Rip looks a bit stoned in MAIDSTONE. You see him smoking something before his big moment. It wasn't staged either. Apparently, he was supposed to bump Mailer off earlier in the film, but it didn't come off. So Rip had to redeem himself and save the picture. . . .


Last edited by Buzz Cameo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:06 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:59 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
"Giant death orgy with a bunch of maniacs. . . "

http://youtu.be/MCXbtYm3HDc


The PBS American Masters thing, "Mailer on Mailer", is on youtube in its entirety:

http://youtu.be/POWwE47aAgg


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:11 pm 
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domino harvey wrote:
They just don't make authors like they used to! Can you imagine Jonathan Safran Foer headbutting Jonathan Franzen at a Ruby Tuesday's or whatever? If only.

That isn't even the first time Vidal and Mailer had a physical altercation. At a social event one evening, Mailer walked up to Vidal and punched him in the face before being pushed to the ground by Vidal.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:35 pm 
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Obviously, The Naked and the Dead is his important, lasting novel, but if you really want to dive into the Mailer persona that dominated him the 60s on - the intellectual, misogynist, radical, he-man hipster - you'd probably want to look at these three pieces: the novel An American Dream, the essay "The White Negro" and the short story (actually, excerpt from an abandoned novel) "The Time of Her Time", both of which are in Advertisements for Myself.

Coincidentally, I think the best "Norman Mailer film" wasn't directed by Mailer at all, but James Toback: Fingers is really a kindred spirit to much of what Mailer was attempting to do, literarily, at the time, in all its maddening, chest-beating, hyper-sexuallized, sometimes brilliant, often troubling glory. No surprise that Pauline Kael thought both were genius, and how wholly appropriate that it was Mailer's son, Michael, who produced most of Toback's later features.

There's also plenty of Mailer's "white negro" lurking in The Gambler.


Last edited by Cold Bishop on Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:59 am 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
Good point about Toback. As a Harvard student, he wrote one of the best pieces on Mailer in Commentary ("Norman Mailer Today") which really sets the 60s films up nicely since it deals, specifically, with a lot of the existential, macho, hipster stuff. Toback also wrote one of the essays collected in the Maidstone book. There's a doc about Mailer from the sixties where Toback interviews him and they discuss his latest novel at the time "Why Are We In Vietnam?". Can't find it on youtube, but saw it once at Anthology Film Archives in NYC.


Last edited by Buzz Cameo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:07 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:01 am 

Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm
The Gambler is amazing. Looks like it's out of print on DVD.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:11 am 
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Buzz Cameo wrote:
You know if people despise these films as much as they seem to--- there's gotta be something worthwhile there. They're polarizing---- as good art should be

Firstly, "polarizing" implies an equal and opposite positive reaction to match the negative, which doesn't seem to be even slightly accurate here. Secondly, by the logic you're displaying, Battlefield Earth would be a high art masterpiece. After all, everyone hates it!


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