Jul 3, 2022

De Palma-Rama

De Palma-Rama: Carrie / Blow Out / Secret Feature
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Poster by Tom Bifulco
Any time that I meet someone new on the lot, I am awe struck by their knowledge about movies and movie history.  On any given night at the Mahoning, you could throw a rock and hit three people who know far more about movies than I do.  When it comes to my movie knowledge, I'm pretty much in the same boat as I am with music, food, art, literature, or any of my other interests .  I like what I like, I don't like what I don't like, and while I'm interested to learn more, I'm not driven to the point of wanting to become an expert.

Having said that, I hope you'll understand that I mean no disrespect when I say that I have never even heard of Brian De Palma before this show was announced at the drive-in.  My initial reaction to seeing this graphic was "Oh cool, they're showing Carrie at the Mahoning, and some other movies too... and who's that guy that sorta looks like Mike Ehrmantraut?".

My next stop after buying the tickets was to head to IMDB to see what other movies Brian De Palma directed, and as it turns out, I really haven't seen too much of his work.  The movie from his directorial credits that I am the most familiar with is Scarface, and that movie falls into a weird category for me because I like it, but not nearly as much as most other people do.  I feel the same way about movies like Evil Dead and Max Max, and musicians like Prince and Kiss.  I don't dislike any of them, but I just don't seem to get as hyped up about them as other folks do.

The only other movie on his IMDB that I know I've seen before is Snake Eyes.  It was released to rental stores while I was working for Blowout Video when I was a teenager, and I remember the trailer being the first one I had ever seen that I felt gave away too much of the plot.  Aside from that, I remember that I enjoyed the film, but I only saw it one time over 20 years ago, so I really couldn't give you too detailed of an opinion other than that.  De Palma directed a lot of movies that I've heard of, like The Untouchables, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, Carlito's Way, Mission Impossible and The Black Dahlia, but I haven't seen any of them.  I haven't heard of any of the others, including last night's second feature, Blow Out, so I decided to go into this in the same way that I did for The Night Of The Hunter.  I've deliberately avoided looking up the trailer or the plot so that I can go into the night with no expectations - just grab my popcorn bucket, plop down in the lawn chair, and let the filmmaker tell me a story.

But before I talk about Blow Out...

The first feature of the night was worth the price of admission all by itself.  It was the 1976 horror classic based on the 1974 Stephen King novel of the same name, Carrie.  It's one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and one in which I have conflicting views on its lead character.  On one hand, I can strongly relate with Carrie White.  Although I wasn't raised by a psychotic religious zealot, I have my own demons that make me feel separate from most of the people that I've ever been around, and that feeling was never more strong than it was in high school.  From that perspective, I have a great deal of empathy for Carrie.

If you had asked me how I felt about the ending of Carrie when I was in high school, I would have said that she was justified in the vengeance that she took on her classmates at the prom.  It's not an uncommon sentiment either; I have frequently come across memes and comments from horror fans who hold up Carrie White as an icon, and the scene of her laying waste at the prom is one that more often than not gets cheers from the audience.  However, with school shooting becoming the norm in the years since I graduated from high school, it becomes a bit difficult to get on board with the idea of Carrie being the hero of the story.  I wonder if those same people would be cheering if the character used an assault rifle instead of telekinesis.  Still, a movie isn't real life, and this is an amazing movie that I never imagined I'd be able to see at a drive-in.

They've been showing vintage Loony Tunes on 35mm during intermission quite a bit this season.  They're a nice palate cleanser and it's always great to experience these classic cartoons from a film print at a theater - the way that audiences originally saw them.

The first cartoon during the De Palma Rama double feature was called Feud With A Dude, which features one of the lesser known Loony Tunes stars, Merlin The Magic Mouse, who was voiced by Larry Storch (Corporal Agarn from F-Troop).  It been over 30 years since I saw this cartoon.  In fact, I forgot that the character existed, but it was one of the shorts that was a part of the Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon block that was on television when I was a kid.  Merlin was one of the late generation Loony Tunes characters, and he only appeared in a total of five cartoon shorts which were all produced between 1967 - 1969.  The episode Feud With A Dude was the third of the five, and it involves Merlin and his sidekick, Second Banana, getting caught in between the war between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's.

The second cartoon was another obscure title from the late 60's that I hadn't seen since the days of Loony Tunes on Nickelodeon.  It was a 1968 short called Chimp & Zee.  It features a little boy who lives in the jungle named Zee (sort of like a child Tarzan) and his best friend, Chimp who is a rare blue-tailed simian.  Chimp is being pursued by a bumbling hunter, who was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc.  It's the same voice that Mr. Blanc later used for the Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he talks to the audience to explain why he's chasing after the Road Runner.

Seeing these really makes me miss Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon.  It was one of the best presentations of classic animation that I have ever seen on television.  They seemed to follow a consistent formula for which cartoon shorts would be included in each half hour episode.  They'd put a cartoon short starring well-known cartoon character like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck in the first spot.  Next, they'd show one of their black and white cartoons from the 30's.  Sometimes this would feature a well-known character, like the Porky In Wackyland short, but it was usually a cartoon starring Bosko or other characters that fell out of use by the 1950s.  Then after the commercial break, they'd often show one of the later Looney Tunes shorts from the late 60's before closing out with something like a Road Runner or Speedy Gonzalez cartoon.  I may not have that exactly right, but that's my memory of how Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon was in the late 80's and early 90's.  It was in that third spot right after the commercial break that they showed cartoons with characters like Merlin The Magic Mouse, Chimp & Zee and Cool Cat.  I can't remember ever seeing them on any other Loony Tunes show, or ever coming across any merchandise or even memes with these characters, so seeing some of them on the big screen at the Mahoning was a very pleasant surprise.

Blow Out was the second movie of the night, and it's an absolutely fascinating film.  It's set in Philadelphia and it stars John Travolta as a sound engineer who works on movies.  While he's out walking around to record sound effect samples for a project that he's working on, the tires on the man's car are shot out and his car plunges into the water.  Travolta jumps into the water to save the female passenger, but the man dies, and the rest of the movie involves the identity of that man and the fact that there was a shooting, and not just a tire blow out that caused the vehicle to crash into the creek.

Even though it's a 41 year old movie, I'm trying to be a little vague in describing the plot.  I had the privilege of seeing this without spoilers, so the least I can do is pay it forward in case someone else sees this.  I will say that this movie is definitely worth your time.  It's probably the best work I've ever seen from John Travolta, and it's a visually stunning flick.

As it turns out, I have owned a copy of Blow Out for at least the past ten years, but I never watched it.  I haven't even read the back of the box until now.  It came in a box along with about a dozen other tapes that I bought from a vendor at the Hometown Farmers Market many years ago.  The bookshelves that I keep VHS tapes on can hold two rows of tapes - one on the front and one in the back.  Because this was in an oversized clamshell case, and because I wasn't familiar with the movie, it was put in the back row where it sat, completely forgotten, for ten years.  I can't even begin to guess how many others we've got floating around, either in the back of bookshelves, or buried in boxes in the garage or the basement.  I'm convinced that with all of the movies, music, video games, books, and other assorted media that I've acquired over the years or have access to online, I could probably go the rest of my life without spending a dime on entertainment and never even come close to running out of things to experience for the first time.

The third movie of the night was a secret feature, and the folks at the Mahoning have asked that we keep it a secret, so I'm not going to name it here.  I will say that it was a Brian De Palma film that was released in my lifetime, and it was my first time seeing it.  If I'm being completely honest, I didn't enjoy it too much.  I get what it was trying to do, but the whole gimmick of characters talking to themselves and "is it real or is it going on in the character's mind" falls flat with me almost every time.  Plus, as much as I enjoy the lead actor's work on his hit television series, it's become difficult to separate his previous performances from his starring role on television, so the moments that may have been meant to come across as suspenseful just seemed silly to me.  Even though I didn't care for it, I'm still glad to have had the chance to see it on the big screen.  They can't all be winners, but the night as a whole definitely gets put in the win column.