Posts Tagged ‘Passings’

True Noir, Piracy & The Passing of Bandmates

Tuesday, June 18th, 2024

Breaking news: This Friday’s Crusin’ performance at Ardon Creek Vineyard & Winery has been canceled due to the heat wave. –Nate

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My CSI collaborator, Matt Clemens and I, have a story in the current issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. It’s a pirate yarn. Check out this excerpt (and more info) here.

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Last time I announced my impending retirement – after a few gigs this year – from rock ‘n’ roll. A sad reminder of the passage of time had one of our most valued members passing away. Jim Van Winkle was with Crusin’ for almost ten years and was a cheerful on- (and off-) stage presence as well as one of the best lead guitarists in the history of the band.

M.A.C., the late Chuck Bunn, Steve Kundel, the late Jim Van Winkle.

We lost Jim’s brother Brian three years ago. He came aboard when our longtime bassist Chuck Bunn (who went back to the original Daybreakers) passed away in 2011. Brian was an excellent musician, very dedicated, and one of the sunniest, funniest members of our band ever.

The musical contribution of the Van Winkle brothers to Crusin’ in recent years is enormous.

When you run any organization for fifty years – and you can add another five for the 1966 – 1971 run of the Daybreakers – it’s a study in great friendships and a certain amount of inevitable losses. Our Daybreakers bassist and singer Terry Becky was murdered in a motel room. Our legendary guitarist Bruce Peters died far too young possibly due to over-medication for his mental illness. My great friend and musical collaborator Paul Thomas passed of sleep apnea at the tragically young age of 52. Chuck Bunn, when he returned to Crusin’ after a long absence after the Daybreakers were inducted in 2008 into the rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame, was battling cancer during his entire last run as the bass player whose veteran pop combo experience had put us on the local map. Co-founder of the Daybreakers, Jim Hoffmann, is gone too, and so is that handsome, drolly funny Lenny Sloat – the original Crusin’ guitarist.

Not all is grim. When the Daybreakers performed at the Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the entire original line-up was there – Chuck included (and drummer Buddy Busch and guitarists Dennis Maxwell and Mike Bridges). Denny Maxwell, also a Crusin’ veteran, joined with me, drummer Steve Kundel, bassist Brian Van Winkle and guitarist Bill Anson for the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame induction concert when we were honored in 2018. (Bill’s son Scott is our bassist now and he’s first-rate, the talent apple not falling far from the tree.) The funny, gifted Andy Landers – singer and rhythm guitarist – continues to play music very successfully in Washington State. Last I heard from Crusin’ guitarist Rob Gal he was still a successful record producer in Atlanta. And both father and son drummers, Dewayne and Jamie Hopkins – were our drummers back in the ‘80s, and are alive and well.

Here are the lyrics of my song “The Party,” written in memory of Bruce Peters and other fallen band members; it was featured in my movie Mommy and on the Crusin’/Daybreakers CD, Thirty Year Plan.

Life is like a party
A party without end
So it seems when you are younger
Until you’ve lost a friend

Some friends leave the party
Leavin’ us behind
Now the room seems empty
It all seems so unkind

bridge: Friends gone on before us
Leave us in their debt
Too painful to remember
Too precious to forget

Some lights burn so brightly
They make the darkness day
Then go out in an instant
That’s the price they pay

bridge: Laughter we are given
By people we have known
Gifts that keep on givin’
Even after years have flown

REPEAT first verse.

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The Depression era styles (and guns) of the film version of Road to Perdition are looked at in depth in this wonderful article.

At the great DVD Beaver (not a porn site!) is a terrific write up of the film version of Mickey Spillane’s The Long Wait with quite a bit about my commentary track thereof. Well worth checking out.

Two Tributes and a Nice Salute

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023

I have commented here before that being at my ripe old age means that too often I have to pay tribute to heroes and friends who have passed on. This week I am saluting one of each.

Lenny Sloat has passed away. He was the first guitar player in my band Crusin’, and performed with us (if my fading memory serves) for about a year, probably in 1974. A handsome man in the All-American mode, he was a terrific member of the band, a guitarist who had been among the first in the area to perform in what we used to call a “local pop combo.”

His first group was, again if memory serves, the Coachmen, who played instrumentals in the Ventures vein. His second group, the Rogues, was perhaps the first band in Muscatine, Iowa (my home town, where I still live) to play their instruments and sing, following the path of the Beatles. They were good, both musically and as super cool showmen, and justifiably popular, and were – with my pals the XL’s of Wilton – the inspiration for me to get into playing rock ‘n’ roll with my own band, for money ($25 a gig, a rate that lasted longer than I care to remember).

A more sophisticated band called Depot Rains (one of those inexplicable band names of the era) was the effective and popular follow-up to the Rogues.

When my longtime musical collaborator Paul Thomas (gone too long now) and I decided, in the wake of the film American Graffiti, to resurrect our list from the days of our previous band, the Daybreakers, and call it nostalgia, we needed a guitar player. Our frequent collaborator, Bruce Peters, was pursuing his musical dreams in California. I think both Paul and I came up with contacting Lenny almost immediately – he had been a local idol to the Muscatine High School kids, which included us.

Lenny came on board and brought his low-key, charismatic demeanor to the party, as well as his skill at playing and singing ‘60s music. We practiced for long hours in the basement of our drummer, Ric Steed. We were decent from the start and, after a lot of time and effort, got to be pretty good. We were ready. Somebody – maybe Lenny – approached the owners of the local nightclub, the Warehouse Four (coincidentally in the former warehouse of my wife Barb’s family before their grocery distribution business went under), who gave us a try.

Nobody was doing ‘60s nostalgia yet. It was only a handful of years since the real ‘60s! But Paul and I had the itch to play again in a period where the music on the radio didn’t appeal to us. We hoped others would respond to the ‘60s material, too.

They did.

We were a smash at Warehouse Four, and became a staple there, and at the wonderfully named Tuffy’s Talk of the Town in Grandview. We played every weekend here in the Eastern Iowa area, and were enormously popular. (Which is part of what landed Crusin’ in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, an honor that pleased Lenny very much).

Black and White Crusin' Gig Poster drawn by Terry Beatty.
Crusin’s poster (the first) drawn by Terry Beatty

Lenny and I got along great, and he was a fine singer, too – we harmonized well. We never had a lick of trouble in the band, no arguments about material or performance style or anything. Trust me, that’s unusual. The problem was how popular we got. We started getting offers that took us out of state and got the yen to go pro. But Lenny, who had a family and a really good job at HON Industries (my late father had been the personnel man there, and I think may have hired him), could not go full time with Crusin’. It would have been crazy for him to.

After he left the band, I was devastated to lose him. I am not embarrassed to say tears were shed. But it was the right choice for him, the only one really, and our longtime musical accomplice Bruce Peters came back from California to step into the Lenny’s slot and build on what this fine local musician had accomplished. We were very nervous on our first gig at Warehouse Four, minus Lenny, but fortunately we were accepted, despite the predictable grumblings.

Crusin’ evolved into the Ones, and I left the band, largely because I’d landed writing the DICK TRACY comic strip and had family and work responsibilities similar to Lenny’s that kept me from devoting all my time to music. And I hated the travel. When that version of the band split up, I put a version of Crusin’ back together to play our high school reunion (I’m guessing in the mid-‘80s) and Lenny rejoined us briefly to play that final gig with much of the original line-up, Paul Thomas included.

Lenny always had a smile and some friendly conversation for me when I ran into him here in Muscatine. If he had any resentment toward being put on the spot where going pro or staying behind was concerned, he never showed it. He was pleasant and kind, and that smile. What a smile.

Thanks, Lenny.

* * *

When someone iconic passes, it’s always a shock.

And I guess I thought Richard Roundtree would live forever. Well, in a way he will, because John Shaft will certainly live forever.

Richard Roundtree as Shaft

Barb and I loved that movie, the first Shaft, though truth be told it’s a rather run-of-the-mill private eye tale at heart. What separates it is its setting in Black neighborhoods of New York City, in which the mob boss, the hoodlums, the gangbangers, are all from that part of the world, little seen by white America. But don’t be mistaken – the Blaxploitation genre that Shaft ignited wasn’t strictly aimed at, or enjoyed by, Black audiences – White moviegoers were caught up in this new phenomenon, too. John Shaft, in the cover copy of the first novel featuring him, was described as the Black Mike Hammer. So you know I bought that book, well before the movie existed, and that I was there opening night.

I’ve discussed the thrill of witnessing Sean Connery say “Bond, James Bond,” and I have similar feelings about Darren McGavin and Craig Stevens in the first episodes of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Peter Gunn that swept over me on a tiny TV screen. All three of these were coupled with wonderful, unforgettable music.

But who had a better musical entrance than John Shaft?

That Issac Hayes score, accompanying a confident, cocky Richard Roundtree walking through a Manhattan sidewalk crowd, was among the most unforgettable moments in movie history – arguably the number one entrance of an iconic private eye on screen.

Roundtree was up to the job of conveying everything about Shaft that made the character special – his relationship with his Pat Chambers on the PD, the casual womanizing, the bravado, the masculine sense of humor with a laugh that rumbled up out of him like amused lava. You saw this man winding his way through downtown Manhattan and brazenly striding through traffic and you knew – this was a man, this was a hero, this was an instant legend.

Mistakes were made. The second movie, Shaft’s Big Score, was good with a phenomenal climax, but for some reason the outstanding third film, Shaft in Africa, seems to have been barely released. It was one of those movies I waited for, and waited for, and it never came. I saw it on VHS, years later, and it’s arguably the best of the three. I did at the time watch the much-maligned TV series, starring Roundtree, which is much better than it’s cracked up to be (the complete series is on DVD from Warner Archive, a handsome set).

In recent years there have been two Shaft movies, relegating Roundtree to essentially cameo appearances in his own franchise. That didn’t stop him from stealing the third movie.

And he had a good career. Not the career he deserved, but he always seemed to work. Hollywood did not understand that a superstar had been born – all they saw was Shaft.

But that will be enough to keep Richard Roundtree alive as long as people watch movies.

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Here’s a nice write-up about Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction.

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Chad Bishop and I are already at work on the edit of Blue Christmas and it is going well. I am thrilled to have done another film and in particular of this favorite among my short fiction. Finally, a private eye movie!

I hope our lack of name talent doesn’t do us in. Our best known player is Alisabeth Von Presley, who appeared on national television on American Idol and America Song Contest. The cast is strong, however, with Rob Merritt, Von Presley and Chris Causey (our topbilled actors) in particular standing out.

We got some local publicity, though we didn’t seek it, not wishing our short shoot (six days!) to be compromised by set visits. The Muscatine Journal did a good job, though.

Our First Camera Assistant, the indefatigable Liz Toal, wrote a nice piece about me on Facebook, which I’d like to share.

MAC on the set of Blue Christmas
Earlier this year, I attended a film festival. At the pre-awards party, a nominated young female filmmaker eagerly asked me, “What is your favorite film you’ve worked on?” I have been asked this before and I always reply…

“I have worked on many projects, small, large and everything in-between. What I favor most is working and learning alongside some of the greats! Award-winning cinematographers that take my breath away. Gaffers who have been around the block or two with countless jokes and tricks up their sleeves. Talented Key Grips and AC’s who quickly troubleshoot, build and solve issues under extreme pressure. Experienced Directors who communicate their vision clearly and who are flexible yet knowledgable to know when they should or shouldn’t adjust the script on the fly. Working with and learning from fine-tuned oiled crews will always be my favorite. Without a talented crew, there is no film.”

Fast forward to last week. I was setting up A-Cam for the next shot and glanced up. I saw yet another talented great who was deeply immersed in his script…Writer/Director: Max Allan Collins Jr. (Best known for his graphic novel/script, Road to Perdition).

I have known Max for some time now and just talking with him is an ease. Collaborating and working with Max is not just a privilege but a joy. His highly credited writing does not hinder him, it inspires him. That positive inspiration and determination radiates onto his crew. His nostalgic style and stories have an old timeless Hollywood feel which I find refreshing in this very digital, fast paced, modern world.

Until next time Max, thank you.

That’s a wrap!

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Quarry’s Return, Rodriguez, Barry Newman & William Friedkin

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023

I have completed Quarry’s Return and shipped it to my editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime and to my longtime agent, Dominick Abel. This included a long day of re-reading the 60,000-word manuscript and another day of entering my tweaks and corrections, assembling the chapter files into one big file, and doing a conversion from Word Perfect to Word, followed by a page-by-page check for glitches (and there were some).

This was something of a test case for me, as I have (as regular readers of this update/blog know) been dealing with health issues. My wife Barb has been encouraging me to slow down the writing process, and I have to a degree, but my approach is dependent to some degree on momentum, so I like to get a book done in as short a time as possible because I believe the narrative drive benefits.

This is the second novel I’ve written this year. The Mike Hammer novel, Dig Two Graves, was written starting in February and March. It’s a fairly short book, about 50,000 words, and I wrote it in three weeks, which impressed and sort of irritated Barb, who spends six months on her Antiques drafts before handing one over to me.

Between the two books I’ve written several book proposals, a short story with Matt Clemens (just sold to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine!), and revised a couple of screenplays. Also, we completed the expansion of the Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane documentary and the edit on Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder, both with VCI releases yet this year.

The month I spent on Quarry’s Return included my hospital visit for a heart procedure, followed by a complication from which I am still recuperating (but doing very well). I only lost about three writing days due to the procedure – writing seems to be something I can do and feel “normal” doing, even when I’m under the weather.

Quarry’s Return is a coda to a coda, the latter being Quarry’s Blood. I did not expect to be writing about the older Quarry again (the Quarry who is about my age), but that’s the story that occurred to me and that my editor liked the sound of. What transpired was a novel that took Quarry back to Port City, Iowa – the site of his first recorded adventure, Quarry AKA The Broker (1976) – which plays into the title and to the coda of coda notion.

Will there be more Quarry? As long as there is more of me, probably…though any subsequent Quarry novel will likely be set in the past, as the other HCC Quarry books have been.

Quarry’s Return feels like a good one, but until I hear from Charles and Dominick, I won’t know for sure. Turning a novel in can be followed by requested rewrites in some cases. To me, it’s a nice combo of the Richard Stark-inspired crime novel side of the series and the Mickey Spillane-inspired private eye aspect of the series…in addition to being a hitman (various varieties of which depend on where a story falls in the timeline), Quarry often acts as a sort of P.I. That’s even got him occasionally nominated for a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

The novel also has my trademark combination of human sentiment and inhuman behavior that no doubt confuses some, and keeps me off some readers’ preferred reading list.

I don’t recall when it’s scheduled to come out. Probably 2024. I’ll let you know here.

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I have several meetings this week as we move into serious pre-production on my micro-budget movie, Blue Christmas. We suffered a blow when (apparently) we did not receive any Greenlight grant money. That parenthetical “apparently” reflects the failure of the program to come even close to when they were supposed to reveal the results of the competition, which they haven’t officially yet.

This blow puts us further into the micro budget area, and decisions have to be made, and will be made shortly. But unless my health intrudes, I intend to will this sucker into existence. I have great help from my collaborators Phil Dingeldein, Liz Toal and Chad Bishop.

I want to spend at least part of the next few years returning to film projects – sort of my last chance to do so.

Phil and Liz and I, and my Hollywood “guy” Ken Levin, are working hard to get my horror film Reincarnal made. Some of you have read the novella it’s based on, the title story in a Wolfpack collection of mine (Amazon link). [And in the soon-to-be-released Max Allan Collins Collection Volume Four: Dark Suspense (Amazon link) – Nate]

I am in early stages of working with Phil, Mike Bawden and the great Robert Meyer Burnett to create a Heller podcast series that would, we hope, seed the clouds for a Nathan Heller movie or TV series. A long ago project that I was working on for (and with) the late Miguel Ferrer – a film based on my novella Dying in the Post-war World – is in the mix.

We still have an eye on getting Road to Purgatory produced. I have the rights back on my screenplay from my novel, the direct sequel to Road to Perdition.

Other things whirling in the currently strike-stalled land of the wooded holly: the recently announced Mike Hammer feature film from Skydance; a Nolan movie from Lionsgate; and an Eliot Ness in Cleveland mini-series from CBS Films.

Sounds glittering and great, huh?

If I were confident about the big-time stuff happening, would I be preparing to do a micro-budget Christmas movie?

I ask you.

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Among the bad things about writing a weekly update like this at my age is how many people I admire do us the disservice of dying.

But two of my favorites have passed and I must comment.

Rodriguez is a musical artist I discovered recently, thanks to my guitarist in Crusin’, Bill Anson, turning me onto him. I’d had the documentary Searching for Sugarman (2012) on my DVD shelf for some time – my agent gave it to me for Christmas years ago – but had not gotten around to watching it. I finally did, and if you haven’t seen it, you need to.

The basic story is simple if incredible. A talented singer/songwriter out of Detroit, Rodriguez made two wonderful albums (Cold Fact, 1970, and Coming from Reality, 1971) that were mostly overlooked by critics and completely overlooked by the public. He returned to a life divided between playing in small venues and doing day labor, taking great pride in the latter. He essentially fell off the national grid, and legends grew up about him dying on stage, sometimes committing suicide at the end of his set. He became huge in South Africa and popular in Australia, as well, and continued to be unknown here until the documentary came out in 2012.

Some of you know that I am not a fan of Bob Dylan the vocalist, though I like much of his songwriting. His nasal off-key singing is fingernails-on-the-blackboard stuff to me, though I find it interesting that both Tom Petty and John Lennon used him as a vocal role model, but did so by restoring the concept of singing in key.

Rodriguez is often compared to Dylan, but it’s a pretty shallow comparison. You can’t deny Dylan was a prolific singer/songwriter, and his catalogue of compositions is staggeringly large and impressive. Rodriguez did two albums of beautiful melodies and poetic skill in a warm, eccentric vocal style that displayed a limited vocal range but is the perfect vehicle for emotional material delivered from a cool distance.

He’s great.

And he’s gone, at 81. After his discovery made him if not a household word but at least well-known among popular music buffs, new albums from him were limited to a couple of live performance CD’s. He copped to having continued his songwriting all those years, but no new album emerged. I am hopeful that there’s a vault somewhere at his regular label, Light in the Attic Records, that will bring more of his material to light.

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My friend Bob King edits the great Classics Images (published right here in Muscatine, Iowa), in which he covers all kinds of wonderful mainstream and obscure aspects of classic Hollywood. I always check the obituaries (like George Burns, I’m checking to see if I’m there) and now and then a shock comes to the system: Barry Newman has died at 92.

Barry Newman was – no, damnit, is – one of my favorite actors. He came out of the gate fast and was a popular leading man and unlikely action star in the 1970s. He top-billed the cult classic Vanishing Point (1971) as well as Fear Is the Key (1972), and The Salzburg Connection (1972). He later became a star of TV movies, headlining twenty films in the ‘80s. Later he turned up now and then in bigtime films like Daylight (for which I wrote the novelization), The Limey and Bowfinger. But largely he fell off the radar. I never understood that and still don’t.

He made his first splash in The Lawyer (1970), which was based on the Sam Sheppard murder case and evolved from an intended biopic of then famous attorney F. Lee Bailey. His charismatic performance as the title lawyer, Anthony Petrocelli, led to a TV movie (Night Games 1974)) as that character and the two-season, Emmy-nominated Petrocelli TV series (1974-1976). The showstopping aspect of The Lawyer was Newman’s outrageous courtroom performance topped by his summation to the jury, in which he presented an alternate version of the crime to interpret the facts that ultimately got his client sprung. This trademark jury summation followed Newman and the character into the series.

Much of Newman’s success in The Lawyer is due to the dynamic direction of Sidney J. Furie, who put Michael Caine on the map in The Ipcress File (1965). But Newman rose to the occasion.

The Lawyer Episode Guide Cover

I got in touch with him a few years ago, in part because I’d written an introductory piece about The Lawyer and Petrocelli for a Bear Manor Media book about the TV series. Mostly I wanted to get in touch with him because it was The Lawyer (more than The Fugitive) that made me want to do a Nathan Heller novel about the Sheppard case.

When I called him – this is typical Newman behavior – he answered in an old man voice and pretended to be his own grandfather. When he determined who I was, and that I was worth talking to, he became Barry Newman again and might have been thirty or thirty-five, judging by voice alone. We had several wonderful phone conversations and I sent him my Sheppard “Nathan Heller” novel, Do No Harm (2020). He is thanked and recognized in both the text of the novel and the afterword.

He was very complimentary about my essay about him and his work on The Lawyer, and was nice enough to say that my piece was his favorite thing in the Bear Manor Media Book, which you can buy here.

The TV series is available here.

Unfortunately The Lawyer is not available legally on physical media, other than in the wonderful but expensive Sidney J. Furie boxed set currently out of print (but you can find it on e-bay).

The Lawyer is available on Amazon Prime.

I intended to call Newman to congratulate him on the Blu-ray box with The Lawyer finally doing him and that film justice. But I hadn’t got around to it. I do know that he and director Furie were trying to put a movie together with Newman starring. This was just before Covid hit.

But somehow I find it reassuring that in his late eighties, Barry Newman was looking for the next project.

* * *

I mentioned here that Robert Meyer Burnett’s enthusiasm for To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) had found me ordering a film that I’d despised in the theater on its first release.

I do occasionally discover a film I’d not enjoyed years ago turning out to strike me differently today. But I am more inclined to continue liking the films that I liked then. If you had asked me for a list of my favorite films, in 1985, I’d have said, Vertigo, Kiss Me Deadly, Gun Crazy, Chinatown and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (can you spot the non-noir in that list?). I would have cited Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Lewis as my favorite directors, and James Bond as my favorite film series. Hardly any change.

Revisiting To Live and Die in L.A. was a different ride. First off, its star – William Peterson – I have always liked, going back to Manhunter (1986) and Long Gone (1987); and I did (with Matt Clemens) my long run of CSI novels, comics and even video games with Peterson playing Gil Grissom not only on TV but in the theater of my mind. He even spoke my dialogue in the CSI video games.

What quickly became clear to me (I’d probably noticed this on first viewing, too) was that director William Friedkin was doing a West Coast variation on his very successful East Coast cop thriller, The French Connection. I’ve liked a lot of what Friedkin did, but I don’t think he ever topped The Exorcist and The French Connection.

His work generally strikes me as that of someone who is a great storyteller but not a great writer. He is at his best adapting a novel or play or non-fiction work. Left to his own devices, he can create a vivid movie filled with compelling scenes, and To Live and Die in L.A. certainly qualifies in that regard.

And it’s based on a book, but not a particularly good one. I don’t like to comment on other novelists’ stuff, so that’s all I’ll say.

But this narrative, as presented by Friedkin, has so many cliches, it’s no wonder it pissed me off in 1986. And, look, Friedkin was thinking about doing my True Detective and did this movie instead, which at the time undoubtedly pissed me off. Still, this is a movie that begins with the young lead character’s veteran cop partner having only three more days on the job, with only one dangerous gig ahead. This is a character who says the immortal line, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

It’s also a cop movie where the naive, idealistic new partner eventually becomes the continuation of the corrupt veteran partner who has died in the line of duty. That this is an unbelievable character shift is in no way justified.

Many of the semi-improvised scenes work, a good number do not. It does have some interesting female characters and a car chase designed to out-do the famous one in French Connection. And it comes very close.

I now like this movie, with reservations. Like a beautiful pock-marked woman. SPOILER ALERT: …… killing the lead with fifteen minutes of the movie left was a bold move that irritated me then and makes me smile and nod now.

Incidentally, I accidentally ordered the Blu-ray, not the highly regarded 4K disc. They share the same transfer and special features and I thought it looked fantastic.

I should say that the fuss over 4K may be at least partially dependent on the size of your TV. I have three TVs – a 55″ flat screen in the living room (with a shallow viewing distance between my recliner and the screen), a 45″ TV in my office, and a 19″ tube TV also in my office, for viewing laser discs. The 55″ is from a brief period where you could find monitors that could present both 3-D and 4K. My 45″ is 3-D but not 4K.

Why do I mention this? Because some people say that you need 65″ or larger to appreciate the difference between Blu-ray and 4K. This isn’t entirely true, but there’s something to it. The Blu-ray of To Live and Die in L.A., which I almost sent back unopened to exchange against the 4K, really does look excellent on my 55″ screen.

And for me having the ability to screen 3-D is a must. I have too deep a 3-D library to feel otherwise.

I am also not as attuned (shall we say) to sound. I have a sound bar with a sub woofer and to me everything sounds great. Terms like Dolby Atmos and DTS and 7.1 are outside my area of interest and expertise. For one thing, the reality of my life is that once Barb goes to bed (at 10 pm) I can’t watch anything loud, anyway. I usually watch with subtitles, and still get scolded by the angry woman who storms out, my charming understanding bride having been somehow absconded and replaced by this unforgiving one.

It’s not unlike my situation where my collector gene comes in conflict with my realization that at my age, I have better ways to spend my time and money than upgrading everything from Blu-ray to 4K, and spending big bucks on collector sets with lobby cards and booklets and do-dads that I’ll look at once, smile, and stow away.

* * *

Here’s an article about filmmaking in the Quad Cities, covering a gathering at Phil Dingeldein’s dphilms stuido.


William Friedkin, Collector Burn-Out, Bargains & Batman

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023

First, I want to share two very good deals with you.

Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction cover

Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me is 50% off (!) at Barnes & Noble. Going for a mere $13.47 for this hardcover thing of beauty. If you’ve been waiting to spring for a copy, now’s the time.

The Long Wait cover

The Long Wait, one of the best Spillane movie adaptations (it stars Anthony Quinn!) is on sale, a combo 4k and Blu-ray package. Even if you don’t have 4K, the Blu-ray alone is well worth the price. I did the commentary and provided an extensive gallery of stills. From Classic Flix, $21.98 (regularly $39.99).

* * *

I’ve fallen a little behind writing Quarry’s Return because of what I’d been told would be a simple out-patient procedure. First of all, that may have been simple for the surgeon but for me it was a long day of assorted inconvenience and unpleasantness.

Then I was sent home with a complication waiting to kick in — bleeding that wouldn’t stop — but an ER trip the next day to get some stitching up (in a good way) has me doing much better. But I have had to recuperate all (and some of next) week.

For the first time since 1965 (!) I had to cancel a band job (actually, we were able to swap places on the roster of Second Sunday concerts here in Muscatine, allowing me to trade August for September (not a bad trade generally). Crusin’ will appear at 5 pm on Sunday September 10.

* * *

Robert Meyer Burnett, one of my two favorite pop culture podcasters, discusses Friedkin below. He also discusses Friedkin on his weekly Midnight Musings, but that goes far afield including a discussion of the anniversary of Hip Hop.

Here’s my mini-memoir about Friedkin, which I shared with Burnett the night of my hospital procedure – hence a tad fried.

I Slept in William Friedkin’s Guest House

My wife Barb and I were guests of Friedkin by way of his then-wife Kelly Lange, the LA newscaster. Miguel was going with (they were engaged at the time) Kelly Lange’s daughter, whose name was also Kelly (her mother’s real name was, I believe, Dorothy). Kelly Jr. was funny and sweet and a babe, and I thought Miguel had done very well for himself. No idea what happened there, but Miguel and BIll Mumy and Steve Leialoha and I were at the time in the process of putting our band Seduction of the Innocent together to play at San Diego Comic Con. We’d go on to perform there around half a dozen times and at a few other comics cons and once for a comic book shop that rented out the Ferris Wheel hall for us at the Santa Monica Pier. One of our roadies was Brandon Lee.

Seduction of the Innocent, Santa Monica Pier

I am, as you know, from a small town in Iowa. I never did the con circuit, just San Diego Con. There is little reason why I should have otherwise encountered anybody famous. But my early Nate Heller novels had ridden my comic book Ms. Tree’s coattails to some geek recognition; so had the fact that I was the second guy after Chester Gould to write the Dick Tracy strip. How Bill, Miguel, Steve and I got together is for another time. (Chris Christensen came a little later.)

Where he hell is Billy Friedkin in this? Patience.

Kelly Jr. gave us a tour of Friedkin’s house. He and Kelly Sr. were away. (Honeymooning, my memory wants me to believe.) I remember a vast ornate bed with black sheets. In the living room were a few huge framed vintage movie posters from famous films…of the ’20s and ’30s.

By way of thank you, I left a copy of the first Heller, True Detective, for Friedkin with a fannish inscription. And of course I hoped he’d read it. He got in touch with me by phone, leaving a message, wanting to inform me of something. For that to mean anything, I have to describe the first section (briefly) of True Detective.

Young police detective Nate Heller is drinking rum out of a coffee cup in a speak when the cops known as the Two Harrys come in and grab him to come along on a bust, telling him nothing more. They are Mayor Anton Cermak’s two-man “Gangster Squad.” In a sports book on a high floor of a Loop building overlooking the Chicago River, the Two Harrys roust Frank Nitti himself. They shoot him several times in the neck and back, leaving him to bleed and die. They send the horrified and very pissed Heller (he will have to share the blame for this!) in to make routine arrests in the sports book, but a guy heads for a window and the fire escape. Heller tells him to stop and he doesn’t and Heller shoots him (“He wasn’t in the window anymore”). Heller decides to quit the force, not because it’s corrupt or even because for the first time he’s killed somebody (the graft is why he had a rich uncle get him on — it’s the Depression) and, in exchange for providing building security for his childhood friend, boxer Barney Ross, he gets a one-room office over Barney’s speak (aka Blind Pig) where he works as a PI (and sleeps on a Murphy bed).

Where the fuck is Friedkin?

So the two Harrys come around in the middle of the night at Heller’s flop, having heard Heller quit the force, and drag him to see Mayor Cermak at the Congress Hotel. Heller, who is young and tough and has scruples when necessary, is asked by Cermak why he (Heller) quit the PD. Heller turns down an offer to become the third man on the mayor’s Gangster Squad; but promises if his new one-man PI business is left alone, he’ll say whatever is necessary at the inquest and later trial. Having made this deal, Heller leaves but knows he’s now on Frank Nitti’s shit, er, hit list. Middle of the night, he’s hauled by Outfit gangsters to a suburban hospital to see Nitti…WHO HAS SURVIVED (historically, this happened — the whole Nitti roust is real, except for my substituting Nate Heller for the compromised young cop). Nitti gives Heller a pass, because it’ll give him an inside man with Cermak, who is soon to head to Miami (where of course history thinks the assassination target was FDR when it was actually Cermak).

That’s all 1933.

Around 1987, William Friedkin contacts this punk kid mystery writer in Iowa who somehow — it’s crazy — not only slept in his guest house, but knows about his Uncle Harry! Harry Lang, who was a Chicago cop in the ’30s! And he wants to know all about the Nitti hit. Friedkin told me his uncle was exactly that guy, the Harry Lang was who half of the two Harrys (I used photographs in the book, and Friedkin said he was flipping through and saw his uncle’s picture!).

There was talk of Friedkin making True Detective but that obviously didn’t happen. He was making TV movies at time — C.A.T. Squad…with Miguel.

Now they are both gone.

There’s a bittersweet postscript: Jason Miller was one of the stars of my little indie feature Mommy.

* * *

Heath Holland (my other favorite pop culture podcaster) at Cereal at Midnight discusses collecting burn-out, and I am given an extensive shout-out.

I wrote Heath with the following response:

I am honored to have been invoked on Cereal at Midnight. Got a real kick out of it.

And what an excellent, frank discussion of a real problem. I wrestle with the collecting bug constantly. And, despite a decent income, I spend way too much. My wife sees me watching you or Burnett or another three or four unboxing type podcasts and says, “This doesn’t mean you’re getting more ideas about what to buy, does it?” Not in the most loving voice.

@fiendformojitos: So you purchased 4 new Blu rays in the July Barnes and Noble Criterion sale, correct? Yes that's accurate. But isn't it true you haven't even opened any of the Blu Rays you purchased in the November sale?

What resonated with me most was one word you used: obligation.

This is when your collection starts to own you. This sounds ridiculous, but the main thing I am trying to do is not buy anything I don’t like or am probably not disposed to like. For example. Jess Franco — I have bought a lot of Franco stuff because of the enthusiasm of so many for his work in this hobby. There’s a line of European horror that came out some time ago that I was (wait for it) attempting to get every numbered spine, which meant every damn release. That line-up included at least half a dozen Franco titles. How could I not own them? They had numbers on the spine that I needed!

But I freed myself and got rid of them. Jean Rollin is constantly hyped and I know smart people who like those movies, but I am not one of them. Yet I bought them (and have since dumped them). I see podcasts from people, like Brandon Chowen (I think is the spelling), whose enthusiasm I get a kick out of…but he’s clearly not watching much of what he’s buying. He’s collecting stuff by directors he’s heard are good and intends to watch one day…but shouldn’t we be collecting because we like something already? Or contains cast/director/writer/genre that means we’d probably be inclined to like it?

That doesn’t mean I am entirely rational. I will get a film noir I don’t particularly like, because that’s a collection I want to maintain. I will hold onto any Hitchcock title, whether I like it or not, because I generally love him and I have a completist streak. Ditto Joseph H. Lewis or Sam Fuller or Brian DePalma. But if it’s a journeyman director, who is sometimes good, sometimes okay, sometimes bad, why not keep just the good?

And as you point out — time is distressingly, frustratingly limited. I am in my seventies…who am I trying to kid about ever watching a fraction of what I’ve collected?

This is art we’re collecting, not baseball cards.

But it’s hard. So hard. I hated To Live and Die in L.A. when I saw it in the theater. Hated it so much it pissed me off. And then I hear Rob Burnett enthuse over it, rhapsodize over it…and I ordered a copy. Arggggggh!

That’s the new rule I want to follow, and it is stupidly obvious: only buy, only keep, what you like. You don’t even have to love it. But at least like it.

* * *

This is a long overdue (in my biased opinion) discussion of why I deserve some credit for the popular Batman character, Harley Quinn.

And the same site, apparently taking the unpopular stand of defending my Batman run, discusses my Robin and how he and I are misunderstood.

Finally, here’s a great review of Fancy Anders Goes to War.