Have You Heard The One About Meatloaf When He Met The Crypt Keeper?

Seeing Meatloaf on Morning Joe this morning brought to mind a story included in How To Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To Not Killing Yourself, the book I’m now agent shopping. I once cast Meatloaf in a TV show.

How To Live Bullshit Free is also a memoir — the story of how I came within inches of offing myself (but got better). I’ve had a very unusual showbiz career. I wrote and produced HBO’s Tales From The Crypt and Showtime’s The Outer Limits. I’ve written and produced feature films. I have crossed paths with an amazing amount of people (as one does in show business) — many of them very, very famous. I’m not afraid to name names.

One of the stories I tell in How To Live Bullshit Free is about Meatloaf — and how we cast him in an episode of Tales From The Crypt called “What’s Cookin” about a down on their luck couple about to lose their incredibly unsuccessful diner. The homeless guy who works for them shows up one day with steak — that attracts so many customers they can stay open. In fact, they’re suddenly making money hand over fist. The problem? The steak is all human flesh.

Hey — it was Tales From The Crypt. Anyway — without further ado — this is from my book (which I’m agent shopping — or did I say that already?)

As the Crypt Keeper would say: “Bone appetite!”

We got Chris Reeve to play the lead with Bess Armstrong and
Judd Nelson in the supporting roles (Chris, remember, had done ‘Superman’ with
Dick Donner, one of our Executive Producers). 
Chris was experiencing a strange phenomenon – where an actor becomes
hyper-associated with a character in the audience’s mind.  Superman had done that to a degree to Chris
and he was having trouble getting cast as ‘other’ characters (something that
apparently plagued Chris’s Superman predecessor, the 1950’s TV Superman, Steve
Reeves).  
Chris’s hyper-awareness showed while we discussed his
wardrobe.  Our initial choices were a
little too ‘Clark Kent’; he didn’t want to go there.  To us it was just a blue Oxford shirt and a
pair of khakis but, to be fair, Chris had walked around a lot more in Clark
Kent’s (wardrobe-provided) shoes than we had. 
When ‘Superman’ tells you ‘It’s too Clark Kent’, you listen.
For the part of the Landlord, we cast the singer MEATLOAF.  I think I laughed for about a half hour when our casting director first mentioned his name.  I mean, c’mon – how funny is that – casting MEATLOAF in an episode about CANNIBALISM – where his character gets eaten?
There’s a scene – toward the middle – when Chris – freaking
out about their financial hardships while still dubious about the crowds
pouring in to gobble up the steaks his wife keeps tossing onto the grill –
follows Judd’s homeless guy to the walk-in refrigerator for more steak.  As the walk-in door opens, Chris sees their
LANDLORD (Meatloaf) literally hanging from a meat hook, naked and dead.
While Chris freaks out, Judd picks up a meat cleaver and hacks
a couple of ‘butt steaks’ from the carcass. 
Tossing them onto the metal tray he’s brought, he heads back to the
front of the restaurant to give them to Bess who’s busily barbecuing away.
“Don’t leave the fridge door open,” says Judd’s drifter as
he goes – to the still too-horrified-to-move-or-speak Chris – “He’ll
spoil.”   
This was going to be a tricky special effect to pull
off.  The body had to look super
real.  The way the steaks came off the
carcass had to look real.  The way they
looked when they hit the tray HAD TO LOOK REAL. 
Sounds like a Job for Todd Masters…
One of the reasons I loved doing ‘Tales’ was that I got to indulge in some really horrible behavior –
betraying people, killing people, ‘eating’ people – and all without actually
hurting anyone.  Some of my favorite
moments were when I got to sit down with our Special Effects Maven Todd Masters
– with a couple of pathology textbooks and a shitload of bad intentions between
us.  After the first time my assistant
found me in Todd’s work space, cackling away like lunatics, she never looked at
me the same way again.  
The problem with great special effects though is that (in
addition to money), they take time. 
Having cast Meatloaf so late into the schedule, there simply wasn’t time
for him to come in so we could do a body cast of him.  Necessity – and a rigid shooting schedule –
forced us to hire a body double who we thought would approximate what Meatloaf
would look like hanging naked in a meat locker. 
Now, I knew what Meatloaf (the singer and actor) looked
like.  When I was in college, Meatloaf’s
‘Bat Outta Hell’ was one of THE albums we all revered (there in the Drama
Department).  C’mon – “Paradise By The
Dashboard Light’ is classic.  And it’s
funny.  Meatloaf was a big guy.  A heavy guy. 
A guy who could probably afford to lose a few pounds.  But that wasn’t our problem.  We cast the Meatloaf we knew and got on with
our lives.
And then, the day before he was due to work, Meatloaf – the
actor – arrived at the studio for his wardrobe fitting.  And we realized we had a problem.  ‘Mr. Loaf’ (as Christopher Lee called him
when they appeared together on SNL) had just finished a crash diet and had lost
60+ pounds.
He looked nothing like the body double – which he wanted to
see.  
Having worked very, VERY hard to lose all that weight – and
wanting to show it off – he was NOT happy that the old, ‘heavier’ Meatloaf was
who we had cast.  He insisted that our
body double was a good twenty pounds heavier than he had ever been.  I got to know my hands very well – staring at
them for as long as I did while Meatloaf circled his ‘not-exactly’ body double.
In the end, Meatloaf sucked it up – being a pro first and
foremost.  His history of being heavy
helped too.  He even agreed – graciously
– to wear a fat suit under his wardrobe so that it wouldn’t look quite so
jarring when we saw him ‘naked’.

Like I said — I’m agent shopping. There’s lots, lots, LOTS more where that comes from.

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Have I Ever Told Ya About The COOLEST Movie Project I Ever Got To Work On But Never Got Made?

When I’m not tilting at windmills here or on Twitter, I write movies and screenplays. And a book (which I’m now agent-shopping by the way…).

I’m going out as we speak with a huge TV series called City Of Angels — the story of how Los Angeles became “Los Angeles” starting in 1906 (and then going decade by decade telling the almost completely true, completely insane story of Los Angeles — a city like no other on the planet). There’s a reason noir was invented in LA.

The first season (running from 1906 – 1910) ends as the film business arrives on the scene. The rest of the first season tells the stories of William Mulholland, Edward Doheny, Griffith J. Griffith, Virginia Rappe, Roscoe Arbuckle, William Randolph Hearst and Ricardo Flores Magon — the intellectual architect of the Mexican Revolution (which was planned in large part in Los Angeles) among many, many others.

But I digress… A project I worked on eons ago — that I thought was dead — showed signs of life tonight — and I am thrilled. And I needed to shout about it a little — if only because it’s such a cool project and doesn’t deserve to die in total obscurity.

My wife and my therapist are asleep so — it’s gonna have to be “you”.

My friend Roger Harrison got the idea for “Cousins”. Roger’s an amazing producer with a great eye for material. For instance — Roger found, developed, backed and produced the musical “Louis & Keely Live AT The Sahara”. Roger wanted to put together a concert for charity. That concert would have reunited three great boogie-woogie piano players who also happen to be cousins.

These three men — their story is absolutely true — were all born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana and all three cousins grew up in a swirling gumbo of music (blues coming up from the delta, hillbilly coming from the Ozarks, gospel coming from everywhere else), religion (hard core, fire-breathing Assemblies Of God fundamentalism that believes absolutely in heaven and especially hell) and family dynamics as only happens there in Louisiana.

They became three very successful men. One became country star Mickey Gilley (whose gigantic roadhouse bar Gilley’s was the setting for “Urban Cowboy“. The next became famed-but-twice-fallen-from-grace televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. And the last became rock n roll’s “killer” — Jerry Lee Lewis.

They’re all first cousins. Jerry Lee and Jimmy are first cousins on both their mothers’ AND their fathers’ sides — cos it’s Louisiana.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart are flip sides of a very twisted coin. Both men envy the hell out of each other. They love each other but cannot (as of the last time I was involved with the story) stand each other. There are “issues”, shall we say.

Standing between these two men is their other cousin Mickey. Mickey genuinely loves his two cousins and wants them to reconcile. That is what the movie’s about — Mickey’s failed attempt to reconcile his two famous but ornery cousins — told against the backdrop of their larger story (what formed them all and caused their estrangement).

Running through it all is a shitload of incredible roots music — everything the three cousins were listening to and inspired by.

I was lucky enough to spend time with Mickey who shared a lot of wonderful stories and insights about his two cousins and what made them all tick. It was a window (in addition to my own research) into an amazing world. I didn’t get to talk to Jerry Lee or Jimmy. I had always hoped that, had the project moved further along, I could soften up Jimmy; I was told to forget about talking to Jerry Lee. Just as well — it was Jimmy Swaggart who I most wanted to talk to. I still want to sit down with that guy if I can.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to judge Jimmy in any way. I want to tell his story. I want the audience to understand what it was like to be him — to be groomed from the age of five to be a preacher — to be this “character” outside of who he really was. He had to start doing that before he even knew who the hell he was — and the character he had to play was a denial of half the things he felt. It was impossible not to be damaged by this.

Jimmy, Jerry Lee and Mickey were all excellent boogie-woogie piano players. But early on, something touched Jerry Lee. He was always the wild one, taking risks. He attributed his talent and success to a deal he said he’d made with the devil. He claimed that when he was 6 or 7, he was playing outside the sharecropper shack of a young black playmate when he heard Robert Johnson’s voice — singing “Terraplane Blues” — coming from the Victrola inside the shack. Jerry Lee asked his friend about the man on the record.

His young friend explained (his daddy had told him, he said) that the man playing the guitar and singing — Robert Johnson — made a deal with the devil just so he could sound like that. Jerry Lee, in his head, made the exact same deal. Jerry Lee got early fame and it was huge. Though his penchant for marrying young cousins brought him back to earth again, Jerry Lee remained one of the essential gods of early rock.

No one resented that fact more than Jimmy Swaggart. Jimmy wanted every last bit of Jerry Lee’s fame. But, on the flip side, Jerry Lee wanted something that Jimmy had. Jerry Lee envied Jimmy the relationship he had with their idea of god more than the relationship he had with their idea of god. That’s literally what Jerry Lee envied.

Jimmy pointedly judged Jerry Lee for every one of his failings. When Jimmy Swaggart fell from grace — he got caught with prostitutes not once but twice (never mind what he did or didn’t do with them) — Jerry Lee did not get his cousin’s back. He never called to lend any support whatsoever — and that failure was duly noted.

Like I said — flip sides of one very twisted coin. And in the middle of them — find Mickey — a very good man who just wants everyone to get along.

Hope in the film-TV business is a dubious thing. It’s like setting yourself up for failure — hoping about a project. In my mind, “Cousins” was never going to happen. That it most likely still won’t is the status quo.

That it might could find a home (the money) at, say, a Netflix (not a possibility because it didn’t exist when we first started working on the project eons ago) or other streaming service — well, that’s reason for genuine hope. In this town, “No” means “not this second but, if circumstances change, ask again”. And “No” doesn’t mean what you have isn’t worth a fortune.

William Goldman’s maxim — “Nobody Knows Anything” — is eternal. Don’t forget: every single studio in Hollywood said “No” to George Lucas when he pitched “Star Wars”. When Fox finally gave in and ponied up the dough for production, they thought so little of their investment that they gave Lucas 100% of the film’s merchandising.

That chunk of change is now called LucasFilm, LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic.

Anything can happen. The trick is getting the words under the right noses. And therein lies another Hollywood tale — I sincerely hope.

Why Our Main Stream News Media Sucks — “It’s The Framing, Stupid” Edition

It physically hurts watching most of our Main Stream News Media grapple with Donald Trump. He’s so much a creature of their making — his entertainer’s DNA is the same as theirs — that they fail to see their own fatal flaws in him.

It’s days/weeks/months/a presidency like this that make me think about Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay Network.

If you haven’t seen it, see it! When you remember that Chayefsky wrote it eons before Fox News flared to life in Roger Ailes’ fetid mind (the feature came out in 1976) — a propaganda tool designed from the ground up to stop a Richard Nixon type president from ever getting caught again (that’s right — Roger Ailes believed that had Fox News been around during Nixon’s time, Nixon would never have had to quit) — Network becomes even more visionary.

Chayefsky anticipated the marriage of news and entertainment — and the birth of their Frankenstein Monster-like love child — a wildly out of control noise machine that gleefully blurs the lines between fact and fiction, reality and bullshit, ordered moral rectitude and total Machiavellian chaos. In one extra-brilliant scene, Ned Beatty — playing the Chairman Of The Board — explains “the rules” to renegade anchor man Howard Beale (Oscar winner Peter Finch). This is a wonderful example of “FRAMING”…””

…And YOU, Mr. Beale, have disturbed the Fundamental Forces Of NATURE!”

9A5% of our Main Stream News Media cannot “frame” a story to save their lives. To save OUR lives either. We need to remember — so does our Main Stream News Media — that journalists are storyteller first and foremost. News is just the story of what’s happening now and why. Journalists must follow the same rules fictional storytellers play by — if they’re going to be any good at storytelling.

All storytelling begins with framing. It’s storytelling’s “In the beginning…”. Do we frame Hitler (in a story about him) as a good guy or a bad guy? The overwhelming majority of us would probably frame Hitler as the villain regardless of the piece. But a few — white nationalists for instance — would probably frame Hitler as a hero. Framing equals point of view. Whose point of view does a story represent.

If you go and frame a story from Hitler’s point of view — or, say, Donald Trump’s — then things like Jew hatred to the point of causing a Holocaust or caging Latino babies at our southern border — then outright evil doesn’t seem so… “evil”. Evil gets normalized. Not all at once — but enough so that the next evil act plays to a collective psyche that accepts a certain amount of evil as “just how things are”. No, they’re NOT how things are.

Framing begins with what you know and what you can legitimately believe based on the preponderance of evidence. Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a money launderer. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump is a bully. Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a rapist. Donald Trump is a traitor. One could legitimately frame any story about Donald Trump from any one of these points of view — and successfully tell a NEWS story.

One could NOT (for comparison’s sake) frame a story from the point of view that Donald Trump is an honest actor who believes every word he reads off a teleprompter. That story would be demonstrably false even as you told it. And yet — our Main Stream News Media persists in framing the Donald Trump story from that very perspective: that Donald Trump is a normal person and a normal president. Sorry — I got that slightly wrong: they frame Trump as a “different kind of potus” who “expresses himself directly”.

Allow me to translate from the bullshit — “Trump’s a chaos agent and we have no idea how to report on him”. There’s no such thing as “different”. A journalist reporting that a politician is “different” because he ignores all rules and norms is a lazy journalist. “Why” are they different? “What do you mean exactly by ‘different’?” To call Donald Trump “different” is to frame Trump from the point of view of bullshit. It helps no one — except Donald Trump.

And that — right there — is the problem. When you frame a story from the point of view of, say, a villain — you see the world through the villain’s eyes. You empathize with the villain and see their goals as our goals. You normalize evil and make it not only respectable but desirable.

The Poster Girl for this rancid brand of un-journalism is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.

Kelly O’Donnell – A nice person (I bet) with zero perspective (I’m positive).

I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. I’m sure she’s a wonderful friend — she seems very empathetic. But she lacks critical faculties. She’s no more discerning of the Truth than an open microphone. Kelly happily reports everything Trump says from her White House beat as if Donald Trump was a tower of integrity whose every word was his bond.

FFS, Kelly — when we look back at this period a few years from now (provided we’re not all living in a gulag or a mass grave), we’ll look squarely at the Fourth Estate and their many profound failings. Journalists are the only job mentioned specifically in the Constitution. They are obligated to be our final check on power.

But a check that frames stories from the point of view of the things it’s supposed to be checking cannot check shit. It surrenders the necessary perspective the moment it starts reporting. Any story about Trump that doesn’t immediately frame Trump as a liar is a lie itself — how can it not be? It’s telling the liar’s lie for him. carrying his lying water wherever he wants it carried.

This isn’t hard to fix. Gaining perspective is as easy as stepping back from a story and allowing yourself to see all the great details you’ve uncovered in the largest possible context — so that you can see, evaluate and appreciate how your small cogs work as part of the larger wheel. I think of NBC’s number cruncher Steve Kornacki.

I’m sure Steve’s a lovely person, fun to lunch with. And he’s bright, too. I’ll give him that. But bright without perspective is less bright than it could be. Than it SHOULD BE. Steve Kornacki can tell you everything you want to know about a grain of sand — so long as we’re only talking about that one grain. Does that grain of sand live on the beach at Malibu or smack in the center of the Sahara Desert? Steve can’t tell you that.

He can only frame the grain of sand’s story from the grain of sand’s point of view. That is only part of its story unfortunately.

We need our news media to report the WHOLE Trump story every time out of the gate. We need them to see Donald Trump the way Fusion GPS saw Trump. Fusion, you’ll recall, was the research entity hired by the Washington Free Beacon then (through intermediaries) the Hillary Clinton campaign to learn all the could about Trump — through legitimate means. Fusion (as principle Glenn Simpson testified to Congress), upon being hired, started the job by doing its due diligence. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material concerning Trump. Books, magazines, video, radio, internet. They bought from Amazon, browsed book stores & magazine racks and even went to the public library. What they found in publicly available material so convinced them that Trump had used his Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian Mob money that they hired former MI6 Russia desk guru Christopher Steele. Steele had the best sources inside Russia.

Fusion, in its report to its clients, framed Trump from the widest possible perspective. That perspective saw Trump as a criminal.

There is nothing whatsoever — still, to this very day — stopping America’s Main Stream News Media from doing the exact same due diligence.

It’s a little late now, of course. CNN & MSNBC (and all the rest) could easily have done this back when Trump was insisting that Mexicans are rapists. Perhaps if our Main Stream News Media HAD done that, there wouldn’t be a pile of dead Mexican bodies right now in El Paso.

When our MSM mis-frames stories, it isn’t just bad storytelling, it’s toxic to our Democracy.

What The Hell Do Ya Do When Ya Realize — Half The Entertainment Ya Love Was Made By Racists Or Pervs?

So I’m flipping around the satellite television last night — something I rarely get to do in my house. But, having the house to myself, the only person there to argue with me was me. I agreed to behave.

When “Gone With The Wind” popped up on the channel guide — over on Turner Classic Movies — I went for it. I’m a movie buff to the core. Hell, I write screenplays (occasionally for a living even). I can remember when I was in high school and MGM rereleased Gone With The Wind to theaters. My friend Andrea Zipper and I went equally apeshit over it.

I still have visual memories on file of Andrea’s remarkable ability to morph her face into Clark Gable’s. They looked nothing alike, I assure you.

I arrived just as Atlanta was burning to the ground. The back half of the movie (including intermission) comprises losing the war and suffering through reconstruction. That’s SLAVE HOLDERS (who never apologize to their former slaves for stealing their labor but whose former slaves never stop behaving like slaves) suffering deprivations. After losing a war. Over slavery.

We acknowledge — as a culture — that D. W. Griffith’s technically brilliant “Birth Of A Nation” is deplorably racist from its first frame to its last. But, have we stopped to consider that lots of other “technically brilliant” books and movies are equally racist (just not so blatant)? “Gone With The Wind” isn’t technically brilliant (though it’s an example of great craftsmanship and artistry) but it contains a character that makes the piece brilliant: Scarlett O’Hara.

In a lot of ways, Scarlett is a very modern character trapped in antebellum times. She’s a resilent, goal-oriented pragmatist. She does everything she can to pursue the thing she wants most — Ashley Wilkes — even after she knows he’s not the man she needs him to be. That’s the antebellum part of her character. A modern author writing Scarlett today wouldn’t dream of Scarlett continuing to want a weak partner like Ashley. Aside from that though (and her inherent racism), Scarlett’s a dynamo. She’s a survivor: smart, determined and pragmatic. She’ll do what she has to do. And if it all comes a crapper? Tomorrow is another day.

But there’s the racism in her heart. And she’s our hero. Our other hero in the piece — Rhett Butler — is just as racist (even if it seems kinder and gentler). Captain Butler has risked his life for the Confederacy. That makes him a traitor. And a slavery enabler.

In the end, I had to turn off “Gone With The Wind“. All that normalized racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

It brought to mind what happened the night before while I was flipping channels and found Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” playing. Allen made “Sleeper” back before “Annie Hall” turned him into a filmmaker. Even though “Sleeper” is one of Allen’s “funny movies”, I couldn’t watch it without thinking of the whole Soon-Yi story… and all the other stories about Woody Allen.

“Manhattan” horrifies me now. A grown man dating an inappropriately under-aged HIGH SCHOOL GIRL should have been the movie’s deal-breaker — why no studio would put up the money to make it. Let’s compare it to to Lolita for a moment — its most obvious relative. Lolita is a satire whose whole point is Humbert Humbert’s perversion. Humbert comes to a terrible end as does his nemesis Quilty. They both end badly because they lusted after Lolita.

While the age difference between Allen’s character and Mariel Hemingway’s character does get talked about — it’s never really seen as grossly inappropriate; in fact, it’s understood to be okay ultimately. At the end of the movie — where Allen casts himself as Charlie Chaplin at the end of “City Lights” — the sad lover whose love will go unrequited — the under-aged girl character overlooks every bit of her inappropriately older lovers’ terrible behavior and attitude toward her. What’s worst: the thing Allen’s character craves — and fears losing — is the thing he destroyed at the start: Tracy’s innocence.

I can’t watch “Manhattan” now. Can’t watch any of Woody Allen’s work. That kills me because an awful lot of it IS brilliant. Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Brodway Danny Rose are all great filmmaking. Great comedy but also great art.

But I cannot separate an artist from his or her product. An artist is defined by the prism inside their head — that thing through which Life refracts and translates into art. In Woody Allen, that same prism that refracts life experience into great movies also refracts some very unhealthy, misogynistic attitudes about women. In the absence of the Soon-Yi story in his bio, jokes about one’s ex-wife play one way. But, knowing that Allen was attracted to, secretly courted and married a girl he should NEVER have looked at “that way” — it colors those formerly funny one-liners.

There was chatter about Kevin Spacey going back eons here in the showbiz trenches. Sexual predation has been part of Hollywood’s business model going back to when the first guy showed up in LA with a movie camera and a dream. He’s got great taste in material, does Kevin. He’s a good actor with lots of range. But he’s a predator — and his love for boy’s bottoms is the bottomest line there is.

Can’t watch “The Usual Suspects” anymore… Can’t watch “American Beauty“…

While we’re at it — and we should be at it because this is all racist bullshit that we have to stop excusing as being “of its time and place” — “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (the movie, not the book) has to stop playing because Irish to his core Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese character is offensive even on paper — never mind seeing it brought to horrible, embarrassingly racist life…

The same goes for every Charlie Chan movie in TMC’s vault. Charlie Chan was played by white guys like SWEDISH Warner Oland, mostly SCOTTISH Sidney Toler and POLISH-JEWISH Ross Martin.

And, though it pains me deeply to write this, the same should probably go for classic movies like “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “A Passage To India” wherein one of my favorite actors ever — Alec Guinness played an Arab and then an Indian. Sir Alec’s saving grace — he wasn’t mocking his characters like, say, an American actor in blackface or Mickey Rooney. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it – this tiny slice of the movie’s opening is all you need to know…

I’d complain about losing all the great movies of my youth to racists, racism and racist memes but that just seems to “First World Problem”, know what I mean?

Movies I Adore: “Don’t Look Now”

Every now and then you have to quit bitching and moaning and shout your love for something. Being a filmmaker, movies have always “spoken to me”. I adore it as a form of storytelling. It’s so easy to get wrong. Soooooo easy.

But when a movie is right. It lives inside your head. It’s the storytelling and the look and the characters and the dialogue and the music and the casting and even the greens and set dec — it’s all sublime. There are lots of “directors” but only a handful of artists. I’ve had the pleasure of working with an artist — Bob Zemeckis.

In a way, Bob’s an “artist of the impossible”.

Bob was one of my Executive Producers when I did Tales From The Crypt for HBO. I wrote most of the episodes he directed. For starters, he is an incredible collaborator. He truly knows how to get the very best out of everyone he works with. Which is where the “impossible” comes in. At some point, in a Zemeckis piece, there’s going to be at least one shot that — if you’re looking and realize you’re watching it — is impossible. Meaning — yeah, the shot’s there in the movie but how the hell did they get it? It’s impossible!

When I was a young buck, a terrific documentary filmmaker I had the honor to know — Greg Shuker — turned me on to Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” — a psychological thriller starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.

Don't Look NowI don’t want to give away a great ending but — that the ending works as effectively as it does, that it’s as memorable as it is — it’s a testament to the masterful work director Nic Roeg has done up till then.

Water plays heavily.  The color red, too.  Sutherland plays John, an art restorer preparing for a project he’s about to start in Venice, Italy.  He and Christie’s Laura own a farm out in the country where their two young children are playing on a rainy day.  Their young daughter drowns in the pond — something her father “senses”.  He rushes outside but too late.  He pulls her body — clad in its red mac — from the pond with a doleful wail.

It’s a few months later.  They’ve buried their child.  Their son is at boarding school as the restoration project in Venice begins.  On their first night, Laura and John make love (for the first time since their daughter died) then go out to dinner.  At the next table are two elderly English sisters.  One is blind.  They happen to be in the ladies’ room when Laura enters.

The blind sister is psychic.  She says she’s seen Laura and John’s daughter.  She was happy.  Laughing.  Laura is blown away.  She doesn’t know what to think.  But John — when Laura tells him — thinks it’s all nonsense and wishful thinking. 

And yet.  As the movie goes on, John begins to catch glimpses of a fleeing figure in red.  Is it the spirit of his daughter — or something else?

Roeg was a director of photography before sliding into the director’s chair.  His films look great.  He captures Venice’s wateriness — its dullness.  Its greyness and fog.  He captures the feeling one gets — being there — of wandering in circles — hopelessly lost.  But the Roeg’s real genius as a director was in how he cut.  He had a way of intercutting two scenes that no one else could touch.

An excellent example — the scene where John and Laura make love for that first time since their daughter’s death.  Roeg intercuts the sex — which is very intimate (there have always been stories that the sex between Christie and Sutherland was real) — with John and Laura, post-coital, get ready to go out for dinner.  You really get the feeling that they’re a couple — which makes the sex we keep intercutting back to feel more organic and real.

For my money, the sex scene in Don’t Look Now is one of the best 2 or 3 sex scenes in all of movie history (the caveat being that most sex scenes suck).  And — here’s the kicker — it’s between a married couple.  That’s a sex scene you never see — between married people.

Nic Roeg died a few months ago.  I still owe Greg Shuker — for introducing him to me.