Friday, March 11, 2011

The audacity of Swope

That girl is Swope.The New York Times said blogging is passé, so I'm not going to blog anymore.

I'm kidding. Actually, I won't be posting stuff for a while (and haven't done so since February 28) because I'm busy working on not just one self-published print compilation of material from A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog but two.

When I allow myself some free time to surf the Web, one site I've been checking out lately is Trailers from Hell, which is run by one of my favorite underappreciated directors, Joe Dante (whose work for TV has been more interesting than his recent film work--I love Dante's anti-Bush Administration Masters of Horror episode "Homecoming"). At Trailers from Hell, Dante's filmmaker and screenwriter friends present trailers of their favorite films and discuss why those films are their favorites.

Trailers from Hell has been on fire lately with some nice commentary tracks about trailers for old films I like, so to keep this blog from looking like it's frozen in time, I've got Whole Wide World and Jolene director Dan Ireland's Trailers from Hell commentrak for the trailer for the 1969 advertising industry satire Putney Swope, which the site posted for Black History Month (the video also gives me an excuse to again post an Obamicon of Putney Swope that was made by me). Ireland's commentrak is followed by History of Violence film adaptation screenwriter Josh Olson's Trailers from Hell commentrak for the trailer for the late Peter Yates' entertaining 1972 adaptation of the Donald E. Westlake caper The Hot Rock. (The Putney Swope and Hot Rock trailers are particularly interesting because they don't contain voiceover narration, which makes them less like the voiceover-heavy and corny trailers of their era and more like the announcer-less and stylish trailers that are more common today and have influenced the CBS prime-time promo department to go announcer-less.)

Putney Swope is the story of an ad agency's token black employee (Arnold Johnson) who gains control of the business, revolutionizes the ad industry with frank and sexually explicit ads and winds up becoming as fatuous and corrupt as the stolid and whitebread Madison Avenue culture he initially fought against (he makes the mistake of getting high on his own supply: himself). Director Robert Downey's most famous flick appeals to my anti-authoritarian side, so I like it and will probably rewatch it when it turns up on cable again, even though the slo-mo titty-baring stewardess ad goes on way too long (it's nice to look at though), the film falls apart at the end and Downey's redubbing of his own lead actor sounds terrible. Johnson constantly bungled his lines, so Downey erased Johnson's voice from the soundtrack and inserted his own. He sounds less like an old black man and more like Cleavon Little when he pretended to take himself hostage and imitated a white thug in Blazing Saddles ("Hold it! Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!"). The elder Downey's performance is an odd precursor to his actor son's portrayal of a movie star pretending to be black in Tropic Thunder.

I like to think of Putney Swope as a spinoff of Mad Men in which one of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's rival businesses gets taken over by the militant friends of Hollis the elevator operator. I agree with Hammer to Nail that the film is dead-on about how "people will be cruel and craven no matter what side of the power dynamic they occupy," which makes it as relevant now as it was in 1969.

Rated GP for Guaranteed to Plotz.

Trailers from Hell also did an entry on The Hot Rock, which contains an enjoyable Quincy Jones score that Jones considers one of his favorites and was sampled by Eminem in "Like Toy Soldiers," as well as cameo appearances by a then-under-construction World Trade Center and a young Christopher Guest. Afghanistan banana stand.

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