I never really thought of John Sayles as a New Jersey filmmaker. I grew up watching his work, and my immediate geographical associations run the gamut: Texas, Alaska, Florida, Harlem, Roan Inish, Matewan. But then there’s Lianna. And the Secaucus 7, though their movie was shot in New Hampshire. As Alvin Klein put it in the New York Times in 1991, “No matter their actual locations, most of the seven films that bear the imprint of Mr. Sayles, who was been acclaimed as ‘the godfather of independent film makers in this country,’ are permeated with the look and feel of New Jersey.”
Somehow I’d just never noticed (full disclosure: until moving to the east coast a decade ago, I’d never really contemplated New Jersey much at all, it was just sort of an abstraction with a turnpike in my mind, and that detail mostly courtesy Paul Simon). But I also haven’t spent a minute thinking about Baby It’s You (1983) since seeing it around early high school. It’s not a great film; it bears the traces of a struggle between an independent director and a studio, but they’re less like an attractive scar than a pothole in a road. It is, however, pure New Jersey maximalism, all diners and shore dates and “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge shots.
In blogging about films shot in Newark for nearly four years now, I’ve expounded at great length about the various pleasures of zero-budget filmmaking; sure, Kubrick and Hitchcock and Lumet shot here, but for me the real hidden treasures of Newark cinema are The Ironbound Vampire, Bride of Frank, and scrappy homegrown b-movie auteurs like Vaughn Christion and Bobby Guions. These are the works that best engage with Newark as Newark, and make inventive use of its spaces and ambiance.
But for all my Zero-Budget Newark boosterism, even I must occasionally concede failure at locating redeeming aspects in some of these flicks. Such as the following. I hate to kick a low-budget local film, because even a short YouTube video takes time and effort, and at some level I more or less respect anyone who makes any film (and isn’t also a Republican; in that case, it’s contempt all the way down, sorry; see below).
Here are my picks for Newark’s three worst. I’ve tried to find the redeeming qualities even here, though it got progressively tougher as I moved down the list. I ain’t sayin’ this is a great blog post, but I can confidently promise you this: reading about these films is more rewarding than watching them. You’ve been warned. Continue reading
The other month I wrote an article for Vice about the Little Theater, Newark’s last and finest theatrical den of smut. It was nice to share the story of Newark’s rich sexual and cinematic subculture with a much wider audience than this humble blog reaches, but it came at the cost of paring things down to 1200 words, sacrificing some of the history I wanted to present. I get it: Vice readers might be interested in the fact that men are still attending porn theaters and curious about what goes on inside; they are less likely, collectively, to hold a deep interest in the Little Theater’s development from ethnic grindhouse to multicultural cruising spot or its role in Newark’s cultural history. Continue reading
To the best of my knowledge, Sidney Lumet only ever shot in Newark once, and not, lamentably enough, for his remake of John Cassavetes’ Gloria (whose Newark Penn Station scene I wrote about here)–a remake whose omission of Cassavetes from the credits still perturbs me.
Instead, it was for this Vin Diesel mediocrity:
Now, I really enjoy Sidney Lumet as a filmmaker. I always think of him as the pre-Soderbergh, reined in by a classical Hollywood leash that prevented any wildly idiosyncratic swerves like Schizopolis or Bubble, but still committed to an almost experimental craftsmanship in his willingness, eagerness even, to jump genres. We tend to remember Lumet for his gritty NYC canon, but dude made westerns, musicals, a really good and overlooked British spy thriller (The Deadly Affair, y’all!), a romcom, etc.
Of course, they weren’t all good. Continue reading
I had intended to write this a while ago, but then got distracted writing a piece on Utah’s asinine declaration of pornography as a public health crisis last month; that ran on Salon, which has a vastly larger audience than this humble blog, but the truth is, I find writing here more fun. So, back to Newark. Continue reading
Last year, I was impressed by the unexpected historical resonance of Bobby Guions’ 2005 low-budget action-thriller Dinner with an Assassin, with its great opening scene on the roof of the Divine Hotel Riviera. So I thought I’d check out his 1999 debut, Moving Target.
Alas, a seller on Amazon to whom all b-movies titled Moving Target must seem the same sent me this:
let’s just not talk about Billy Dee Williams being in this, it’ll make us all feel sad
Much love to Michael Dudikoff—as a kid, I loved American Ninja 1, 2, and 4 (the Dudikoffless 3 being redeemed only by the presence of the great Steve James), and I’ll still rep for Albert Pyun’s postapocalyptic Radioactive Dreams, but there’s no denying, by the 90s, Dudikoff was the poor(er) man’s Michael Biehn, cranking out dreary, formulaic dreck, and this Canadian gangster jam appears no exception (I got to keep it, with a refund, but not sure I’ll ever watch it, unless someone lobbies hard on its behalf). Also, this was the wrong movie.
Point being, it took me a while to get my hands on this:
But wow, talk about being worth the wait: white VHS! I didn’t even know this was a thing (based on a quick google search, I’m not alone—600 people have watched this mystified dude ponder the immortal question “My Destroy All Monsters Tape is white. WHAT THE FUCK”). Is this the video-nerd equivalent of colored vinyl? Continue reading
One post begets another, further down the wormhole into the history of Newark’s cinematic representation: investigating John Dunnachie, director of Sightseeing in Newark, led me to this exciting periodical, inside of which was an ad for Henry Charles Motion Picture Studies, where Dunnachie served as VP:
“Camera Eye on New Jersey (Public Service Electric & Gas Co., Newark)” caught my eye. Surely such a marginal film wouldn’t be available anywhere, though, right?
Well, bless Rick Prelinger and his crazy ephemeral-film preservation work, because there it was on the Internet Archive, even looking pretty vibrant.
Camera Eye (I can’t stop humming Iggy Pop when I think of this title) is mostly an undistinguished, if professionally done, industrial booster film from 1960, with a barebones semi-narrative in which a bunch of corporate dudes get together to discuss the burning question, where should we locate some new plants?
The answer, of course, is the Jerz: #1 producer of chemical products, 4th in electrical machinery, “fifth in miscellaneous manufacturing,” and high-ranking on a list that drones on a bit interminably. A major selling point is “modern, rapidly growing” Port Newark: