B movies

Happy Birthday, John Waters!

John Waters as William Castle and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford on FX's FEUD

William Castle (John Waters) addressing the crowd at STRAIT-JACKET’s (1964) premiere as Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) listens on FEUD (2017) episode HAGSPLOITATION

I grew up in a John Waters household, so when I caught up with FEUD (2017), I was delighted to watch his cameo as shockmeister William Castle. My parents went to Waters’ movies, and my mom owns an ODODRAMA card gotten at a first run screening of POLYESTER (1981). Living in Massachusetts close enough to The Cape that Provincetown could be a day jaunt, she thinks she shopped in Dreamlander Divine‘s thrift shop, which he ran in his poor, pre-fame days. It was only a matter of time until we shared some of Waters’ movies together. I’ve now seen most of his films and read most of his books.

Which is how I know it was an honor for him to play Castle. Physically, the two men were very different. Waters has remained trim while Castle was heavier in comparison and thicker haired. FEUD show creator Ryan Murphy didn’t want Waters costumed to resemble Castle. No, fat suit as Waters said. Murphy was aware those in this know would delight in how meta it would be for Castle disciple Waters to appear as himself when portraying the other director.

If you haven’t read Castle’s memoir STEP RIGHT UP! I’M GOING TO SCARE THE PANTS OFF AMERICA, you need to. Waters wrote a loving and nostalgic introduction on how seeing Castle’s gimmicky movies as a kid inspired a love of cinema and the outrageous. There’s a joy in both directors’ works at defying convention to pursue their own visions. Keep on reading after the introduction, and you’ll learn a lot about B-movie making on shoestring budgets, including what it was like to work with Joan Crawford on STRAIT-JACKET (1964).

Happy birthday to John Waters, who doesn’t think he’s ever topped William Castle, but got to be him for a day! That must have been his best early birthday present.

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Throwback Thursday: The Majestic Beauty of the Alabama Hills

The Alabama Hills shot by Beth Ann Gallagher

An example of how photogenic the Alabama Hills are. I captured this shot with an iPhone.

 

The Alabama Hills are a photographer’s delight. When I visited, no matter what direction I looked in, I was surrounded by majestic and extremely photogenic beauty. All around me were rock formations that varied in shape and height, even within clusters. As morning turned into afternoon and the sun changed its angle in the sky, light slid across the landscape and highlighted formations in new ways. A formerly familiar spot could feel like a fresh discovery.

It’s no wonder filmmakers from the silent era to the present have been enchanted by the hills. They’re a gorgeous, natural backdrop that requires no painting or CGI. They are scene ready. Nearby spots can bear little resemblance to each other. What looks like a long journey onscreen might only have required careful editing after a cinematographer’s camera was moved mere yards and pointed in another direction.

Because the hills are a protected habitat, they remain unchanged, except by the light and the elements. That gives the place a feeling of timelessness. If you’ve ever seen a movie shot there, it’s very easy to recognize locations. You simply have to go in search of them. If you let your imagination run while you wander, you could expect to see cowboys on horseback or hear a gun battle or stumble upon a temple.

If you ever get a chance to visit the Alabama Hills, especially during the Lone Pine Film Festival, you must! You’ll find yourself somewhere beautiful and full of film history.

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