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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

These two lanes will take us anywhere 
We got one last chance to make it real 
Thunder Road/Bruce Springsteen
DSC_0932

Today is the first post I’ve ever written from a film location.

Yesterday I had a chance to roll down Thunder Road and tap into my inner Robert Mitchum.  I took the above picture as I headed into Ashville, North Carolina where I stayed the night at a place called The Log Cabin Motor Court. And I didn’t just stay in any cabin, but in Cabin 20, Top of the Hill. It was featured in the 1958 movie Thunder Road, which not only starred Mitchum, but he wrote the original story, produced the film, and wrote movie’s theme song, The Ballad of Thunder Road. Mitchum’s acting career spanned six decades, but it’s the sole film he is credited as writer. (James Atlee Phillips and Walter Wise wrote the Thunder Road screenplay.)

The story is reported to have based on true events that happened in the early 50s. They had a DVD of Thunder Road at the cabin so I was able to watch it last night and I found it quite engaging and thought it offered a glimpse into the business of whisky running that I had never seen before. They humanized the moonshine culture rather than sensationalize it. I didn’t know that the film had such a cult following. Apparently it was a drive-in favorite back in the day and continues a strong following today.

The film which is set in Kentucky and Tennessee was actually shot in and around Asheville.

Here’s a shot from the movie (Mitchum with gun) in the cabin where I stayed and wrote this post, followed by a shot of what Cabin 20 (Cabin 13 in the movie) looks like these days.

photo-23

photo-22

For a little bigger taste of Thunder Road (pun intended), here’s the entire movie I found on You Tube:

At a 1978 concert in Passaic, NJ Bruce Springsteen said the movie (well, at least the movie poster) was an inspiration for his song Thunder Road.

P.S. Asheville is one of those creative, artsy towns in that local/organic/hookah/street music way—like Austin, Madison, and Portland—where you’ll find restaurants and bars that go by names like Tupelo Honey, Thirsty Monk, and the Kathmandu Cafe. Fun town.

Scott W. Smith

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“They drew first blood, not me.”
John Rambo

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.”
Joseph Campbell

The road to the first Rambo movie being released in 1982 was a long journey. The novel First Blood was published in 1972 and reports are that the property went through three studios, 16 scripts, and a lot of high-profile actors and directors before it became Sylvester Stallone’s second franchise character (after Rocky). And though Stallone had become a superstar after the 1976 release of Rocky his other non-Rocky films (F.I.S.T., Nighthawks & Paradise Alley) hadn’t faired so well. Nor was the topic of Vietnam a popular one in ’82—the last U.S. troops pulled out of Saigon in ’75. There weren’t strong indicators that First Blood was going to be a hit film.

But producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, and director Ted Kotcheff, put together a team that would defy the odds, and created not only a film that would open #1 at the box office, but one that would go on to make $125 million worldwide, followed by three sequels—all creating the rare international iconic character, John Rambo.

The movie was based on the David Morrell novel First Blood that actually had Rambo as more of a killing machine. (The first movie while having plenty of actions, explosions and injuries, actually only has a few people dying.) The changes were made to make the character more sympathetic. Morrell was a professor of English at the University of Iowa between 1970-1986, which means the chances are good that the novel was written in the vicinity Iowa City. (Just learned that today as I was doing research on Morrell.)

“My intent in writing (First Blood) started back in 1968 when I was a graduate student at Penn State and I was watching TV one night when I was struck by the news by two reports that followed back to back. One which was of a Vietnam fire-fight with soldiers screaming, and shooting and bullets kicking up dust, and the other was about riots going on in American cities. That summer and the summer before there were many, many riots and many of them had to do with off-shoots of the Vietnam war. And I got to thinking what if we had a novel in which the Vietnam war came home to the United States and we sort of had a taste of what it would be like in our own back yard. Basically what the intent was was to write an anit-war novel about how I was not in favor of the Vietnam war. It was about how the establishment abused young men and took them over and made killing machines and then took them back and never retrained them.
David Morrell
First Blood Blu-ray commentary

His key model for the Rambo character was World War II hero Audie Murphy. Morrell has gone on to have a long successful career as a novelist. He received his undergraduate degree at the St. Jerome University (a Roman Catholic university in Canada), and his M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Penn State. He said on the DVD commentary that he always thought of First Blood as being a western and lists The Sheepman (1958) as a film that was a sort of parallel to First Blood.

Here is a summary of The Sheepsman found on IMDB:

A stranger in a Western cattle-town behaves with remarkable self-assurance, establishing himself as a man to be reckoned with. The reason appears with his stock: a herd of sheep, which he intends to graze on the range. The horrified inhabitants decide to run him out at all costs.

Morrell also was influenced by Joesph Campbell’s work on mythology in developing his character and story for First Blood. (Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was also key to George Lucas years later as he would develop the Star Wars movies.) It’s not hard to read Campbell and understand the primal aspects that Morrell drew upon in creating First Blood. There’s the warrior fleeing into the woods, descending into the mine, starting a fire, and surviving swimming with rats, and ascending the ladder into the light. Morrell called it a “Hunter hunted story,” while Stallone has made references is to Rambo being a Frankenstein-like character.

First Blood was also a film that dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and while not giving any answers, Morrell says that he heard reports that many Vietnam vets wept for the first time since the war as the film somewhat depicted how hard it was to make the transition from solider to civilian in a country where they were often despised and rejected.

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “Son don’t you understand”
Bruce Springsteen
Born in the USA 

You may be also interested to know that Morrell picked the name John Rambo as a combination of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (A Season in Hell) and a type of apples called Rambo that his wife brought home one day while he was writing. Credited on the First Blood screenplay are Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Stallone.

You can find out more about Morell, and the 30+ novels and books he’s written, on his website davidmorrell.net.

P.S. For the person who has everything…the survival knife that Rambo uses in First Blood was designed by the late Jimmy Lile who was known as the Arkansas Knifesmith. For $3,500 you can have a knife like Rambo—it’s called the New Lile First Blood.

Scott W. Smith

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Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me
Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

“Credit card debt is a major problem in America.”
Dave Ramsey
The Truth About Credit Card Debt


Americans love a good success story. We love good myths as well.  And the model of financing your film via credit cards has given us some wonderful success stories and a myth as well.  The truth is most credit card  filmmakers (99% would be a good guess) are like the one-legged dog that Springsteen sings about in The Wrestler—they leave with less than they had before. And the one thing worse than being broke, is being in debt.

The problem is we usually only hear the success stories. Robert Townsend was the first person I ever heard about who financed a feature film using credit cards. Back in 1987 Hollywood Shuffle was released and it launched his career.

“There was nothing I couldn’t get with a credit card. And what I couldn’t pay for with credit card I would get a cash advance on the credit card. I couldn’t pay people but I said, ‘I could put gas in your car.’ So I said, ‘All of you follow me to the gas station. I would tell the dealer, ‘See those 20 cars out there? Put it on my American Express.”
Robert Townsend
Jet magazine Jun 1, 1987

Kevin Smith’s Clerks is another film said to be funded on credit cards. Again, it launched a career. The documentary Spellbound was not only nominated for an Academy Award  but grossed over six million dollars and was funded by credit cards.

“We hit the road, using our credit cards to fund the project. Then we’d come home between shooting the film, pay down some of the debt and resume shooting,”
Spellbound producer Sean Welch in a Money magazine article.

So there you have three examples of success stories that solidify the myth of credit card filmmaking. But the truth is best summed up in a Charles Lyons 2005 article in The New York Times called Join a Revolution. Make Movies. Go Broke. Seriously, every filmmaker needs to read that article. Arin Crumley and Susan Buice were filmmaking darlings five years ago as their film Four Eyes Monsters was well received at film festivals and garnered lots of press. But the film did not find a distributor and left Crumley and Buice with $55,000.+ in credit card debt.

“It’s not O.K. for our film to have been mildly successful on the festival circuit. But otherwise, it was just a jaunt into the abyss and now we have financial hell to pay.”
Susan Buice (2005)

Filmmakers using credit cards to self-finance their films is another reason why Kelley Baker is The Angry Filmmaker;

“Too many people finance their films on credit cards, and they go broke! Their films end up not getting a distributor and they’re left paying 30% interest on a film that no one wants. Heed the words of noted financial consultant and former NBA player Charles Barkley, ‘Credit cards exist to keep poor people poor.’

DON’T USE YOUR DAMN CREDIT CARDS FOR ANYTHING!!!”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide

With that said, Four Eyed Monsters filmmakers Crumley and Buice got creative and kept finding ways to get people to see their film. One of them was in 2007 when their film became the first feature length film to be shown on You Tube. As I write this on October 29, 2010 there have been 1,256,401 views. They also made a plea on You Tube for people to join spout.com and that company would give Crumley and Brice $1 for each person who joins up to $100,000. Fast forward a few years and I read on the blog Distribution 2.0 that Crumley and Buice got $50,000. from the You Tube/Spout deal, and that exposure not only added DVD sales, but the online attention got them a $100,000 broadcast and rental deal. Does that add to the credit card myth or fall under the category of a crazy success story?

The entire film is linked below. (As a quirky side note, A few years ago I did a documentary shoot in Russia with DP Jon Fordham who was a cameraman on Four Eyed Monsters.)

Scott W. Smith


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“A historic, music-affirming extravaganza. Hail, hail rock ‘n’ roll.”
USATODAY.com

Tonight HBO will broadcast the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert that was taped back in October. The concert features a solid line-up of Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, U2,  Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, John Fogerty, B.B. King, Sting, Billy Joel and other rock giants.

And while all those musicians are on stage they will be under a touch of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Artist Gary Kelley was commissioned to create a multi-panel mural that arched above the stage at Madison Square Garden.

Kelley’s studio is just a couple blocks from my office and it’s fun to drop in from time to time and see what he’s working knowing it could be something for Rolling Stone magazine or another national venue. Kelley is most known for his murals of writers at Barnes & Nobel Booksellers across the county and in 2007 he was elected into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

One more example of great work coming from the middle of nowhere.

If you’re interested in purchasing Kelley’s artwork contact the Henry W. Myrtle Gallery.

Scott W. Smith

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The book that inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the song Youngstown on his The Ghost of Tom Joad album is Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass. The book was written by Dale Maharidge with photography by Michael Williamson. The book was out of print when the album came out in 1995, but the publishers reprinted the book with an intro by Springsteen who wrote, “I read it in one sitting and I lay awake frightened by its implications.”

The book has also inspired a film being developed by writer/director Aaron J. Wiederspahn at either/or films called Someplace Like America. My path crossed with Wiederspahn years going when we both lived in Orlando. Wiederspahn now lives in New Hampshire and his first film was The Sensation of Sight starring David Strathairn. He’s doing his part to make films outside the Hollywood norm.

There is also a documentary being produced called Finding Someplace Like America that retraces with Maharidge and Williamson the places they first visited 25 years ago as they looked at the homeless and disenfranchised in America. As our economy struggles in this country for the past year or so it’s sobering to look at an area that’s been in a recession for about 30 years.

Maharidge and Williamson also have a book that looks at the social economic issues closer to my home,  Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town.

Scott W. Smith

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But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep.
I couldn’t take one more step.

                                                            Don McLean
                                                            American Pie 

 

In my office I have just one album framed on my office wall and it is Don McLean’s Amerian Pie. I knew there was something special about the title song the first time I heard it when I was ten-years-old. What I didn’t really know then was that “the day the music died” was a reference to Buddy Holly’s plane crash. As a teenager I would learn of the details, but not until three decades later when I moved to Iowa did I realize he died in a cornfield eight miles from the Mason City, Iowa airport he departed from. 

Fifty years ago today is the day the music died. Buddy Holly died in that plane crash along with musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and a young pilot named Roger Peterson. Peterson’s plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, an urban legend has it was named  “Miss American Pie,” but McLean has said he coined the phrase. The musicians were on a quick winter tour and had just played The Surfball Room in Clear Lake, Iowa and were on their way to Moorehead, Minnesota. Just a few days prior to the plane crash a young teenager from Hibbing, Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman stood a few feet from Holly in a concert in Duluth.

Zimmerman would later change his name to Bob Dylan and has often spoken about how Holly’s music influenced him. And the list of others who say basically the same thing is long including Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles. In fact, there is a direct connection to the Beatles being called the Beatles because of Buddy Holly’s band being called the Crickets. 

One of the main things that fascinates me about Holly is how this 22-year-old could have such an impact on the world of music in such a short time. He was a kid from Lubbock, Texas who had only been on the touring music scene for 18-months and was playing in places like Fargo, North Dakota, Duluth, Minnesota, and Waterloo, Iowa… sometimes in the middle of winter. 

And from there he went on to be named #13 by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. And it all began in Lubbock. Music has a long history of seeing talented people rise up from places like Tupelo and Liverpool. The drum I keep pounding on this blog is this is going to happen more and more in filmmaking with the digital revolution. So when you hear Peggy Sue or American Pie today keep dreaming, and keep writing wherever you are.

I set out one night in June
Stoned by the glow of the Texas moon
Humming an old Buddy Holly tune called Peggy Sue 
With my favorite jeans
And a cheap guitar
I ran off chasing a distant star
If Buddy Holly could make it that far
I figured I could to
                                           Mac Davis
                                           Happiness is Lubbock, Texas (In My Rearview Mirror)

By the way, if you’ve never seen the movie The Buddy Holly Story, then forget everything you know about Gary Busey and check that movie out. (Busey was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Buddy Holly. The film was written by a first time screenwriter Robert Gittler who died the year the movie was released, 1978.) 

And for the real thing here is a clip I found on You Tube:

If you’re ever passing through Iowa and want to pay tribute to Buddy Holly RoadsideAmerica.com has directions to crash site.

 

Copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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