Gala: On this episode of the Video Archives Podcast, join Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino as they travel deep into Bavaria and unlock Michael Mann’s The Keep. Originally running at 210 minutes, the film was notoriously cut down to 96. Roger and Quentin discussed the excitement of Michael Mann as the up-and-coming writer director of the time, his influence on future filmmakers, their excitement of seeing his second film, and where it all went wrong. Next, join us at the museum as we dig into Peter Hyams’ 1997 film The Relic. A fun monster movie mystery, Quentin and Roger pick apart the lore of the film and discuss if rules really matter when you’re having fun. A movie that picks up in the third act, you’ll have to come along for the ride to see how it ends. And lastly, pour up a cup of Joe and board the Cafe Express in this charming 1980s Italian comedy starring, Nino Manfredi. Be ready to laugh, be ready to cry and be ready to fight against Italian bureaucracy, one cup of coffee at a time. Joining us now, here’s Quentin and Roger.
Quentin: Thank you, Gala. Yes, she’s correct. This is Quentin Tarantino and this is Roger Avary.
Roger: Hello, and I’m so happy to be here with my best friend and my daughter, talking about movies. Like, what better?
Quentin: Absolutely. Absolutely. So tonight we’ve got a couple of really interesting films to come up that we had interesting reactions to. Frankly, to tell you the truth, not exactly what we were expecting. There ended up being quite a bit of nuance. So let’s get started right away with the first film that we’re going to be speaking about. 1983’s The Keep.
Roger: Michael Mann’s second film.
Quentin: Yes, absolutely. Michael Mann’s second film. The reason that I wanted to see the damn thing was because it was Michael Mann’s second film.
clip from trailer for The Keep: “What secret, what force draws them to to the Keep?” “What is this place?” “What I saw wasn’t real.” “You’re part of this.” “I am the watchman.” “They have come to destroy the keep.”
ad copy: The Keep, with co-hit The Relic, will be playing August 27th and 28th on glorious 35 millimeter film at the New Beverly Cinema. 7165 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. For further information, go to the newbev.com. The New Beverly Cinema: always on film.
Quentin: They made it for Paramount. It’s a Paramount home video and the back of the box reads as such: “A gothic thriller which grips you with its combination of horror, romance and the supernatural. It is World War Two in German occupied Romania. Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress, but a nightmarish discovery is soon made. The Keep was not built to keep anything out. The massive structure was, in fact built to keep something in… Scott Glenn plays the stranger, who alone must battle the supernatural forces whose evil power is dwelling within. Ian McKellen is the medieval historian dragged to the key to unravel the mystery behind its gruesome killings. Alberta Watson stars as McKellen’s devoted daughter Eva, who falls in love with the handsome, heroic stranger (Scott Glenn).” And that’s the back of the box.
Roger: Paramount Home Video.
Quentin: Paramount Home Video. Almost all serious film fans out there, as well as film critics, when Michael Mann came out with Thief (with James Caan), he blew our minds completely. It was like, roll over John Carpenter and tell Walter Hill the news. It was a new guy out there on the crime film scene who wrote great, gritty dialog. He had a wonderful visual sense.
Roger: And made an existential film out of it. It’s an existential crime film.
Quentin: Yes, exactly.
Roger: It elevates the form.
Quentin: It does elevate the form. One of the things about Thief is that it was the only one of the crime films that came out within like a three-year period that had the same resonance of a crime novel. But also, right from the beginning, he was a stylist. There was an orchestrator involved, there was a director involved.
Roger: Yeah, and it would be a lie to say that Thief wasn’t a massive influence on me whenever I was thinking about Killing Zoe, when I was designing all of the bank drilling stuff. I was- I wouldn’t say standing on the shoulders, more cowering in the shadow, of Michael Mann.
Quentin: Well, Michael Mann actually affected a lot of directors. After the fact, everyone heard that he just kept a water truck on his set all the time, just to constantly wet down streets. Then all of a sudden, that became the thing for directors to do. “Thief looks fantastic, let’s get a water truck and let’s just wet down these night streets and throw lights on them.” When you’re saying it affected your work, I mean, there’s lines in Thief that affected my life. Insofar as, I have always lived my life trying to be like James Caan, insofar as I am Joe Boss of my own life.
Roger: Yeah, you are that guy.
Quentin: I am Joe Boss. I am Joe Boss in my own life.
Roger: You are that guy; the professional thief who carried around in his pocket, a little collage of a family and children and a house with a picket fence.
Quentin: Okay, you literally are saying the worst part about Thief.
Roger: Yeah, but I’m relating it to you and how you identify. Maybe you don’t even know why you identify as much as you do.
Quentin: Yeah, okay the only difference, though, is I wouldn’t enjoy that postcard. The only reason the character has that postcard is to say “fuck it” and throw it away.
Quentin: “Here’s all the nice, good things. Okay, now fuck that. I’m going to kill everybody. This is not for me.”
Roger: But that is the Buddhist existentialism inside of Thief, which is: he lets go of it all in order to advance.
Quentin: Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that, before we get too lost into Thief. I would put it more about the idea that he was untouchable because he was untouchable. The minute that he fell in love, the minute he had something they could take from him, the minute they could put the bite on him, he had to get rid of the kid.
Roger: Suffice it to say, it was such a powerful movie that it affected all of us in such a big way that immediately Michael Mann was, like, the man.
Quentin: He was the man. Absolutely. He was the man.
Roger: Okay. So based on the back of the box, I’m already in 100%. It reminds me of Castle Wolfenstein. I was a Castle Wolfenstein fan, even back then.
Quentin: Well, what’s going on (for the audience), is the fact that in a small village in Romania, all of a sudden the Nazis show up.
Roger: The Carpathian Mountains.
Roger: Alex Thompson shoots the movie. I almost have to say it right away, because the two powerful elements at the top of this movie are Alex Thompson (who is one of my favorite DPs) and Tangerine Dream with that amazing, amazing long lens first shot of those trucks.
Quentin: Oh, absolutely.
Roger: with that incredible score.
Quentin: I’m going to mention, in a bit, when I first saw the movie. I hadn’t seen it since I first saw it at the theaters. As time has gone on, pretty much the only thing I remembered about it was the beginning because the beginning was so impressive and it was so ambitious. I think also in even a small part (as far as me and Roger are concerned), that we love William Friedkin’s Sorcerer so much, and nobody at that time was talking about Sorcerer. So to see a movie rip off Sorcerer—
Roger: Yeah, to set the tone of the film using Sorcerer.
Quentin: It did! It didn’t matter that they’re ripping it off. The fact that Michael Mann knows to rip Sorcerer off, when other people obviously don’t. That, all of a sudden, put it in this other category.
Roger: Then immediately, you’re introduced to the next Praetorian guard of Michael Mann, which is John Box and his beautiful set for this Carpathian village in the mountains, which I believe was done in a quarry or something; in Scotland or Wales, or somewhere. But it’s an absolutely beautiful village. It’s so beautiful. It inspired me to, when I wrote this unproduced screenplay called 99 Days (I think I showed you the script), it was that set that inspired me. I saw that and I had never seen anything like it depicted so beautifully in a movie.
Quentin: So in The Keep, the thing is that the Nazis come in to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and take over this village. They go, “Hey, we need to do some work here. There’s a keep over here. We’re going to make that our home base and everybody just stay the fuck out of our way.”
Roger: Everybody wants to be at the Russian front, for the Big Glory battle. Like, “Oh, we should be at the front. We should be at the front.” Which, I mean, I can’t imagine any soldier actually realistically thinking, “I want to go to the front.”
Quentin: Okay. But their whole reason for saying that it is that the Russian front is just starting. So it’s like, “Oh, in just a matter of moments- Once we bring Russia to its knees,” that’s part of the joke. They’re all like, “We should be wrapping this up within weeks.”
Roger: Yeah, but none of them really want to be there on this detail, just looking at this old pile of stones.
Quentin: When you get into The Keep, you see that it’s seems like hundreds (or at least 100) silver crosses that are built around.
Roger: They’re nickel. They’re described as a nickel, initially.
Quentin: So two German soldiers that are left there during the night go, “Hey, this is this is silver. Let’s steal this shit.” So they start trying to pry off one of the silver things and whatever has been kept in The Keep it, it unleashes it.
Roger: It is, in fact, kind of drawing them to it. It’s revealing this nickel (which has been presented as nickel) as silver and they’re like, [German accents] “It’s silver.” “Yeah, it is silver,” and they start trying to pull it out. In doing so, they end up pulling out a capstone of some kind that reveals this vast, vast, vast, underground, hellish cavern.
Quentin: Yes. Then that ends up killing those two soldiers and now this thing is just killing random German soldiers almost every night. At first the Germans think it’s resistance people, fighting among the Romanians. So they’re threatening them with this and they’re threatening ’em with that.
Roger: He’s supposedly kind of the good Nazi, somebody who would have been in the Navy or something like that.
Quentin: Luftwaffe kind of thing
Roger: A traditional military man. He’s cynical about the-
Quentin: Frankly, to tell you the truth, one of the better things about the movie is while they’re kind of casting him as the good Nazi, he’s not that good. He’s crowing.
Roger: He still believes they’re going to win.
Quentin: Yeah, exactly.
Roger: “We’re still going to be the masters of the world.”
Quentin: “Russia will be nothing.” I mean, when they usually cast the good Nazi, he’s not really down with the cause. This leader guy was down with the cause. But while he’s down with the cause, he’s smart enough to realize, “Okay, look, despite all appearances, it’s obviously not these Romanians. They don’t have the balls to be killing our soldiers.” When they were saying, “We will kill everybody in this village unless you turn over the saboteur,” they would have turned them over at some point, you know? So he knows that’s not the case. But anyway, enough of this shit has happened that now all of a sudden the Gestapo shows up and they are going to get to the bottom of it.
Roger: and we get a little bit of extra juice suddenly, the promise of that opening comes back.
Quentin: Absolutely, and then leading the Gestapo is the best performance in the entire movie. That’s Gabriel Byrne.
Quentin: Leading the Gestapo. I’m not even a Gabriel Byrne fan.
Roger: Me neither, really.
Quentin: But he’s kind of great here.
Roger: He was born to play that part. He looks right in the haircut. He’s got a face that I mean, Gabriel Byrne is-
Quentin: Look, here’s the thing about that I don’t even know if he’s that great in the part. He’s just what the movie needs at that time. He’s a perfect villain at that time.
Roger: He is the villain of the movie.
Roger: The monster is not the villain. He is the villain.
Quentin: And he looks great. Yeah, the monster is strangely a B villain by comparison. He looks great in his Gestapo uniform. That’s all the bad guy side, which is the interesting part of the movie.
Quentin: The completely uninteresting part of the movie is all the good guy stuff, which most unconvincingly deals with Scott Glenn’s magical character. Apparently, he’s an angel, basically. Or he’s the warrior that time has deemed the good one to fight against this evil warrior. If the evil thing in The Keep is ever released.
Roger: Time is a good thing to denote that because his name is Glocken, which in German implies a kind of clock like regularity.
Quentin: Whatever this is, that’s being held; this horrible evil that’s been held in The Keep for hundreds of years. Once it’s been released, even though we don’t quite know what it is, all of a sudden 100 miles away, Scott Glenn just materializes.
Roger: He kind of wakes up.
Quentin: It’s almost like there’s a hotel room and he’s just all of a sudden there.
Roger: Dressed as a sailor.
Quentin: So he’s got his journey.
Roger: With the box.
Quentin: Don’t even go into the box. It’s not worth talking about.
Roger: It is worth talking about. We’re going to talk about the fucking box.
Quentin: I will let you talk about it
Roger: The box is a cool thing until it just holds a pole. So you could have just gotten one of those in the Carpathian Village.
Quentin: Now, look, I am not a fan of the Scott Glenn stuff, but the Scott Glenn stuff is good by comparison to the Ian McKellen stuff.
Roger: And he is actually highly effective looking, he looks angelic. His eyes (and they must have contacts in them or something) have a kind of ethereal-
Quentin: I think he looks weird. I think that makes him look weird.
Roger: Angels are weird looking. What I don’t like, is whenever they try to up the ante; because it’s enough that Scott Glenn is there and he looks at maybe a woman or something and she looks at him and is taken. But instead, they’re constantly trying to push this rotoscope effect over his eyes. You don’t need to do that. He looks weird enough.
Roger: You don’t need to push the effect.
Quentin: He looks like fucking Sub-Mariner.
Roger: Effects are one of the problems with this movie, and it may not be the fault of anybody because Wally Veevers, the VFX supervisor on the film, died right after production was complete and apparently nobody knew how to complete what had been planned. So there was a lot of reshooting, I’m told. Then Alex Thompson moved on to do other things and so many of the reshoots were done by a different DP, which is why the interiors look so bleak and dark and really hard to see things in. Alex Thompson is one of my favorite DPs, and for the movie to suddenly get murky and weirdly well with odd lighting sources.
Quentin: Well, you’re bringing it up as if odd lighting sources develop in the last 45 minutes. The whole film is set up with that: there’s no structure at all, for where this light is coming from. Not only that, they even have that one light that they put every actor to stand in.
Roger: “Stand in this light. Stand in the way of it, we’re going to be lighting you weird.”
Quentin: Juergen sits in it and then when Gabriel Byrne shows up, he sits in it. He has a scene, almost as if just to sit in the light.
Roger: Yeah, he has to find its light.
Quentin: But where the film I think really goes bad is all the stuff that deals with the villagers, because the minute that Robert Prosky (who plays the priest in the village) shows up
Roger: As the orthodox priest, like a Catholic priest.
Quentin: Looking like Leo McCarren, with a phony brown wig and a phony brown beard. Whatever reality you had about the Nazis coming into the village and taking it over is destroyed. Then they start talking and you don’t buy the way the villagers speak, or the way they talk.
Roger: And they don’t really ever design a life in that village, either.
Quentin: No. You buy the Nazis. You just don’t buy-
Roger: Gabriel Byrne is so convincing and so commanding in his performance and they have all these…
Quentin: It’s actually one of the big problems with a lot of World War Two movies, is when they have these little villages. Because they spend time on the tanks and doing this and doing that, but they don’t spend time on those villages. So every place just seems like they’re taking over Brigadoon with crappy extras hanging around. So the thing is, in Dachau, they have a medieval professor played by Ian McKellen and his daughter, who are the ones that know what’s going on as far as The Keep is concerned. So when the Gestapo is demanding, “We need to know things,” he goes, “Well, the two people that know about The Keep are world experts, you have them in Dachau. If you send them over here, they can straighten this out.” So they send them over there.
Roger: By a teleportation device. Yeah, they’re there, like, that.
Quentin: And Ian McKellen gives what has to be the worst performance of his career.
Roger: It’s almost like he’s doing Jimmy Stewart and the makeup isn’t helping. The wig, or the hairpiece or whatever, isn’t helping.
Quentin: Frankly, who he looks like and sounds like is the old gray doctor in the wheelchair that’s in Rocky Horror Picture Show. I mean, even the wig looks too similar. He’s this doddering old guy, and he’s using this horrible voice. I mean, one: it’s an American accent that’s horrible, but it’s also a horrible old man American accent.
Roger: [impression of character] he’s kind of talking a little bit like this
Quentin: Well, that sounds better than when he was doing.
Roger: It’s kind of like a Jimmy Stewart.
Quentin: No, literally, it’s like a bad community theater production. Even the wig, the whole look, looks like a bad community theater production. So basically Ian McKellen starts investigating, and then this powerful being that has been let loose presents itself to Ian McKellen. This whole keep was built 200 years ago, or a thousand years ago or however long it was built, to keep this thing from getting out of hell and ruling the world.
Roger: That sounds like Castle Wolfenstein. I’m in! On that alone.
Quentin: Yeah, and so then Ian McKellen ends up having this conversation with the creature. He’s telling the creature about the Nazis out there and he’s like [monster voice] “How dare they do this to my people? I will destroy them. But first you have to let me get out of here. But then I will destroy them.”
Roger: And you were speaking as the monster there?
Quentin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes.
Roger: Because it was more like, [deeper monster voice] “What have they done with my people?” It was much more like- You sounded a little bit like Ian McClellan.
Quentin: Yeah I probably did.
Roger: When I saw this film, I took a bunch of my friends from college. “We’re going to see Michael Mann. It’s totally cool.” We’re seeing it and it starts off well enough, and then it starts getting a little muddled and confused and by the time those guys, those two German soldiers, are trying to pry the silver cross out of it-
Quentin: When still it’s good.
Roger: Well, it’s still good. But like, at this point, suddenly the music goes over the top and suddenly he’s shooting everything in such a highly stylized way that it removes you from any kind of reality that has been established beforehand. One of the problems with this movie is the reality of the film is a little clumsy. It takes big jumps in time. The creature is designed by Inky Bilal, the French comic book artist. I’ve also heard that Michael Mann was changing his mind about what the thing should look like.
Quentin: It looks like a cross between Bella in Basket Case and that weird puppet from Jim Henson when The Muppets used to be on Saturday Night Live. They had that one big stone statue that would talk every once in a while. But it looks like that, too.
Quentin : He looks like a fucking Muppet.
Roger: Suffice it to say, everything comes together and then we’re introduced to the logic of the movie. This is where I really started breaking it down, because it just felt like they were making it up as they went along at this point; which I kind of think they might have been. There’s this amulet that’s holding the monster in the cave, and the monster needs a human servant which is going to be the doctor. They’re sort of a confederate, because the monster (or the creature) is supposedly some kind of-
Quentin: “If you let me out of here, you wipe out the Nazis.”
Roger: Ancient Judaic demon of some kind.
Quentin: Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s the part that works and what damns the part that doesn’t work; is the fact that the monster actually is a golem.
Roger: He gives himself in to the golem.
Quentin: Which makes it sound like the Ian McKellen character should be more of a rabbi than this scientist guy.
Roger: Well, and it would make a lot more sense because when you go back to Rabbi Lowe, who was the one with the original Golem, pulling the shem out of the mouth. I had a problem, originally, with the- I’m just going to say the ending of the movie. So fast forward if you don’t want to hear it. Ian McKellen has a change of heart, and I just didn’t buy his change of heart. The Golem is used to basically protect the Jews from the anti-Semitism of the Holy Roman Empire at that time, or whoever who was running everything. When he sees the Gollum growing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger, he realizes it will grow so big that it will overwhelm the world if he put a stop to it. So he pulls the shem out of its mouth, which is the magical name of God written on a cloth or paper, and that ceases it and it turns to dust. I think what he’s trying to do, is he’s trying to kind of mirror this choice, but it’s done in a very clumsy way. I love Michael Mann, but frankly-
Quentin: it’s done in that bad action movie way; where everything’s being said while the wind machines are blowing and the special effects are going.
Roger: and the music is so hot that you can’t hear anything that’s going on.
Quentin: Everyone’s talking and has to scream over the wind machines.
Roger: It’s a cacophony.
Quentin: It might as well be National Treasure.
Roger: I love Michael Mann. I think he’s one of the last great users of cinematic vocabulary. I think his work in The Insider and Manhunter is like- You know how much I love a lot of his work. This was crushing because I took all my friends to go see this.
Quentin: To even say the name The Insider in the same sentence as this movie just shows the dichotomy. It’s almost seems sacrilegious, to bring up a real movie like The Insider in comparison to The Keep.
Roger: Michael Mann ends this movie at a point when you’re just like, “What the fuck am I looking at?” Boom! A film by Michael Mann, and he just doubles down on ownership.
Quentin: Yeah. Oh, he does that. Yeah.
Roger: He proudly takes ownership of what he’s just done.
Quentin: And when his name appears, it drew guffaws from us. We laughed.
Roger: We did. But I thought about it later, and there’s something about owning your embarrassment. Owning it as much as you own your success. You may not have experienced embarrassment with your work. I have. I’ve experienced a particularly tough production where everything went wrong. A few things went right, but most everything was just a disaster. You come out of it and you’re like, “What the fuck?” And at a certain point-
Quentin: And that movie was Pulp Fiction. [they both laugh]
Roger: No, it was actually a TV pilot I did called Mr. Stitch. It was such a painful experience for me, at the end. After I had made it, it was my monster. I was embarrassed of it. It wasn’t at all, anything even close, to what I wanted it to be because and all I could see was the terrible production and it hurt so bad that it even existed. Then several years later, I bumped into another filmmaker friend of mine, Christoph Ganz the guy who did Brotherhood of the Wolf. He did a little Lovecraft movie at one point, and he said, “Oh, it’s an embarrassment. You have to own it. You have to treasure it.” So ever since then, I’ve just treasured it. It’s my child. It’s a little bit of a weirdo. I am maybe the only person who loves it, but I do love it. There’s something about Michael Mann just accepting ownership, because we know that this movie was a troubled production.
Quentin: When we got through watching it, I just said outright, “That was a fucking fiasco.”
Roger: Yeah, and it was.
Quentin: It’s a fiasco, but it wasn’t entertaining. What was fascinating about it, is to see a guy who has become one of cinema’s great stylists trying to be a great stylist before he knows his shit. Now, he was able to pull it off- If you ask me, Michael Mann only works when he’s dealing with the 20th century.
Roger: His style is very well suited for our modern times.
Quentin: I think there’s a particularly just something about Michael Mann doing crime stories. I think that there’s something a little lost, when he’s not doing a crime story, with the exception of The Insider which they try to make as much like a crime story as they possibly can. It’s even insinuated that there’s assassins after Russell Crowe, at some moment.
Roger: I absolutely love the cinematic language that he’s using, inside of The Insider. That’s actually one of the reasons- He’s almost like Douglas Sirk in that movie. There’s a moment where Russell Crowe is looking out at the sea and he’s trying to decide what to do with his future.
Quentin: Looking out of the sea, The Michael Mann shot.
Roger: The classic Michael Mann.
Quentin: The wall of glass behind you that has a beach going on. Doesn’t matter if you’re a regular cop, you can afford a house on the beach with a wall of glass.
Roger: Well, he’s standing on the beach and there’s a single line of the horizon with blue and blue, and it’s just that and you see him in the extreme foreground. You’re looking a little bit behind his ear, looking at it. Then suddenly Al Pacino approaches him from behind, “Hey, you’re ready to go?” And he turns to look at Al Pacino, who’s behind him, and the camera pans with him. It pans to see what’s just to his left, which is all these police cars and flashing lights. He’s supposed to go in to the courtroom or whatever he’s supposed to do.
It’s abject chaos, it’s a beautiful moment. And when he finally cuts away, before we know what he’s going to do, is he going to testify or not testify? He cuts back to this wide shot and it shows Russell Crowe on one side of the frame and Al Pacino on the other and this palm tree, just cutting the frame in half that is showing their division. Michael Mann, at this point in his career, is commanding of cinematic vocabulary. He’s using a grammar and a vernacular. He’s one of my very favorite stylists.
Quentin: And that is why this ultimately ends up being interesting, because frankly, it’s interesting to see a great cinema stylist before he was that good. He’s not in control of his style. He’s constantly lost and when he’s lost, he goes to slow motion. When he’s lost, he throws in more smoke.
Quentin: When he’s lost, he cranks up the music.
Roger: But you know what we can thank The Keep for? Perhaps because of the experience, perhaps because of the reception of The Keep, he retreated into television and did Miami Vice, which absolutely altered culture in a massive way. It defined, rather, culture.
Quentin: It did. Speaking of which, Band of the Hand is far better than The Keep.
Roger: You were a huge fan of Band of the Hand. I remember when Band of the Hand was in the store, you were pushing that film like nobody’s business.
Quentin: Well, I like the opening credits. The opening credits with the Bob Dylan song was pretty cool.
Roger: I think Cat Squad. Didn’t we also have that in the store?
Quentin: Yeah. Okay, well, Cat Squad is waaaaaaaaaaay better than The Keep. Cat Squad is just good, it’s one of Friedkin’s best things of the eighties, the first one.
Roger: You love Cat Squad.
Quentin: I happen to have, in my possession here, the December 1983 issue of Film Comment, which has an interview with Michael Mann talking about The Keep. It’s written by Harlan Kennedy. Now, I actually remember reading this when it came out. This is the part that stayed in my mind and when I read it again, it was the part that jumped out at me again as well. It’s not particularly about The Keep, but the interviewer asked him, “How important to you is the use of the widescreen?” Michael Mann replies, “Very. It’s important to me for two reasons: one, because this is an expressionistic movie that intends to sweep its audience away. Be very big. To have them transport themselves into this dream reality. So they’re in those landscapes, they’re with the characters. You can’t sweep people away in 185 and mono. Also, I’m not just interested in passive filmmaking; in a film that’s precious and small and where it’s up to the audience to bring themselves to the movie. I want to bombard an audience, a very active, aggressive type of seduction. I want to manipulate an audience’s feelings for the same reason that composers write symphonies.”
Roger: That could never be done in 185.
Quentin: Yeah, well. That can be done in 185. It can be done in 133, if you want to.
Roger: Just sayin’
Quentin: Nevertheless, I appreciate this. I’m going to read that last part again. “I want to manipulate an audience’s feelings for the same reasons that composers writes symphonies.” The guy follows it up. “Well, what are your feelings about ultimately seeing this big screen film on television and videocassette with the sides cropped off? Are you pushing your compositions towards the middle of the screen?” “No. Whatever happens to it when it goes on television or video, that’s the breaks. I can’t do anything about that, but I can do everything about the cinema experience, which for me is obviously primary. So the shots are composed for the big screen and the film is designed to be effective for theatrical audiences. And if it does that job, then it’s going to do well on TV.”
Quentin: And I remember that. I remember that like it was yesterday, reading that in 1983.
Roger: What’s amazing is hearing a guy who’s so powerful with the small screen at his young age, in his sophomore effort,
Quentin: He’ll be embracing this philosophy in about a year from now. It’s about a year and a half away from Miami Vice, which is where he really makes this claim.
Roger: He’s still full of the pretension of-
Quentin: That’s right on, that’s not pretension. That’s a mission statement. The one last thing I got to say about The Keep, that I want to say about it. But maybe one of the weird things that I think there’s a connection to my work. For whatever reason, I didn’t see The Keep when it first opened. I saw it (I think) at the world cinema and naturally I thought the whole first 15 minutes, when the Nazis take over the village and all the sorcerer referencing and the Tangerine Dream score and grilles of trucks and tires splashing through mud in the rain, a Nazi sitting behind-
Roger: The texture of the film.
Quentin: Nazis sitting behind dirty windshields. It was fucking amazing, incredible.
Roger: The incredible long lens tilt that occurs at the beginning and then lands perfectly at those trucks that are miles away.
Quentin: That tilt shot is amazing.
Roger: It’s just simply stunning.
Quentin: So you have all that. But then it has the scene when evil incarnate is having his big scene with Ian McKellen and then he has that moment. “Well you know the Nazis are exterminating the Jews.” [monster voice] “There are?! Who dares do this to my people?! I will destroy them!” And I’m like, yes, that’s exactly what we want. Well, that was exciting. I couldn’t wait for that to happen.
Roger: That was the interesting dynamic of the movie.
Quentin: And then naturally, that never happens, of course it never happens. That’s a real movie. That would be fantastic, but that never happens. But the effect of that and then just the little movie you make in your mind of what that would be, was not lost on me for Inglourious Basterds. From the moment I saw that scene, a little seed was put in me that someday I should make a movie that delivers on that scene, and I did.
Roger: Hey, did you know that Mayfair Games made a board game out of this?
Quentin: No, I didn’t.
Roger: I found that out. I thought you should know that because we should try to track that down.
Quentin: Yes, because I collect board games that have to do with movies and TV shows. Okay. Despite everything I said here, I would happily play a The Keep board game. In fact, I daresay it’ll definitely be more entertaining than the movie.
Roger: We’re going to find out.
Quentin: But at the end of the day. The Keep was a fiasco
Roger: Yeah. I wonder how present-day audiences would feel about it. Let’s find out.
Quentin: Well, let’s find out.
Gala: Hi, Quentin. Hi, Roger.
Gala: So I watched this movie with my mom on a “girl’s chick flick” night, and we had so much fun. We actually really liked it. This movie was originally, extremely long.
Roger: Yeah, it was like three and a half or four hours long.
Gala: The version that is available is 96 minutes, so you can only imagine how much has cut out of this movie. Now, everyone at this table, I’m sure, has though of this.
Quentin: 105 minutes that says on the box.
Gala: I have a 96 minute version that I watched. So maybe I watched a slightly different version of it.
Quentin: Oh, wow. Wow.
Roger: They’re still cutting it.
Quentin: Jesus Christ.
Gala: So Quentin’s version on VHS is longer.
Quentin: Believe me, I wish my version was 96 minutes.
Gala: I’m sure everyone at this table has fought against a producer at one point in time to try to save something important in your movie. So I can only imagine Michael Mann having to cut down his film to 100 minutes. But you know what? At 96 minutes, how I watched it, this movie’s made for me. I love 90 minute movies.
Quentin: Gala will fight me if I try to put on a hundred minute movie. She’s like, “Don’t you have any 90 minute movies we can watch?”
Gala: Listen if it’s Budd Boetticher in 70 minutes, I’m in. If it’s like 121 minutes, I don’t know if I got time for that. But I love this movie, it’s fun. I don’t really care if the rules make sense or not because I’m not here for that.
Quentin: That’s my least problem.
Roger: That’s my biggest problem. When Scott Glenn goes into the cavern, the whole premise of it is that pole in the box is meant to hold the flashlight, which is the amulet. Yeah, but was he supposed to actually go into the very bottom of that thing to retrieve it and then fight the creature with it?
Quentin: I actually kind of like that because that just shows what a piece of shit we’ve been watching all along.
Roger: It’s the reveal.
Gala: Roger, it’s really funny you say that, though, because you always
Roger: Oh me?
Gala: That’s right, I’m going to call you out because it’s really funny. You always tell me that logic in a movie and plot doesn’t matter as long as there’s story, as long as it’s interesting.
Roger: As long as it’s interesting.
Gala: I’m having fun. I’m watching the entire time. My mom is actually watching the entire time. So yeah, I had fun. I liked the atmosphere of the movie.
Roger: So when the sex scene happened, it was chick flick time, you guys were together.
Gala: My mom and I actually thought that was a very tasteful sex scene.
Roger: I went with my college friends and, like, suddenly the movie went haywire with music, and it was suddenly a Who concert or something
Quentin: Tasteful is not what I’m looking for in a sex scene, alright.
Gala: Maybe you’re not watching a movie with your mom, Quentin.
Quentin: That’s true. Okay. But all the jazzercise angles that they keep doing as they’re going at it.
Gala: Quentin, there are 108 crosses in the film. 108 is a spiritual number, it’s also the amount of stitches on a baseball.
Quentin: [surprised] Oh.
Gala: It is the japamala Buddhist Hindu prayer beads. The number itself is all about attaining a goal. There’s only one thing I don’t like in the movie. There’s a few things I like: I love Gabriel Byrne. I think he’s really sexy in this, I hate to admit that. But I think he’s really sexy.
Roger: You think the Nazi is sexy?
Quentin: Not that she thinks Gabriel Byrne is sexy
Roger: He’s Irish. You think the Irishman is sexy.
Gala: I don’t think the other guy’s very sexy, but his line: “There are only two doors. One in, one out. And the one out is a chimney,” is such a chilling line that you know that he is the villain of the movie.
Roger: Oh he is in the right movie, and he’s not given a proper villain’s death. He just kind of dies.
Quentin: It’s the muddled-ness of the movie. The movie obviously thinks that the creature is its A villain, and Gabriel Byrne is its B villain. But us as the viewer-
Roger: We want the creature to be killing Nazis.
Quentin: The creature is barely registering. It’s Gabriel Byrne who is the villain and the best performance in the whole movie. So he’s the only one we’re really, truly following.
Gala: But the only thing I really did not like in this movie was the relationship between Ian McKellan and his daughter. It was really creepy. I don’t know how to describe it, but the way that they were touching each other and like how he rubs her back when they hug each other, reminds me of when she’s having sex with Glocken. I can’t describe it.
Quentin: They almost are going to die, I mean…
Gala: There are scenes, though, where they’re not almost going to die. They’re fine. He’s rejuvenated himself and he’s in The Keep and whatever. I mean, yes, he’s going to maybe die eventually. Everyone dies. But that was just the only uncomfortable part of the movie. Besides that, I love the movie. But, yeah, I picked mine up for $40, it’s a Paramount VHS.
Quentin: I think we get the same one.
Gala: Yeah, we have the exact same one.
Quentin: Oh good. [laughing]
Gala: Video Archives picked up theirs for $69, and anyone out there in podcastland: you can find this movie all over. It is everywhere. Except if you watch on Amazon, the quality of black is terrible.
Roger: And by the way, that quality of those blacks were shot by another DP other than Alex Thompson. Just a reminder.
Quentin: And that is The Keep, and now we’re on to the second film.
Roger: And it is 1997’s, The Relic; directed by Peter Hyams
Quentin: The Great Peter Hyams.
Roger: The “I Do It All” Peter Hyams.
clip from trailer for The Relic: From the producer of Aliens and Terminator 2 “33% homosapien” “Part human?” “What are you talking about?” “The gradual extinction of the human race.” The Relic, rated R. Starts Friday, January 10th.
ad copy: The Relic, with co-hit The Keep, will be playing August 27th and 28th on glorious 35 millimeter film at the New Beverly Cinema. 7165 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. For further information, go to the NewBev.com. The New Beverly Cinema: always on film.
Roger: This tape that we, watched that Quentin and I watched, was released on Paramount Home video.
Quentin: Our second Paramount Home video in a row.
Roger: “It is an out of your seat suspense thriller. Don’t miss it,” says Jim Ferguson of something I’ve never heard of called Preview Central. [reading the box] “Come in, if you dare. The opening night gala for a new exhibit at Chicago’s Natural History Museum is underway. But be advised: something terrifying wants to make sure no one ever leaves. Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore, star in this effect packed thriller/shocker that gives haunted house movies a terrific new setting. And the non-human star, brought to head ripping life by Jurassic Park Oscar winner Stan Winston, is something no creature fan can let slip by.” And then there’s a number of quotes on the back of here. “The creature can hold its own with Alien” writes Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel.
Quentin: Okay. That’s going too far. Drastically too far.
Roger: Holds its own. Does it? Does it really, Gene?
Quentin: Sorry, Gene. Well, it’s beyond the pale.
Roger: He doubled down and said, “When the last reel begins, the special effect is truly awesome. Let the panic begin, a thrill ride.”
Quentin: We like this movie and we don’t agree with that. Especially the last reel.
Roger: Had you seen this movie? You had seen this movie before, right?
Quentin: I’d seen it before. I saw when it came out.
Roger: Where did you see it?
Quentin: Where did I see it? Uh, I think I saw it at The Galaxy.
Roger: Yeah, that makes sense.
Quentin: Yeah, it sounds like a Galaxy movie. I think I saw it at the Galaxy. Then we screened it at the New Beverly, so I got a copy of the print, and I just screamed at myself, “Wow, this is a lot better than I remember it being. This is pretty god damn good.” So that was about six years ago. So I hadn’t seen it in about six years. So this is like my third time seeing it. The thing that’s crazy about it is, to describe the plot would sound just exactly like The Keep.
Roger: But worse.
Quentin: It’s The Keep without Nazis.
Roger: In a museum.
Quentin: What’s good about both of them, are on the two opposite ends of the spectrum. What’s good about The Keep is Michael Mann’s ambition. Now he’s not able to fulfill his ambition, but the film is just full of ambition. We watch that horrible-
Roger: The promise is there.
Quentin: We watched that horrible Leviathan the other day, which we were hoping we were going to really like. It was terrible
Roger: It actually started giving me bad feelings about other movies.
Quentin: No, we watched it right after The Relic and it actually tainted The Relic. Wish I hadn’t watched it there, but then you ask the question, “Okay, well, which is better? The Keep or Leviathan?” The Keep is drastically better! There’s no comparison, because Michael Mann is trying to do something. Now, what makes the Relic interesting is, frankly, it’s lack of ambition. What’s neat about it is that all the studios, part of their schedule that they do every year (at least back then), they would make two to six horror movies. It would be cheap movies for them, but they would look pretty good, especially compared to the straight to video junk that’s out there.
Roger: The only analog today is Blumhouse and those are just so cheap that they don’t have the high quality production value of something like The Relic or The Keep.
Quentin: And the thing about it is that the studios will make these; they’re not going to win Oscars for this, but they figure that they’ll make a monster movie or they’ll make a devil movie or make a supernatural horror film. They’ll pick a week where there’s not a whole lot going on, and then they release it, and then maybe it wins the weekend and then it does okay the next week, and then after that it’s done. Now, you would just send it out on on DVD and sell it to the theaters.
Roger: As part of that year’s slate.
Quentin: Yeah, and it’s done by the studio to just service an audience and make some quick cash. So that’s what The Relic is. Now, they’ve got Gale Anne Hurd producing it and they’ve got Peter Hyams directing it. Now, Peter Hyams had been around for a long time, but he’d kind of worked his way down.
Roger: Yeah, he starts off as a writer with Telefon, right? With Charles Bronson, and then Capricorn One. When I was a kid, Capricorn One was this amazing film and then it was like, boom, this guy was a studio guy, who would come in and give you a really good-
Quentin: I think Peter Hyams, in the seventies and eighties, is one of the most underrated action directors. He does action set pieces that are just fantastic, he’s done some movies that-
Roger: They’re always derivative, a little bit.
Quentin: – don’t work. Like, The Presidio doesn’t work at all. But something like the-
Roger: Running Scared?
Quentin: The Narrow Margin. The Narrow Margin is terrific, I forgot how good that was until I saw it again. But by the end of the nineties, he had just done Time Cop and Sudden Death. Again, Sudden Death is pretty good too.
Roger: Maybe Sudden Death was right before this one.
Quentin: Yeah, I think Sudden Death was right before this, and that’s a really good one. Sudden Death definitely came after Time Cop, and Sudden Death is a really good Die Hard rip-off. Peter Hyams and Gale Ann Hurd are just too good for this project. They just really outclassed this project. This is the kind of film that a Rupert Wainwright would normally be directing, or a Deran Sarafian would be directing. That’s the kind of people you would imagine; or Steven Hopkins or somebody would be directing.
When you get Peter Hyams doing a silly little monster movie with not even a B-level cast, a C-level cast. There are some things I don’t like about it, but it’s a hell of a fun monster movie. It’s basically a monster movie, and the back of the box is right. Everything is all worked around the the museum, but that really works. Frankly, the two lead actors in the film, Penelope Anne Miller and Tom Sizemore, I don’t think they’ve ever been better. Now, I actually really like Penelope Anne Miller in her little bit in Biloxi Blues.
Roger: I loved her in this movie. I thought she was totally charming in the film.
Quentin: I think she’s fantastic in the movie. I think she’s a wonderful lead and I think Sizemore, who I normally always bored by, he’s terrific in it.
Roger: Yeah, and he has the thankless job of pushing the exposition forward.
Quentin: But he does a good job with it, actually.
Roger: Completely. He makes it listenable and fun.
Quentin: Yeah. I mean, the way he barks orders out. His performance is one of the few times that I buy the cop in the monster movie as a real cop.
Roger: Yeah, he actually feels authentic.
Quentin: No, he should be starring in a Law and Order fucking spinoff or something. It just goes to show what a good atmospheric genre director that Peter Hyams is; that he can make a monster movie that’s as fun as The Relic with not that great of a monster. The first half of the movie doesn’t show the monster enough. We kind of want to have more of a relationship with the monster, so it means more to us, he saves it for a bigger reveal. I think that was a mistake. Nevertheless, I’m really enjoying it. I just think I would like them to have personalized the monster a little bit more. Then they show us the monster, too much, and now I don’t like the monster.
Roger: It’s some kind of chimera thing with an alligator body, multiple legs. It’s a rat, it’s a spider, it’s this it’s that
Quentin: I liked the first introduction of it because it’s obviously a puppet. It’s obviously a physical thing that they filmed
Roger: There’s a bunch of people inside of that latex.
Quentin: But pretty quickly it becomes a CGI that has the physiology of a shaggy dog. It has a physicality of a big galloping dog but with a vagina meets predator mouth. They always have this thing where the whole mouth opens up on every side and looks like a cross between a flower and a vagina. And an asshole, all combined.
Roger: And I’m sure that that was exactly the thought when they designed it.
Quentin: When it comes to monster movies, how the monster got there or who the monster is or how the monster was generated or whatever. I’m pretty easy, you don’t need to really sell me on that much.
Roger: Keep it simple.
Quentin: I mean, if all of a sudden, there was just a beast in a box that they opened up. I’m okay with that. I don’t need a whole lot of shit explained. Now, they explain a bunch of stuff that if you take their explanation all the way, it doesn’t add anything to the movie. It’s just confusing.
Roger: Nor does the setup work, at all.
Quentin: It doesn’t, really. The setup really doesn’t work, and then even the whole concept of the creature is this one guy that used to be the explorer. Also in the insinuation that Penelope Ann Miller once had a relationship with him-
Roger: Which is very obliquely delivered.
Quentin: So completely obliquely that it’s like- But then in the last 20 minutes, they hit on it a couple of times without ever saying it. But that’s meant to be evoked. Didn’t need it, didn’t want it. Literally the simplest explanation of the monster would suffice for me, and then I wouldn’t have asked any more question.
Roger: Well, here’s what I was able to get from it, because the beginning of the movie is really wonky with its mechanics; of the explorer guy who sort of like William Hurt in Altered States. He’s down in South America somewhere.
Quentin: Peru, or something, yeah.
Roger: He’s searching for something. He’s taken something weird. He flips out just like William Hurt does in Altered States. Cut to a ship at the docks in Chile, or wherever this was, and he’s running around the docks trying to stop them from sending whatever he’s collected to the new world.
Quentin: Wherever he’s found. Yeah.
Roger: Okay, so already I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, something’s missing. Like, a scene is missing or something is missing.” He gets on the ship, supposedly to find the stuff, to get rid of it. Then we are next shown, story wise and cinematically, the stuff has been left on the docks. He got on the ship unnecessarily. But then we get to Chicago, and they’re unloading stuff. They’ve unloaded it. Nothing makes. The rules don’t make sense.
Quentin: Look, they look, they try to: there’s a time when the cops are talking and they go, “Wait a minute. So this tunnel goes all the way from the pier?”
Roger: They’re coming up with cockamamie, ridiculous things and this movie has tech credits up the wazoo. This is a professional Hollywood production where everybody is doing their job to the best of their ability on a big programmer, which is effectively what it is. But the people who are failing at this point are the story executives, the executives on the film who are developing the screenplay.
Quentin: And there’s 4 writers on this damn thing.
Roger: Four? I thought maybe 6. There were a bunch of writers, and it shows because it looks like people were just flying in ideas as they went. Then you’ve got a kind of derivative director who has no problem making Running Scared, for example, as a derivative film or anything like that. He’s got no problem with that. He’s just taken whatever, so by the end of the movie; when it is both Alien and Terminator and bits of The Thing, everything is suddenly being thrown in.
Quentin: Well, I mean, that’s the thing about the very end is that the end is basically just the end of Aliens. Well, I guess if you’re Gale Ann Herd, I guess if you just want to do the end of Aliens again, you go for it.
Quentin: “Everybody else in the world has ripped off my movie, why don’t I?”
Roger: We know that Peter Hyams doesn’t care. He’s like, “Great, let’s do it. I’m going to try to do it better.”
Quentin: Oddly enough, the similarity of it to Aliens actually made it work a little bit more for me because I knew what they were trying to do. When she does actually hop into the elevator, just as everything goes to hell, I knew what the plan was because I’d seen Aliens.
Roger: You knew the territory.
Quentin: Yeah, I knew. I knew where I was going on.
Roger: We both enjoyed this movie. Here we are kind of ripping it part, but we enjoyed it. But that’s because this movie didn’t really take itself seriously like The Keep did.
Roger: The Keep has this kind of pretension to it, almost. While this has no pretension. The only pretension in this is, “What are we going to do that’s going to sell the weekend? What does the audience want right now? It doesn’t matter what happens in the script before, what do they want now?”
Quentin: Now, frankly, to tell you the truth, when it comes to a slasher film or a monster movie, I don’t need any more than that. Just give me a good one.
Roger: It’s beautifully shot, by the way.
Quentin: Yes! And he’s his own cinematographer.
Roger: He’s very, very good cinematographer.
Quentin: He makes the museum come to life. Even that whole little exhibition that it has, of weird superstition things-
Roger: He knows how to bring scale.
Quentin: -where you have to walk under a series of ladders to get into it.
Roger: It’s written in Latin, like, “Abandon hope all, ye who enter.”
Quentin: That’s actually really clever. I would go to that. I would go to a museum that had that show.
Roger: They actually shot at the actual Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.
Quentin: One of the really entertaining parts of the whole third act of the film is when it’s the opening night of the exhibit and all the hoi poll oi of Chicago is there, including the mayor and the mayor’s wife. They’re all there. It’s all set up for the creature to come out and just jump in the party and eat a couple of people and send everybody running. That doesn’t exactly happen, but the bodies that the creature has already eaten and stored away become revealed.
Then it just becomes this massive exodus to get out of the building. That’s one of the better directed sequences in the whole film, is this mass exodus and the whole crowd just going apeshit. But one thing that’s actually funny is that the crowd does more damage. The monster’s not even there and the crowd is just doing tremendous damage.
Roger: People just go crazy, running through windows.
Quentin: Rushing through windows, trampling over people and it’s really well done. It’s really well staged. It’s also very funny, it’s a real crack up. It’s a really entertaining sequence. Now, that leads to one of my problems that I have with the whole third act: I think they make a terrible error. They make a miscalculation, because the people are trying to get outside and then they’ve shut the metal doors that lock the big doors.
Roger: The museum has metal doors, like the Star Trek Enterprise has for when the warp core is about to breach
Quentin: It’s supposed to be that the Hope Diamond is in there, or something. They’ve got to have a full on thing, so it becomes its own keep when the metal doors slam shut. Now, Tom Sizemore is not even there. He’s somewhere else in the museum, and James Whitmore and Penelope Ann Miller are somewhere else in the bowels of the building doing something else. What they do in the movie is that the place shuts down and then like half the people get out and the other half of the people, including the mayor, are stuck in the museum. Then they kind of have to split the movie up between this one cop, who is Tom Sizemore’s partner, who’s got to lead the survivors out of the place by going down into the sewers.
Then Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller teaming up to finally destroy this creature. They kick themselves in the shins when they do that, because they should have just let everybody get out and everybody’s out and then it now it just becomes our heroes. Who we like.
Roger: Keep it simple.
Quentin: Yeah, just them trying to make their bombs and stop the creature from doing what it’s doing. By having to follow these other characters as they go on their trip, it just keeps taking the piss out of itself.
Roger: Well, I’m sure Peter Hyams is just looking at his writers and saying, “Look, there’s five of you and Gail. You guys solve the story problems. I’m busy shooting. I’m doing it all right now. Solve the problems for me.” But I don’t think anybody is.
Quentin: I don’t think they are either. Look, all these problems are legit. But when I watched the movie, I had a really good time. Like I said, it’s the over qualification of Peter Hyams on this puny little movie. But this puny little movie done with all the gloss of a Paramount film. The one thing that I will add to the film, that I actually think completely works, (and not only does it completely work, is now almost the thing that I find the most charming about the movie) is the relationship between Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore’s character. Through the first half of the film, she’s just pissed off. She might be losing her grant, she’s just in a bad situation to some degree or another. They’re busting her balls.
Roger: That guy should get the grant, Dr. Lee.
Roger: Yeah, Dr. Lee should be getting the grant.
Quentin: Now, one of the things that’s actually really interesting in the movie; they try to make this comic villain out of her big rival at the museum, because he might get the grant that she’s- He already has a grant, but he might get her grant as well.
Roger: He’s this smarmy, super smart guy. She actually even goes to him for help.
Quentin: Yeah. She’s so nervous about him getting the grant, it’s obvious that she knows he’s better than her. So the grant is actually up for grabs, right? You know, she could be out of work.
Roger: And he’s more of a hustler. She’s doing other things.
Quentin: Later in the movie, they actually have him do something really, really shitty to her, and I wish they hadn’t done that.
Roger: Yeah, I thought that was a betrayal.
Quentin: I thought it was a betrayal, too, because I like the fact that she treats him like a comic villain, but we don’t necessarily look at him that way. He hasn’t done anything, necessarily villainous.
Roger: There’s that moment, where she’s looking at the DNA numbers and everything and she’s trying to figure it out and she goes to him and says, “Do you see something weird about this?” And he looks at it and he immediately sees what’s going on and tells her, “Oh, well, you have a mistake in your testing because this has got too many different strains of DNA.”
Quentin: Yeah, I think it would have actually had more meaning in the character if he wasn’t made an easy villain. If his villainy just came out of her own insecurity.
Roger: If he had then used his expertise to then help, he could have still been killed.
Quentin: He doesn’t even have to be friendly. He just doesn’t have to do some major league villain thing.
Roger: I was definitely not celebrating his death when it came.
Quentin: Yeah, by that point they had thrown away his character when they did that, so I didn’t care. But Tom Sizemore comes in the movie totally on the job. He is there to solve this murder that’s happened. He’s there to solve it and see if this crazy murderer is still hanging around the museum. She doesn’t give a fuck about him. It’s all just a pain in the ass. She doesn’t want to have to deal with him. She’s pretty dismissive of him, but in a realistic way. She can’t be really dismissive of him. He’s a fucking cop. She keeps on the right side of it, but she’s not necessarily charmed by him.
Roger: She’s focused on her work and what she’s up to and her grant problems.
Quentin: All his questions are just a pain in the ass. At some point she goes, “Look, I’m really busy. I don’t really have the time to socialize.” He’s like, “Well, I’m not asking you on a date. I’m asking you about how-” and then he says a realistic question that she can answer. So she’s like, “Oh, okay. I’m sorry.” She’s not into him because she’s doing her job and he’s not into her because he’s doing his job. However, by the final part of the movie: in the last 20 minutes, when they’re forced to work together-
Roger: The stressful situation pulls them together.
Quentin: Yeah, trying to bring down the monster. He has the right kind of information that he’s experienced and brings her along. She has the right kind of information about what she knows to bring him along without it ever turning into, necessarily, a romantic situation. Their camaraderie actually moved me. It actually meant something to me, and it meant something that it didn’t happen until like the last 15 minutes; the last two encounters that they have with each other, they give each other slight smiles. They give each other, like, half smiles; but there’s a lot said in those half smiles. We like both of them, and there’s even an aspect that I liked her more when she started liking him.
Roger: Well, Hyams is balanced enough to know that he’s not going to be able to take it all the way. But they leave all the clues there that the audience needs. You know that Sizemore is having a failed marriage.
Quentin: Divorced. He’s divorced.
Roger: That’s right. He’s fully divorced.
Quentin: He’s available.
Roger: He’s available.
Quentin: And apparently, so is she. Because her (maybe) lover is now a dog creature. The lover who she despises is now a dog creature. But there is just something about when he thought she was dead for a second, and then when she finds out he’s not and vice versa, they have these close ups of them giving these smiles. On one hand, it’s nice in a unclichéd way, that they did not make them flirt with each other and now they become a couple. I don’t really like that. But in a strange way, I was kind of rooting for these two to get together and the kind of dot, dot, dot that’s left at the end of the movie is, “Maybe they will.” I think he’s going to probably take her on a date, at some point after the movie’s over. I’d like to think that that’s the case. Yet they didn’t have to do a cliche in order to have it happen. Now, I’m writing the cliche because I like the character so much. Now I want the cliche to happen, but I’m forced to write that myself.
Roger: Yeah. So despite how broken the movie is, it’s still enjoyable enough and you love the characters.
Quentin: I wouldn’t say the movie’s broken. There’s things about it that don’t hold water, but at the end of the day I still really enjoyed the movie.
Roger: I would say, for me, the plot is absolutely broken. The story is rambling along just fine.
Quentin: That’s an interesting distinction.
Roger: Well, for me-
Quentin: No, no, no. You’re right. I mean, I just don’t know if everyone’s going to be sophisticated enough to get that, but I got it.
Roger: Let me just postscript it by saying that I view plot as something very simple. There’s what? Six or seven of them? Supposedly it’s just boy meets girl, boy loses girl type of stuff. These kind of variations on plot. So you’ll go see a movie once for a plot. It’s not going to draw you back to see the plot because you’ve probably seen it before. Maybe there’s a variation on something, but-
Quentin: The plot is what’s in Leonard Maltin’s Movies on TV Guide
Roger: That’s what hangs on the plot is the story, and that’s everything that the plot isn’t: it’s the theme, it’s the light, it’s the character. It’s all these other elements, and those are enjoyable enough and deftly enough handled and professionally enough handled and beautifully presented by Hollywood people making a Hollywood movie on film at a time when they were still shooting on film, doing a large kind of program.
Quentin: and making an attempt to not just let CGI do everything.
Roger: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I mean, this was still relatively early days, in CGI. The burning creature CGI was probably the most apparent use of it.
Quentin: When the tongue licks her, that was a bad CGI tongue. I would much rather a puppet slimy tongue, putting real slime on it.
Roger: On. Yeah. I mean, that had to be somebody in post saying, “God. We need a tongue. We need her to get tongued by this guy, or we’re just not going to know that it was the boyfriend. If that tongue doesn’t go out there and slither all over…” That had to have been a post decision.
Quentin: So, Gala
Roger: Yeah. What did you think?
Gala: I feel like we watched two completely different movies, because I love Outland. Outland, with Sean Connery, is amazing.
Roger: Another Peter Hyams movie.
Gala: So I was so excited to watch this movie.
Quentin: [quoting from Outland, I assume] “On Jupiter’s moon. I’m the only law.”
Roger: [also doing lines from Outland] “Don’t mess it up, Mitchell!”.
Roger/Quentin: [screaming] “Don’t fuck this up Mitchell!”
Gala: Well, I love Outland. I was so excited to watch this movie. But first off, why is this movie so dark, you guys? I don’t know if it’s so dark on the VHS tape, but on the digital copy that I watched, it is so dark that sometimes the entire screen is just black.
Quentin: Because it’s the museum, when the lights are off! At night!
Gala: I mean, come on. This movie might have been great, if I could see what was on screen.
Roger: We might be able to say that there is bad compression in streaming and that it doesn’t handle blacks really well.
Quentin: His lensing is not too dingy. It’s not dim.
Roger: Just the version she saw was.
Quentin: Yeah, exactly. Forget about seeing it in 35. On VHS, it’s fine.
Gala: So on digital, this movie does not hold up. Next, Dr. Margo Green is just so unlikable. This woman who just is running around like, “I just want the goddamn money.” Like, okay, work for it!
Roger: She wants the grant money.
Quentin: Actually, I like the fact that she is not killing herself to be the nicest person in the world.
Gala: She’s not even the nicest person, but she should get what she deserves.
Quentin: Especially in a Hollywood movie, especially where the lead (the sheriff, in a way) if it was about a killer bear and the sheriff-
Roger: This almost is about a killer bear. There’s some bear DNA in there.
Quentin: Or the professor that has done research on the bear or creature or whatever, and then it shows up. They always bend themselves over backwards to make that person really likable, and they got a girlfriend and they got a daughter or they got a son or whatever. They always make them them folksy and likable. I like the fact that she’s really kind of up her own ass, and is just about carving her career whether she deserves it or not.
Gala: Roger discussed how she puts all the liquids together and she makes the bomb. That was cool, but we didn’t see enough of that in the beginning for me to feel connected to her. I just kind of felt like she was this hot to trot, entitled character. Where poor Dr. Lee is over here busting his balls, trying to get this second grant because he clearly needs it. She’s just- I don’t know, she wasn’t that likable. Tom Sizemore’s character; he’s a cop and it’s all fine. But I didn’t find him too likable either.
Quentin: What’s all this likable shit? Who gives a fuck if you think they’re likable? Are they interesting?
Gala: No, they’re not.
Quentin: Well, good. Then say that.
Gala: Because he also has this whole thing that he’s really superstitious, and that she doesn’t believe in anything but science. That never pays off. Where does his superstition ever help him?
Quentin: Just because a character has a quirk, does it mean that quirk has to be a plot revelation that works around it.
Gala: But they’re forcing it down our throat. They tell him, “Don’t step over the body twice. Don’t pick up the thing. Here’s my lucky bullet.” There’s this entire story about the bullet.
Quentin: There you go, that’s what it is.
Gala: But how is that paying off?
Quentin: He gives her the bullet.
Gala: And is that what she makes the bomb out of?
Quentin: No, it saves her fucking life!
Gala: Maybe that’s what it is, is that I felt no chemistry between them either. So whereas Quentin wants them to go on a date afterwards, I kind of just want him to get back on the beat. For him to keep working and for her just go maybe get her Grant because Dr. Lee’s dead now.
Quentin: I think there’s tremendous chemistry between them. More than I’ve ever seen between those two actors with anybody else, that’s for damn sure.
Gala: Sure. Maybe that’s not saying much. I don’t know.
Quentin: When she starts liking him is when I start liking her more. One of actually the guest star parts that’s fantastic is the guy playing the mayor. That whole scene that the mayor has on the phone-
Roger: That’s the best scene in the movie.
Quentin: That’s the best acted scene in the movie.
Roger: I think it’s the most compelling, fun scene to watch because the mayor is being such a dick, but not; he’s also being kind of friendly at the same time. Just that actor is terrific. I have no idea who that guy is. He comes out of nowhere and gives a great performance.
Quentin: That’s one of the fun parts about the film, is that there actually is a fun aspect about it being the C cast. It’s not like Kate Winslet playing the Penelope Ann Miller role (or Courteney Cox or somebody else from 1997 or 98) and it’s not Matthew McConaughey (before A Time to Kill). In a bigger film, there would be a named character actor playing that mayor. Instead, they’ve got a guy I’ve never seen before and he fucking kills it. It’s just terrific.
Roger: He’s a terrific actor.
Gala: I agree, that mayor is probably one of the best things for the movie, but the problem I have with that scene is he has that amazing line about his wife’s cleavage. That his wife has bought a dress and her cleavage looks great in it. So you better not stop this party. Then when you see the wife’s dress, where’s her cleavage? I’m looking for it. It’s not there. The funny line that I’m like, “Oh, I can’t wait till they have the extra punch line with her cleavage.” They just don’t do it.
Roger: The thing about this movie is, it’s a programmer. It’s made as escapist entertainment. It’s not one of those movies that you’re supposed to go see and then talk about at the cafe afterwards and argue and discuss (frankly, the way we are now).
Gala: I don’t know, this is the kind of movie that a guy should take a girl out on a date to, and you should go watch it and you should go have lunch or coffee after and be able to just discuss the movie.
Roger: I guess we are doing it now, so you could. But the one thing Quentin told me before we saw this was, “Now, you may have seen this, you may not have. But this is the kind of movie that you’re going to watch and you’re going to really probably just enjoy it. It’s a good quality film and everything. You’ll probably forget it in two years.”
Quentin: It actually is true. I’ve seen it twice. I saw when it came out and I saw it about six years ago, and I remember it enjoying it. I remember Peter Hyams doing a really good job of it. I also remembered when I watched it six years ago, how much people at the New Beverly really like it. It’s one of those things that’s just kind of hung in there, pop culture wise, for those who did catch it. Nevertheless, it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Okay, well, I remember it takes place in a museum, and I remember Penelope Anne Miller and I remember Tom Sizemore, but at a certain point I don’t remember anything that fucking happens.”
Roger: That’ll be the same in about two years, probably.
Quentin: I think maybe because we’ve talked about it so much, I will remember. But at a certain point, I had no idea what the fuck was going to happen anymore. But there is actually something to be said about a genre product like that.
Roger: That’s what I was getting at. People need a kind of escapist entertainment. We need that of every kind of film. There was a time when studios would sit down and they’d look at their slate. They’re like, “Okay, yeah, we’re going to pick up a couple of movies and we’re going to make these movies and we have a slate. We’re going to this romantic comedy, we’re going to have these dramas, we’re going to have these couple of horror movies.”
Quentin: A film that’s like The Relic, except better, was Crawl. An Alexander Aja film about crocodiles.
Roger: He’s a friend. Shout out to Alex Aja.
Quentin: I thought that was one of the best movies of that fucking year. I thought, in 2019, that Crawl was terrific. I ended up seeing it twice, and again I saw it twice and I forgot what happened at a certain point and it was like the same fucking year’s time.
Gala: This movie is based on a book and actually in the novel, it takes place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But the novel portrays the museum administration in such a bad light that they refused to do the movie, even for a seven figure sum. There were two museums that fit the bill, and one of them was Chicago. Chicago’s Museum really liked this idea, so they agreed to let them film there.
Quentin: Oh, great.
Gala: I picked up my VHS on eBay for $4.99. It is a Paramount Home video, just like Quentin’s.
Gala: Yeah, $4.99. It’s really depreciated in value over the years.
Quentin: Wow, good deal.
Roger: The Relic is a good stock to buy
Quentin: One to be found at an Amoeba used video bargain bin.
Gala: Everyone better go quickly get theirs for $4.99 because I’m sure after this it’s going to be hard to come by.
Quentin: Yeah exactly.
Quentin: Now coming up for our third film that we’re going to touch base on, which is different than the other two (The Relic and The Keep) because it’s not a horror film/science fiction film. Instead, it’s an Italian comedy from 1980, called Cafe Express. The film stars Nino Manfredi. So now I’m going to read the back of the box of Cafe Express, which won’t tell you jack shit, so I’m going to have to explain it a little bit. [reading from box] “Cafe Express, a lighter side of human nature. He can be extremely charming whether flimflamming his customers, or outrunning the dimwitted police; a lovable, compassionate, bittersweet story of a man’s struggle to help his ailing son.” Boy, that sounds terrible, but it’s not.
The thing about Cafe Express, is that it was released in Los Angeles in 1981. I have a newspaper review of it from May 29, 1981: Italian films at the art houses and the whole Lemley Theater chain were doing really, really big business at this time. Lina Wertmüller was a superstar director. Giancarlo Giannini was like a superstar, almost. A lot of his movies were getting exported to America and playing in the art houses, and Nino Manfredi had just had one of the biggest foreign film hits of the last few years with a comedy he did called Bread and Chocolate. That was just a sensation on the foreign film arthouse circuit.
Roger: It kind of blew up the whole Neapolitan tragicomedy thing.
Roger: Like, suddenly those were a thing.
Quentin: And this was, as far as America was concerned, kind of Nino Manfredi’s follow up.
Roger: Yeah. The movie was a real and exciting surprise for me.
Quentin: It’s a very charming film.
Roger: I saw Bread and Chocolate and I loved Bread and Chocolate, and then I hadn’t seen this follow up. Then you showed me, we watched it together on VHS; this Paragon VHS and I just loved it.
Quentin: Yeah, me too. It’s a fun movie. What the movie is about, is a guy goes on the train and he sells coffee illegally. He doesn’t have a license to sell coffee. He goes and he sells coffee and gum and all that kind of junk. He’s got to hide from the porters and the ticket taker guys. He’s got to hide from them or else he’ll get thrown off or arrested. He’s been taking care of this train for a long time. Now apparently, at the beginning of the movie, it comes down from the conductor’s, “Okay, look, this guy has been doing this for the last five years. This is it. Tonight is the night we’re getting him.”
Roger: In Rome, they’re fed up. They’ve been hearing about this guy, he’s got his own grifting business going on. “We want him shut down tonight. We don’t care if it’s the rainiest night of the year.”
Quentin: Yes, exactly. So all the porters and the head porter are on double, double secret probation trying to catch Nino Manfredi’s character, and he keeps being sneaky and he keeps getting by. But one of the things that becomes very clear is that Nino Manfredi, they describe him as a flimflam man but he’s not really a flimflam man. I mean, the closest thing he has to flimflamming is the fact that he can never give you change, which is actually very funny. So every time someone asks for change, he’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t have any right now. But, I could get some change a little later, if you’ll still be here.” “No, don’t worry about it.” “Okay, fine.” That’s what he wants. He always comes up with a long story, so that he never has to give change.
Roger: He’s a little bit of a grifter, but he is there for everyone on the train.
Quentin: I’m disagreeing slightly. I don’t think he is, necessarily. Look, he’s got his own little-
Roger: Well, he’s running an illegal operation. But let’s just say, this is a guy with morals and a sense of duty beyond his own desperation.
Quentin: It’s one of the things that I mentioned, is that he’s been working this train for five years. So he knows the people, the people know him. They want his coffee.
Roger: And his wake up service.
Quentin: That’s really interesting, his little wake up service.
Roger: He knows, “Oh, in this car, in this compartment, this person is taking a nap. I’ll wake him just before the thing with a cup of coffee.” He’s got it all down.
Quentin: He’s got it all down.
Roger: And the commuters, over the last five years, have gotten used to it.
Quentin: Yes. They like him and he likes them. Even though he doesn’t officially work for the train company, he understands the train company. Like you said, he understands them more than the real train porters do. He understands the people more than the train porters do.
Roger: He’s operating a valuable service.
Quentin: They’re his people. These customers are his customers.
Roger: And he cares about them.
Quentin: He’s there to take care of them. Now, along the way, there’s these pickpockets who are on the train that try to get him to work with them, and he won’t do that because he’s there to help the people.
Roger: Yeah, he may be a slight shade of a grifter and he may be operating illegally, but he loves the people of this train and he loves the train itself. He’s been there for five years. This is his place, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to let these criminals run about. He’s not a criminal himself, though he may be operating outside of law. He is not a criminal, he has a moral center.
Quentin: He seems to be doing what he should be doing. He might have found this as just a way to make ends meet, to take care of his ailing son and to put food on the table. But he’s found himself in this. He’s kind of special. He’s found a purpose in his life doing this, and just even saying that out loud, is kind of moving.
Roger: The one thing that could become saccharine and somehow doesn’t, because the movie is very deftly handled by Nanni Loy (who directed the film), is it’s eventually revealed he has a son and that his son is in school (supposedly). He’s got him in school and he’s working tirelessly, his fingers to the bone, so that his son can have something he never had because he grew up during World War Two, probably.
Quentin: In particular, his son needs an operation which-
Roger: And then they bring up that his son needs an operation, that there’s all sorts of problems that he needs to get the medicine. In fact, the people that he’s helping on the train, part of the people he services here one of them happens to know a pharmacist or something, and he’s gotten him some illegal drugs that are too expensive for him to afford. So there’s this kind of symbiotic relationship: the people care about him, he cares about the people on the train. Yet bureaucracy is trying to shut him down and all the criminals on the train are trying to get him to work for them. They’re say, “Hey, everybody here loves you and you see what’s in their wallets every time they pay you.”
Quentin: Yeah, they’re like, “You just point me at the guy with the fat wallet, and then we’ll take care of the rest and we’ll give you 30%.”
Roger: And he has enough of a center, and enough of a sense of duty beyond his own desperation (and his son’s sickness, even) that he jeopardizes his own success. If the train is any kind of symbol of the people of Italy and this post-war/post-Reconstruction period, where some people have succeeded over the miracle of reconstruction and most others have not. Most others are having to live on the margins of society. He’s out there providing a very real service and yet being attempted to get shut down. I just think one of the beautiful things about the movie is that it shows in the end, and without giving it away, that Italian bureaucracy somehow works. It somehow works for the people. It just shows that, wow, things actually can work. That In the end, despite how muddled and confused and broken everything is, humanity somehow makes it work. There’s something about the way that Nanni Loy shoots it, which is actually super rough.
Quentin: No, it’s all on a train.
Roger: It’s shot sort of like a World War Two resistance movies about the World War Two resistance. This all it feels very real. In fact, when the movie begins and it’s in a rainstorm, I almost thought it was going to be a horror movie. Suddenly it becomes this really super charming, kind of warm, comedy.
Quentin: What makes the whole movie work, is Nino Manfredi’s performance because he’s- and I don’t throw this analogy around easily- he’s very much a Chaplin kind of comedian.
Roger: Which can go wrong, in the wrong hands.
Roger: In the wrong hands, that goes wrong. But it doesn’t with him.
Quentin: It goes wrong when they try to duplicate the maudlin side of Chaplin, he doesn’t do that. But the quick handed comedy bits are hysterical because every time he does it, it’s always funny. When he lays out a cup of coffee, calling, “Coffee, coffee buy a coffee.” So he gives somebody a cup, he pours the coffee. “You want a little creamier to put in this?” Then all of a sudden he sees a conductor, and then all of a sudden, boom, he grabs the cup out of their hand and he’s gone. They’re like “What?” Then the conductor leaves and comes back like, “Okay, here you go, here you go, here you go, here you go.”
Roger: He’s like a phantom who just comes in and out.
Quentin: Yeah, but all that stuff is just done with Chaplin precision of comic interplay. I’ve never seen Bread and Chocolate, but now I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
Quentin: Gala, did you see it?
Roger: Yeah, what did you think?
Gala: I did see it. But before I give my opinion, I have a question for you guys. There’s a big debate online about dubbing versus subtitles. How do you guys feel? Cause I know you guys watch the dub of this.
Roger: That’s a good thing to bring up, because we did. We watched the English dubbing of this, and I have to say, usually I look for the version original. But in this case, the tape Quentin had (the Paragon VHS) was dubbed. At first I was like, “Oh.” My heart sank a little bit. But then the dubbing came in, and the English Loop Group (or whoever it was), the ADR group that did the post dubbing on this, did such a good job. I’ve only seen the fantastic planet English dubbing which is also really good. I haven’t seen the Italian version of this one.
Quentin: Where I’m coming from on this is that if I was going out to the Lemley in Santa Monica to see Cafe Express when it opened, naturally I want to see it in Italian with subtitles. But when it comes to the movies from the seventies and the eighties (especially if they’re Italian because they’re all post synced anyway), it doesn’t really bother me. It doesn’t matter. Also at that time, those actors doing the dubbing were so good. Now, look, if you’re talking about a Lina Wertmüller film, I would absolutely rather see it. If I’m watching Swept Away, I want to see it in English language. But when you’re talking about Cafe Express, I’m just fine with it.
Roger: Well, I remember when Das Boot came out and that was a big mainstream breakthrough hit, and they did a dub version of that movie, which was so well dubbed that you couldn’t tell it was dubbed. They had the original actors doing it, Jürgen Prochnow dubbed himself (a little callback to Jürgen Prochnow) and it was such amazing dubbing. It was such a good dubbing.
Quentin: I’m far more forgiving on a comedy, especially.
Roger: Yeah, I’m guessing that you didn’t have a English language copy?
Gala: So the English language dub is available for free for Amazon Prime members currently and is available for rent. I was having a little bit of issue with my Amazon Prime, so I managed to find the original version on YouTube and a friend of mine helped hook me up with English subtitles and help me to time them to the movie. So I was able to watch and I’m so glad. Thank you to my friend who helped me do that, because this movie’s awesome. I loved it. It’s an excellent little gem of a comedy. I don’t know what I was expecting when I watched this movie, but there is so much human kindness and compassion in this film that I wasn’t expecting. Comedy is either hit or miss for me, and the humanity that I found within this film really hit properly.
Roger: Yeah, people could really use that kind of movie right now.
Gala: Yeah. The themes of fatherhood: giving up your son to care for him, orphans with living parents and transitory moments on trains. They’re all here, and the comedy is layered on top of it. But inside, there’s important messages. I love that everyone on the train is not what they seem to be. Everyone in their own way is a con artist.
Roger: Yeah, that’s true.
Gala: From the priests that’s lying there. “Oh, no. He just begs for money,” to the people that are having an affair on the train, to the cops drinking alcohol on duty. They’re all just something different than what you expect them to be.
Roger: And yet everything works. Everything’s working
Gala: Everything works fine. The movie really picked up for me at the scene where he goes and picks up the medicine from his friend (or the pharmacist or the doctor), and he puts his foot on the table and he starts pouring alcohol on it. It just started getting kind of wacky and I was like, “Okay, I know what I’m in for now. I’m in for this kind of humor.” The scene where he goes into the bathroom, and in the movie he has a hand that you aren’t sure whether or not it’s really a wooden hand or if he’s faking it. But he goes into the bathroom and he sees another man with a messed up hand and they help each other wipe their hands off.
Roger: Yeah, they’re washing each other’s hands.
Gala: I thought it was such a good moment.
Roger: It’s a magnificent symbol of Italy at that time.
Gala: The other moment that I just have to quote because it was so great, is the moment when he realizes that his son is on the train and he sent his son away to boarding school to give him something he couldn’t have. His son is unhappy because he has a heart issue or a lung issue that doesn’t allow him to run and play with the other boys. He says to his son, “They feed you three meals a day. Isn’t that enough for you?” And his son says, “No,” and he responds, “How much do you want to eat?” That’s the comedy line of it. What’s inside is that his son doesn’t care if he gets three meals a day.
Roger: He would he would starve if he could have his father.
Gala: If he could be with his dad on the train, he could just carry a coffee cart. He would be with his dad.
Roger: It’s powerful.
Gala: It’s a powerful moment. I loved it. I think anyone should go watch this film. Whether you watch it dubbed or subbed or whatever, you should watch it. It’s not very long. Watch it with a cup of coffee
Quentin: Yeah, I did a little research, and the only thing I was able to find was that in the September 1980 issue of Variety, they reviewed it and they listed it at 105 minutes. For this release, it was released theatrically at 87 minutes. Paragon has got it listed at 90 minutes, but it sounds like Paragon is just rounding. It’s not like MCA, where it says 2 hours and 37 minutes.
Roger: It’s just “Hey, how long’s that film?” “I think 90,” or something like that.
Quentin: Okay. Admittedly, this trifle about a legal coffee vendor avoiding the authorities is over padded even at this length, to some degree. I am kind of curious to know what happened in those extra 10 minutes.
Roger: Yeah, what happened?
Quentin: I’m sure it’s just another vignette.
Gala: I picked up my copy on eBay, my VHS, for €20 or $23. Mine is from somewhere called Vivi Video. So I’m assuming that mine is the original Italian version.
Quentin: Yours might actually be 105 minutes.
Gala: When I get it in, we’ll find out. It’ll be next month because it takes so long. We will find out. Video archives picked up their original tape for $69.
Quentin: And now it’s award time!
Roger: Let’s hand some out.
Quentin: For the three movies we’re talking about: The Keep, The Relic and Cafe Express, Roger, what was your favorite movie? Which was the best of the three?
Roger: I mean, I have to just say hands down, Cafe Express. Best film.
Quentin: Gala, how about you
Gala: Although I had a blast watching The Keep, I think I also have to go with Cafe Express. It was unexpected and just a fun ride.
Quentin: I initially thought I would go with Cafe Express, but then I was thinking about it and the truth of the matter is, I probably won’t see Cafe Express again. I’ve seen it and I enjoyed it and unless I get a 35 millimeter print of it (now that I would watch) and show it at The New Beverly with something like Bread and Chocolate, I probably won’t ever see it again. The Relic, on the other hand, I’ve seen three times. I can see myself in six years watching this again. So while I actually think maybe Cafe Express is the better movie, I’m going to give it to The Relic.
Roger: Well, I’m glad that the Best Picture Award isn’t always doled out by which movie you’re going to see again. I’m going to say I love The Relic. I think The Relic is great. It’s just at the end of the day, the only one may survive the apocalypse. Fiery waste is just going to blow everything to bits except for one of these movies.
Quentin: That’s not what we said!
Roger: Well, I want the best one to survive.
Gala: In that case, Quentin will be watching The Relic over and over and over.
Quentin: In that case, I would rather watch The Relic over and over again then Cafe Express. Okay, Best Lead Actor?
Roger: Okay, now that’s a tough one for me. That’s a tough one because I will say, Tom Sizemore, I think kicks hard ass.
Quentin: Yeah, I do too.
Roger: with his reliable cop, exposition delivering performance.
Quentin: It might be the only performance he’s ever given that I am actually 100% enthusiastic about.
Roger: Well, I also really like him in Black Hawk Down. I like how he’s just walking around, not paying attention to anything that’s going on around him. He’s just wandering around. There’s blood, zinging everywhere. He’s not even ducking. He’s not wearing a helmet. I love that about him in that movie. However Nino Manfredi is just so funny. Also I feel very, very deep, deep feelings when I’m watching him. So it’s a tough one. It’s a toss up between between the two, for me. Because I gave best picture to Cafe Express, I’m going to go ahead and throw it to Sizemore.
Quentin: Oh, good for you. I’m glad. I’m going to go with Nino Manfredi, because at the end of the day, I think he probably gave the better performance. There’s just something special to his performance.
Roger: This is a fantastic compromise on both of our parts.
Quentin: Yes, exactly. But I’m happy you chose Tom Sizemore. I didn’t want us all three voting together. I figured all three of us would pick Nino Manfredi. So I’m glad that you’re giving Sizemore a break here.
Roger: He has a tough job, and he does a great job of it.
Gala: I will give it to Nino Manfredi because I cried while watching Cafe Express, at the final sequence when he is being interrogated by the officer.
Roger: Yeah, that was a powerful moment.
Gala: It’s an incredibly powerful moment that I’ve been thinking about constantly, actually.
Quentin: Okay. Now when it comes to best lead female performance, there’s only one lead female and that’s Penelope Ann Miller. Now, I gladly give that to her. I think she deserves it and is wonderful. She could have beaten five people in this competition, but in this instance, she really is the only lead female performance.
Gala: I’ll plead the fifth.
Quentin: Okay. Best Supporting Actor, I’m going Gabriel Byrne.
Roger: Oh, yeah, of course. Oh, yeah.
Quentin: Not even a fucking question.
Roger: I was actually thinking about the other guy in Cafe Express that shows up toward the end.
Quentin: Adolfo Chile.
Roger: Yeah, but-
Quentin: but Gabriel Byrne.
Roger: But Gabriel Byrne.
Gala: Although I find Gabriel Byrne very attractive in The Keep, I will have to go with Nino Manfredi’s son in Cafe Express. I think they had some great moments between them and, actually, I really like him. I think he’s a good child actor. Maybe it’s because I watched in Italian. I don’t always find child actors endearing, but I really liked his performance.
Roger: Well, the truth is, Gabriel Byrne doesn’t need this award. He’s got such a good career. The kid still needs this award.
Quentin: How do you know? Maybe the kid’s the big star in Italy now. He grew up and made it big, you don’t know.
Roger: No, that’s true.
Quentin: Okay. Best supporting actress. Now really, the only one for that is Alberta Watson from The Keep. I mean, there’s the nun in Cafe Express, but that’s about it pretty much. Alberta Watson, I like a lot. One of the things about The Keep is that it’s so fraudulent, with all of its Americans playing all these weird characters. The only two people that are legitimate are Alberta Watson’s character and Jürgen Prochnow’s character, but his character just kind of becomes uninteresting once he becomes a self-pitying drunk.
Roger: He plays a cartoon character more than anybody else in the movie, more than Gabriel Byrnes
Quentin: He starts off great. He’s terrific in the first 20 minutes but then he becomes a self-lacerating drunk. He’s kind of the good German, kind of the “I’m the drunk German,” whistling while Rome burns. But Alberta Watson, actually, she’s got a really strong presence. In fact, they overuse her because she actually has a legitimacy that these other hambones don’t have and Michael Mann overuses her legitimacy.
Roger: It’s a problem with the writing in that movie, or perhaps a problem with the production. I think the real award (and the controversial award, in this case) would be best cinematography. I want to say Alex Thompson. Alex Thompson is my favorite cinematographer.
Quentin: Mm hmm.
Roger: I think he’s the best. From the beginning of The Keep, when the trucks are rolling in, I see the promise of it. I’m like, “I’m going to see some of the best cinematography.”
Quentin: Am I hearing a but?
Roger: Well, then the production problems happen. Alex Thompson moves on to whatever other movie he’s doing, and then they continue shooting with somebody else and you get all these crappy ass interiors that look like garbage. Then I think about Peter Hyams shooting The Relic himself. He’s shooting and directing.
Quentin: And just to make a note of that, about The Relic in that regard, as far as cinematography is concerned; in the scenes outside of the museum,
Quentin: How great is it to look at a Hollywood movie shooting at night, on film, that has the appropriate lights to actually light Boston.
Roger: With all the resources, yeah. They’ve got all the lights up in the air, they’ve got helicopters.
Gala: It’s Chicago, actually
Roger: Chicago, right. They’ve got a string of limos. They’re really pulling out the stops in only the way that Hollywood can, in a movie.
Quentin: If a director insist on shooting at night, on film, and lighting it up nowadays they’re looked at as like, “Oh, my God, why do we have to put up with this bullshit?”
Roger: Ain’t nobody telling that to Peter Hyams.
Quentin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger: He owns it.
Quentin: Even Scorsese, he doesn’t shoot film at night anymore. He shoots night on digital. I will go with The Relic, too. As far as the cinematography.
Gala: I can’t wait until my VHS copy comes because then I can actually see The Relic.
Quentin: You especially didn’t like the cinematography on whatever you saw.
Gala: The digital copy, which is way too dark.
Roger: The streaming copy
Gala: I think I have to pass on this one. I don’t think I have an informed decision, but actually I will say I have to rescind my best supporting actor. Instead I will give something to The Relic, I choose the actor that plays the Chinese doctor.
Quentin: Oh, you liked him, huh?
Gala: I liked him. I think he was comedic. I thought he was good. I liked him.
Quentin: I like that guy.
Roger: Dr. Lee, I think was his name?
Gala: I think, yeah
Roger: He was great.
Gala: I’ll give it to him.
Quentin: Okay. Screenplay. It just seems like we’re all going to say Cafe Express. Unless somebody surprises me, because the screenplay for The Relic isn’t very good, and neither is The Keep.
Roger: If The Keep is even close to the original screenplay, I’m not even sure.
Quentin: I think The Keep is a fiasco. The Relic is fun when you’re watching it. It’s when you put it under the microscope that you realize how bad the script is.
Roger: It disintegrates, the only one that even makes any sense as best script is Cafe Express.
Quentin: So now, okay. So this is all been pretty easy, but I guess here is the main question: best director. Now we come to a question.
Roger: Listen, I love Michael Mann. Just not this movie. It’s going to be Peter Hyams.
Quentin: Hyams for me, too.
Roger: Peter Hyams just shows such virility in this film.
Quentin: It’s the reason the movie is watchable, is Peter Hyam’s direction. He is just he knows what the fuck he’s doing.
Roger: He knows how to do this.
Quentin: It’s only me putting it under a microscope, because of this show, that I found the problems in it. I wouldn’t have dwelled on the problems if I had just watched it.
Roger: Unless you’re Gala
Gala: Unless you’re me. I’m going to have to go with Cafe Express. Not only is the movie actually funny (I don’t always laugh in comedies, but I found myself laughing here), which I think is partially because of the physicality of the direction, but also it’s shot on a train. I don’t know how difficult that is to do, but I feel like it’s a tight space and that’s hard to do.
Quentin: It looks like it was totally shot on a train, like they went from one place to another.
Roger: On paper you think, “Oh, this is going to be a highly contained, easy to make- No, it’s shot on a moving train.
Quentin: It’s shot on a train like Henry Jaglom’s Tracks is shot on a train. A train that’s always moving.
Roger: Actually, there were train gags in this movie that I hadn’t seen before. Just funny things, like when the train jerks and you see the one guy fall down the aisle. I really felt the momentum of that train.
Quentin: Okay. Best scene of the three.
Gala: Without giving anything away?
Roger: I can’t see my scene because my scene that I love, that I’ve been thinking about repeatedly is the end of Cafe Express. It’s kind of the display of how Italian bureaucracy works.
Quentin: Yeah. Okay. Gotcha, gotcha.
Roger: in the world of this movie, and maybe even in the real world.
Gala: Mine would be when he reveals his hand to the officer that’s giving him all these questions, because throughout the movie they’ve been asking, “Is your hand wood? Is it actually hurt? Are you just faking it?” He removes his glove and starts banging it on the table because he’s been in the war and he has frostbite, and it’s just this tremendously emotional moment where you see this man who actually has this malady and no one has believed him and he’s finally just releasing his pain from being cast aside after being in the war.
Roger: He’s been holding in being called fraudulent for so long and not necessarily fighting it and just making a joke out of it, that when he finally is confronted with revealing it, it is such a powerful, painful scene. However, having said that, though, I kind of wondered if he was faking it even then, and just really going for it in his heart. I mean, I know he’s an actor who’s doing it, but within the movie
Gala: But you know what though? I think that what makes a good scene, is when you can watch it and think about and debate about it.
Quentin: I also love the idea that there are now connections, because now there’s a connection between Nino Manfredi and Tommy Sullivan. They’re both a character with a gloved hand that everyone’s wondering what the fuck’s up about, “What’s the deal with that?” It’s a big reveal. In both movies, it’s one of the best scenes in the movie; where he talks about his hand.
Roger: It might even be a connection to an upcoming episode.
Quentin: Yes. Right on.
Gala: And for you, Quentin?
Quentin: I will say the opening credits of The Keep. It’s the reason we fucking watched the thing in the first goddamn place.
Roger: I would say not just the opening credits, but for me specifically when Gabriel Byrne shows up.
Quentin: Well, that’s different though.
Roger: Which happens a little later.
Quentin: I went back and forth between Gabriel Byrne coming into the village and doing what he does and then the opening credits, and then the Nazis just arriving in the village and I decided to go with the opening credits.
Roger: Those credits are so good. I like that opening shot. That opening sequence is just so wonderful.
Quentin: It’s the number one thing that stayed in my mind about The Keep all these years, is just that opening with that Tangerine Dream music and that sorcerer truck.
Roger: It just shows how powerful-
Quentin: and Nazis and mud and drizzle. That promises the movie that we don’t get, but the promise of it was still terrific.
Roger: It also shows the promise of Michael Mann. It just shows how powerful he is that even with this- I mean, we’re calling it a fiasco. Even with this fiasco, it has moments that are arrestingly beautiful and powerful.
Quentin: Yeah, absolutely. No, no. I was you interested in seeing his other stuff, because there was still enough in it.
Roger: One of the greatest stylists of our age.
Quentin: Okay, last thing, and this can be anything. It can be a small part. It can be a great line. It can be a moment. We’re not talking about a scene, but just what’s your favorite moment of the three? Like I said: a great line, a wonderful little small performance by an actor. Or just like I said, a moment, not a scene, but a moment. I’ll start.
Quentin: I didn’t have an answer for what I was saying the question, but I’ll start. The comedy business of Nino Manfredi laying out the coffee cups and laying out the coffee, and then the conductor comes in and he snatches them all up and splits. The customer is like, “What the fuck’s going on?” Then the conductor leaves and now he’s back.
Roger: It would have to be something similar to me with Nino Manfredi. I would actually probably go right back to that momentum train moment, where he times handing somebody something or unbalancing him a little bit right as the train (because he knows when the shifts in track occur, because he knows the schedule by heart and rhythmically) because schedule wise he knows every single moment. So he knows right when the train is about to switch tracks from one track to another and that there’s going to be this violent jerking, and he uses it to his advantage like a superhero. That’s his superpower, is the train itself. I just love that moment, and especially how that guy goes tumbling down the hall. It felt real.
Gala: I think I’ve mentioned a lot of great moments in Cafe Express, but one that I haven’t mentioned is the line when the woman comes up to him and says, “I’d like a cappuccino,” and he starts pouring it and she’s like, “I don’t have enough money. It’s kind of expensive.” So she says, “Do you have anything else cheaper?” And he says, “Yes, a cappuccino without coffee.” And she says, “What’s that?” And he says, “Milk,” and she’s like, “Well, okay, I’ll take that.” I thought it was a really funny line.
Roger: Okay, Quinn, favorite demon, is it The Relic? Is it The Keep or is it the inner demons of Cafe Express?
Quentin: Because I’m not that excited about the demons in either one of the two horror films, I will go for the demons of Italian bureaucracy.
Roger: I’ll take it.
Quentin: And I think that brings us to the end of our show.
Roger: Well, thank you so much.
Quentin: Yeah, this was a lot of fun talking about it. Again, I’m not so sure about The Keep, but I had a lot more fun talking about The Relic and Cafe Express.
Roger: What’s funny is that I enjoyed watching The Relic, I think more than I enjoyed watching The Keep. Yet my memory of The Keep is actually, in a weird way, more positive than my memories of The Relic, because I’m thinking about the noble attempt of The Keep.
Quentin: Well, you can’t talk about The Relic in a serious way without saying some of the things that don’t work. Then after you say that, I guess it’s hard to keep up the enthusiasm that we actually felt watching the movie.
Roger: And yet it was there. It was a very real thing. I really enjoyed it.
Quentin: We enjoyed the fucking film. We had a good time.
Roger: A great monster movie. If you and I had just, back in the day, wandered into the theatre-
Quentin: And we kept talking about what a good job Peter Hyams is doing.
Roger: Shout out to Peter Hyams.
Quentin: Yes, exactly. Wonderful photography. Not too dark.
Gala: Can’t wait to see it on VHS. I hope I’m able to actually witness the film.
Quentin: Okay, that has got to be the final line of the episode. “I cannot wait to see it on VHS, for the picture quality” and with that, we’re done.
Roger: Goodbye and good night.
Gala : The Video Archives podcast is hosted by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and produced by Josh Richmond and Gala Avery. Our engineer is Devon Torrey Bryant and our executive producers are Colin Anderson and Natalie Mooallem. This episode featured additional production by Raven Goldston. We now have Video archives merch, go to podswag.com to see everything we have in stock. Find out more about the show by heading to VideoArchivesPodcast.com. You can also find us on Amazon Music.