Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tarantino's March Madness Pt.5

Over the course of March the New Beverly Cinema is housing Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. The whole month is in celebration of Quentin Tarantino's birthday and will feature 37 movies selected by the master himself. Most of the films that are playing come from Tarantino's personal collection and a number of them are not available on DVD. The month long programming will feature plenty of grindhouse movies that have been influential to Tarantino and plenty of others as well. Tarantino's March Madness will also be capped off with a seven day run of the uncut version to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair." I will be attending fourteen nights of programming at the New Beverly Cinema and in an effort to give my readers the most in-depth experience I can I've planned to breakdown each of the events. Hope you enjoy and here's Part Five...

Note: Technically this is the 8th event of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only the 5th event I've attended. I missed the "Crack House" and "Redneck Miller" double bill, the night of Ralph Bakshi with "Coonskin" and "Hey Good Lookin'," as well as the first midnight feature of March Madness, "Shame of the Jungle."
"Stone" is the 2nd midnight movie programmed for Tarantino's March Madness. It is a film I'd not seen although had heard plenty about its exploits based on the cult status it has. It is also a film referenced in the 2008 documentary "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation." This was my second attempt at trying to see the notorious Aussie film. The night before I was at the Beverly for "White Lightning" and "The Last American Hero" and intended to stay for the midnight "Stone" screening however, a family emergency popped up and I was forced to leave. The good souls of the New Beverly Cinema were very understanding and offered to exchange my tickets for Saturday night March 12th. It seems the movie gods were looking out for me because on Saturday there to introduce the Aussie bikie gang film was the very sincere executive producer David Hannay.  Hannay talked to the New Bev crowd for a good 5 minutes about the making of "Stone," telling us stories about how the film came together, how various cast members were also grips, costume designers, location managers, set designers and even composers. David Hannay seemed like he could talk for hours about his memories of making "Stone" but the one thing he hammered home was how important Sandy Harbutt is to the film. Sandy in the film plays the leader of the Grave Diggers, Undertaker and he also wrote and directed the bikie gang action. He brought a group of friends together to make "Stone" and those friends ended up becoming a family while making it.

In attendance was famed ozploitation director Brian Trenchard-Smith. BTS is a mighty influential director for me. I saw "BMX Bandits" on cable as a kid and fell in love with all of its splendor. Since seeing the Aussie BMX gem, I have tracked down each of Brian Trenchard-Smith's movies to view and enjoy. While Brian Trenchard-Smith did not speak it was a real treat just to know he was sitting in the audience enjoying the movie with the rest of the midnight crowd. David Hannay did reveal to the crowd that Brian Trenchard-Smith directed a documentary on the making of "Stone," a little fact I was completely unaware of. The reason Mr. Trenchard-Smith was there (I assume) is, the copy of "Stone" screening was especially flown in from Australia and was a nearly brand new print recently made from the original negative. As for said print, it was absolutely glorious. Rich color and zero imperfections, this was like watching a brand new movie accept in the 70's. So it was like the New Beverly Cinema was time machine for the evening teleporting us back to 1974. Yeah, its a stretch, but just go with it. For me, it was a honor to be able to see "Stone" in a theater projected in 35mm, but it was a dream come true to see such a stunning print.

Quentin Tarantino did a bang-up job of  setting a collection of 6 trailers toeing the line with the midnight movie's theme. We saw trailers for "C.C. and Company," "Devil's Angels," "Hells Angels on Wheels," "The Losers," "Speedcar Racers" and "Mad Max." C.C. and Company looked pretty goofy with the trailer spending 75% of its time up-selling the sex appeal of Joe Namath and Anne-Margret. Devil's Angels stars John Cassevetes as a the leader of a exiled group of bikers! Do I really need to say anything more? Similarly, Hells Angels on Wheels has Jack Nicholson becoming a Hell's Angel named Poet. All three of these biker gang trailers provided great laughs for the midnight crowd. Peddling all of the sex, drug usage and mayhem we would encounter by watching the biker films. The Losers is also known as "Nam's Angels" and has a tagline of "Hell's Angels vs. Viet Cong!" The film stars William Smith who was one of many a running themes of the night (including the double bill that played ahead of "Stone" Friday and Saturday March 11th and 12th). Smith was a rival driver in "The Last American Hero" and was also featured in the trailer for C.C. and Company. Here in The Losers he's leading a group of Hell's Angels in Vietnam. Bikers with machine guns on their bikes. Yup, way before Machete had thrown a gatling gun on his bike, the Nam's Angels were on it! Mad Max at first seemed like a weird choice but after watching "Stone," Mad Max is a perfect choice. Both films deal with a precursor to post-apocalyptic Australia, not to mention bikie gangs (in Australia biker gangs are called bikie gangs). Oddly enough Stone used the tagline "Before Mad Max There Was Stone" after Mad Max became a worldwide hit. There are a number of actors that cross over between both films as well. There is Hugh Keays-Byrne who plays Toad in Stone only to later be the leader of the gang in in Mad Max as Toecutter. Vincent Gil plays Dr. Death in Stone and later the hell on wheels driver Nightrider in Mad Max. David Bracks is Boots in Stone and then later Mudguts in Mad Max. There are a couple more but the last one worth mentioning is Roger Ward playing Hooks in Stone and later Fifi in Mad Max.

"Stone" is motorcycle erotica. It is 103 minutes of no apology appreciation aimed at biker gangs, or as the Aussie's call them, bikie gangs. It highlights the brotherhood and comradery of said gangs as well as the beloved time spent riding their motorcycles. It has a formula police story to give it a bit of structure but more importantly this film is just about the lifestyle of a bikie. So much so the film features authentic bikie gangs. There is a funeral precession near the start of the film that featured over 400 Australian bikie gang members. Also the Grave Diggers rival gang in Stone, is an actual Aussie bikie gang named the Blackhawks. While U.S. audiences might snicker at the fact these grimy Aussie bikers only seem to be riding Kawasaki's instead of say Harley Davidson's, the entire film feels authentic depiction of bikers or bikies through and through.

The opening of the film is pretty daring and quite apocalyptic illustrating Australia has become an over polluted wasteland. The scene cuts to a eco-friendly rally that sees an assassin preparing to kill the speaker. Enter the Grave Diggers bikie gang and one member, Toad who is having a bad trip. Toad unluckily stumbles upon the assassin as he shoots the speaker. This causes the assassin to then fix his targets on him and the rest of the Grave Diggers. The gang escapes but shortly thereafter the Grave Diggers begin to find themselves being killed off one by one. Now this might not sound particularly daring, but there is nearly zero talking for the first 10 plus minutes. We see a number of calculated kills that lead you to think "Stone" could be a biker slasher. The audience also gets a quick understanding of how abstract cinematographer Graham Lind can be. Much of Toad's bad trip is played out on screen for the audience to experience. Some of this footage is terribly dated, but for its time is impressive. Much of the trip out sequences in the film have certainly been done better, but that doesn't mean they are not effective then and now at conveying the intensity of drug usage.

The film has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type persona. At times it is a gritty biker movie. Less than admirable foul men destroying and causing havoc wherever they can. On the other side it has this laugh-out-loud lovability that make most exploitation so damn endearing. Enter the title character Stone played by Ken Shorter. Stone is a undercover police officer sent to the Grave Diggers to help them find the killer. Shorter tries to be a bad-ass but he is such a pretty boy it is hard to ever look at him as tough. Granted Stone is a cop, or as the bikie's would call him a pig, so he is suppose to stick out and boy does he. Even when the Grave Diggers accept and jump him allowing him to wear their colors, Ken Shorter still stands out like a dandelion amongst the weeds. One hilarious reminder of just how much of a sore thumb Stone is, when Stone's high maintenance girlfriend calls his captain complaining about all the long hours he's been working as a bikie. She then begs him to allow Stone the day off so that he may be a fourth in a couple game of tennis. Yup, his girlfriend is complaining Stone can't play tennis meanwhile Stone is getting kicked in the balls for allowing one of the Grave Diggers girlfriends to lick his ear. Jekyll and Hyde.

As for the weeds, the grave diggers look awesome. I especially loved how intimidating Toad played by Hugh Keays-Byrne is. His infamous line, "Give us a kiss" then sticking his tongue out is both repulsive and infectious. I love how filthy and grievous he comes across to outsiders then amongst his gang members he is a lovable teddy bear. All of the Grave Diggers and other gangs looked perfect. The cast is invisible even though I'd seen a number of the actors in other films. Another thing that I found to help portrait Stone's Jekyll & Hyde comparability is the score. Written by Billy Green who plays 69 in the Grave Diggers bikie gang, the score is dedicated in one minute with the right themes and moods then it can shift into near lunacy. For instance, we have once sequence where two detectives come to visit the Grave Diggers and their intro music is like "Elephants on Parade." You'd thought the circus was in town as soon as these two detectives step on screen. You might say Green was teetering on genius by painting a picture that these two cops are nothing but buffoons from the perspective of the Grave Diggers.

We are watching a movie about motorcycles so the obvious question becomes, how is the riding in the film? The answer is simple. "Stone" is motorcycle erotica. The film does a seasoned job of showcasing motorcycle riding. There are some very thrilling stunts, some awesome chases and a whole lot wide shots of men riding their motorcycles around Australia. The nit-picker in me would've complain about wanting more helicopter or crane shots of the group riding, but the simpleton in me would've slap him in the face and said did you forget about all that electric POV? Talk about putting you on the seat of a motorcycle, all of the point-of-view shots landed you right in the action. Overall I really dug every moment we had of motorcycles riding about Australia.

"Stone" is a film that lives up to the enormous hype through cult status and its acknowledgement in 'Not Quite Hollywood.' I didn't expect it to be a masterpiece but just an honest depiction of bikers and that is what I got. Director Sandy Harbutt nailed the brotherhood of a biker gang. Considerable amount of praise too must be given to the vicious climax of "Stone." I won't go into detail, but again, it hammers home the loyalty and kinship of a biker gang and their credo. "Stone" is a film that I'd love to have in my home collection. It is a treasure and once again I gotta thank Quentin Tarantino and the New Beverly Cinema for turning me on to it.

Quentin Tarantino's March Madness continues throughout the rest of the month. Check the New Beverly's website for full details and times. Also stay tuned for more coverage of March Madness as I will be continuing to do write-up's on the rest of the events scheduled. You can also check out my previous coverage to March Madness with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.