Sunday, January 13, 2019

THE BLUES BROTHERS

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi
"We're on a mission from God."

The first thing I think about when I think about The Blues Brothers is that it opened in Los Angeles on the exact same day as Can’t Stop the Music. Yes, on Friday, June 20th 1980, two big budget, heavily promoted Hollywood musicals played within blocks of one another on Hollywood Boulevard. Pitched to entirely different audiences and experiencing entirely different fates, the films couldn’t be more dissimilar while having so much in common.

Both are pop musicals structured as fictionalized bios of real-life manufactured bands that found unexpected success in the late 1970s. As a performance act, The Village People are largely just costumed dancers marching behind a talented lead vocalist; The Blues Brothers, two costumed Saturday Night Live alumni assuming alter-identity roles as fictional characters fronting a legitimate band of accomplished musicians. 
John Belushi in The Blues Brothers
as "Joliet" Jake Blues
Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers
as Elwood Blues
It can be argued that each band profited from white America’s preference for the watered-down interpretations of music styles rooted in the Black American experience: disco (which developed from dance R&B and funk), blues, jazz, and classic R&B. Just as it can be debated that the success potential of major film projects being built around these bands was rooted in and reliant upon a certain degree of pop cultural pretense.
In order to turn a profit, the PG-rated, $20 million Can’t Stop the Music needed to downplay The Village People’s gay disco origins and hopefully attract the same clueless pop/teen record-buying audience that never “got” the group’s homoerotic costuming or the gay subtext of songs like YMCA and Macho Man.

For The Blues Brothers to succeed, this R-rated, $27 million well-intentioned “Tribute to African- American music”—sentiments expressed by both by Aykroyd & Belushi—had to play up the faux “soul” personas of its two white male stars (whose chief demographic, via SNL and Animal House, was 20-something white males) while exploiting the fleeting “guest star” presence of entertainers who were the genuine article: true legends from the worlds of blues, jazz, and R&B.
In short: Can’t Stop the Music featured a band playacting as straight, The Blues Brothers band featured two frontmen playacting at being Black. 
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi
But that’s where the similarities end. Can’t Stop the Music banked on the popularity of disco, which had fallen out of favor by the time of release, a fact contributing to the film’s ignominious death at the boxoffice. The Blues Brothers took a gamble on music that hadn’t been popular among young people for many years. The film’s blockbuster success sparked a renewed interest in classic R&B, and rejuvenated the careers of the Black artists showcased in the film.
Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers - 1980
Ray Charles in The Blues Brothers
In 1980 I was far too much into disco to even consider going to see The Blues Brothers, the first two weekends of its release finding me at the Paramount Theater (now El Capitan) on Hollywood Blvd watching Can’t Stop the Music in a near-empty house. I didn’t actually see The Blues Brothers until after Xanadu had opened the following month, by which time the poorly-reviewed Belushi/Aykroyd starrer had already emerged the hit of the summer... coming in second to The Empire Strikes Back
James Brown as Rev. Cleophus James
Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers
I can’t profess to ever having been a big fan of SNL, I've never seen Animal House, and my reaction to the 1978 popularity of The Blues Brothers as a legitimate musical act (opening act for Steve Martin) and chart-topping recording artists (I mistook their debut LP “Briefcase Full of Blues” for a comedy album) was likely similar to how fans of rock perceived The Monkees back in the ‘60s.
Blues legend John Lee Hooker
Grammy Winning artist Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan has a cameo as a member of the Triple Rock Baptist Church choir

But despite my initial misgivings, John Landis’ The Blues Brothers ultimately did more than win me over, I actually fell in love with it. This ragtag tale of two musical miscreants on a mission of reform took me back to my childhood; the film striking me as a hip update of those overblown slapstick chase comedies like The Great Race (1965) crossed with those all-star cameo epics like Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Set in contemporary Chicago, the tone of The Blues Brothers and its depiction of Black culture is forever skirting the fine line between veneration and patronizing (Black artists are the supporting cast in a film dedicated to the music they invented). But the overall cleverness and humor of the film allows it to coast on a great deal of good intentions, goodwill, and the exhilaration that comes from The Blues Brothers being a bang-up, enjoyably silly musical comedy.
Kathleen Freeman as Sister Mary Stigmata
Kathleen Freeman as Sister Mary Stigmata (The Penguin)
Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers
Carrie Fisher as the Mystery Woman


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
That The Blues Brothers is now considered by many to be a classic (and deservedly so, in my opinion) has a lot to do with its age (almost 40 years old, a great many of its biggest fans discovered it on cable TV as kids, citing it the first R-rated movie they ever saw); its financial success (it was the 10th highest grossing film of 1980); and the indelible stamp it’s made on pop culture (linked to the glory days of SNL and remembered fondly for its guest roster of musical greats, even if you don’t care for the film, there’s no denying that something about The Blues Brothers seized the public's imaginations enough for the group to become a household name and pop phenomenon). And like the film it most resembles—the equally unwieldy and intermittently funny car chase comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) —The Blues Brothers is a product of a distinct era (the post-‘70s blockbuster days of pre-CGI excess) and features the final or only screen appearances of several so many entertainment industry greats no longer with us. In that respect, it can’t help but look great from a rear-view perspective.
John Candy as Burton Mercer
John Candy as Corrections Officer Burton Mercer

I was a huge fan of The Blues Brothers back in 1980, seeing it so many times I could repeat jokes and recite bits of dialogue. I still enjoy it a great deal, but upon revisiting it recently via the extended Blu-ray edition (approximately 15-minutes longer than the theatrical), it became clearer to me that the music and musical sequences are where my heart lie. They're so good they tend to make me forget that the deadpan give-and-take between Jake and Elwood can feel a little draggy. The film's soundtrack is a major saving grace, the personal nostalgia dredged up by the songs reminding me of the music my parents used to play around the house when I was a kid. It's only humor-wise where things start to get dicey for me. Aykroyd comes off as a nice kind of goofus of a guy, but (and I know I'm alone in this) I honestly don't get Belushi's appeal. The contributions of the guest stars and cameos are fun, as are the almost surreal touches of over-scale lunacy that give the film the feel of a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Twiggy in The Blues Brothers
Twiggy as The Chic Lady
But retro-romanticizing aside, I must confess my refamiliarizing myself with The Blues Brothers did leave me at a bit of a loss when it came to accessing what the hell I once thought was so outrageously funny about it all. Some bits still get me, like the scene where a car driven by Nazis launches off an unfinished freeway overpass to an absurdly high altitude. Or the way Elwood zeroes in on a toaster oven (a slice of white bread materializing from his pocket) while the band members examine musical instruments at Ray’s shop. But did I really laugh that loud and long at the mere sight of so many scenes of cars crashing into one another back in 1980? (Yes.) Did I really not notice how women figure so marginally (and dismissively) in this puerile boys club demolition derby fantasy? (Yes.)
The whole viewing experience reminded me of the time I tried relistening to one of those ‘70s Cheech & Chong comedy albums that were all the rage when I was in high school. Verdict: WTF?

Henry Gibson as the Head Nazi
Comedy tastes change, I know. And while I never tire of some ‘70s comedies like What’s Up, Doc? and Young Frankenstein, perhaps the style of comedy that came into vogue at the start of the ‘80s—the cocaine-fueled variety, anyway—just has a shorter shelf-life for me. (I’m equally immune to the comedy of early Steve Martin and Robin Williams.). The biggest laugh The Blues Brothers elicited from me this time around is courtesy of footage not even found in the original release. It’s a scene where Cab Calloway is explaining to the band that Jake and Elwood plan to give the proceeds from their Palace Hotel concert to the orphanage. The band members’ collective reaction is great. 
Steve Laurence as Maury Sline
Steve Lawrence as Maury Sline

THE STUFF OF FANTASY  
For many, The Blues Brothers endures because of its standing as a filmed record of so many now-deceased legendary Black artists from the worlds of jazz, R&B, gospel, and blues. In a year that saw the release of many large-budget musical films--Xanadu, Popeye, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Apple, The Jazz Singer (which gave us Neil Diamond in blackface, fer crissake), and Can’t Stop the Music --The Blues Brothers was the only one with soul. Too bad the only way one could get to it was after Belushi and Aykroyd relinquished the spotlight.
The Blues Brothers shines brightest in its musical interludes. And what a treat it is to see Aretha Franklin in her first movie appearance, James Brown singing gospel, Cab Calloway in Technicolor, and a street full of Chicago residents doing the twist to Ray Charles. (The image that most stuck in my mind when I saw the film's trailer.)
Choreographed by the late Carlton Johnson (familiar to many as the only Black male member of the Ernie Flatt Dancers on The Carol Burnett Show), each number is a standalone set-piece staged with witty exuberance and cinematic panache. My favorites, in order of preference:

Ray Charles - "Shake a Tailfeather"
Ray Charles really blows the roof off with his driving rendition of this upbeat R&B dance tune first sung by The Five Du-Tones in 1963, making it more than fitting that the number spills out into the Chicago streets, inspiring the first flash mob. Playing the proprietor of Ray's Music Exchange where the band goes to purchase instruments, Charles' infectiously soulful vocals are so raw and playful, he fairly dares you to stay in your seat. Which makes it so ideal that the throngs of amateur dancers outside his store so enthusiastically accommodate his requests for a rundown of the popular dances of the '60s. I love absolutely everything about this number, which is the most assured in terms of choreography, staging, and editing. Just brilliant.
The center member of the Soul Food Chorus is Aretha Franklin's younger sister Carolyn
Aretha Franklin - "Think"
Although she briefly sang and acted in a 1971 episode of TV's Room 222, The Blues Brothers marks Aretha Franklin's film debut. Cast as the wife of Blues Hall of Fame inductee Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Franklin's now-iconic performance of her 1968 hit "Think" is both rousing and an uncontested high point in the film. Many consider it the best number in the film, something I wouldn't necessarily argue with, save for a quibble or two. No one can fault Franklin's peerless performance and star quality, but my problem (and this is likely due to the multiple takes required due to Franklin's discomfort with lip syncing) but the editing feels soggy and screws with the song's rhythm, and the fuzzy staging frequently leaves Franklin not knowing what to do with her arms or body as she waits for the next verse.  
James Brown - "The Old Landmark"
Jake and Elwood find religion and a higher purpose at the Triple Rock Baptist Church listening to the sermon of Rev. Cleophus James. And who wouldn't in the presence of The Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown? When the Reverend and his choir break into this 1949 gospel standard (which Brown had never heard of before) the church erupts into a jubilant revival production number that literally defies gravity. James Brown (a personal favorite) is dynamic as all get-out in in this, the film's first musical set-piece, whose contagious energy and gymnastic, high-kicking dancers get things off to a very spirited start. 
Cab Calloway - Minnie the Moocher
A delightful moment that I recall brought a round of applause from the movie theater audience I saw this with, was when 72-year-old Cab Calloway, as Curtis, the janitor at the orphanage where Jake and Elwood were raised, entertains a restless audience by magically morphing into the 1930s incarnation of the Big Band Cab Calloway we all remember (transforming the stage and the motley band members along with him). In the theatrical release this stylish highlight was marred by cutaways to the tardy Blues Brothers trying to make it to the theater. The restored Blu-ray allows us to see more of Calloway's hep rendition of his 1931 signature song. A song he co-penned with Irving Mills, and which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, five years after Calloway's death. 
Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) as a waiter at the Chez Paul restaurant

THE STUFF OF DREAMS   
As my partner can attest, a favorite phrase of mine is “Two things can be true at once.” A phrase that comes in particularly handy when writing about film. Take for example the observation that Faye Dunaway is an unrepentant ham, while at the same time being an absolutely brilliant actress. Both are circumstantially true, resulting in the truth of one not negating the truth of the other. It's all a matter of perspective.
As per The Blues Brothers: It’s true the film and its makers provide a respectful and, in some instances, classic showcase for Black artists ignored by Hollywood. It’s a fact that Aykroyd and Belushi used the privilege of their fame and took a risk on the moneymaking potential of the film by insisting on hiring these legendary Black stars and featuring so many Black faces in the supporting cast. (Theater distributors like Mann’s Westwood, not wanting what they perceived to be a “Black film” in their neighborhoods, wound up cutting The Blues Brothers opening venues by more than half.) It’s also true The Blues Brothers was instrumental in a whole new generation of people discovering music and artists white record companies and radio stations had long ignored. 

All that being said, it’s also true that The Blues Brothers is almost an embarrassing example of cultural appropriation. When my parents (who grew up on real blues and jazz) watched The Blues Brothers on cable TV many years ago, their takeaway was that the Black performances in the film reminded them of the days when Lena Horne would appear in isolated numbers in MGM musicals so that her scenes could be edited out when the films played in the South.
Subtextually, Black culture is used as a backdrop in The Blues Brothers, something Jake and Elwood have free access to lay claim to and use in any way they wish. Black music is theirs to perform, Black personas are theirs to adopt; all the while they’re secure in the fact that they don’t even have to be any good to succeed—they merely have to be not Black. An icky fact borne out by the statistic that both The Blues Brothers soundtrack and the aforementioned Briefcase Full of Blues are the top-selling blues albums of all time. My head hurts just thinking about that one. 
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as The Blues Brothers
Critics of the film rightfully question whether the humor of The Blues Brothers 
is rooted in merely seeing whites occupying Black spaces

None of this should detract from the obvious merits of The Blues Brothers, just call attention to talking points and food for thought impossible to ignore when watching a nearly 40-year-old film.
I consider The Blues Brothers to be a classic, but to true fans of blues and R&B, Aykroyd and Belushi are a bit like the Jayne Meadows and Nanette Newman of Soul: if you want to see Aretha Franklin and James Brown on the screen, you have to take Jake and Elwood in the bargain.
Steven Spielberg in The Blues Brothers 1980
Steven Spielberg as the Cook County Office Clerk

BONUS MATERIAL
A poorly-received Blues Brothers sequel--Blues Brothers 2000--was made in 1998, some 16-years after John Belushi's death. Co-written by Aykroyd and Landis, this PG-13 misguided venture brought back several members of the original cast (Aretha Franklin, James, Brown, Steve Lawrence, Kathleen Freeman) but to less entertaining effect. Budgeted at  $28 million, it grossed something in the neighborhood of $14 million. I tried watching it, but the introduction of that kid Blues Brother did me in.

Choreographer Carlton Johnson staging Franklin's "Think" musical number
The sixty-minute 1998 behind-the-scenes documentary "The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers" is currently available on YouTube. Click Here.



Copyright © Ken Anderson

Friday, January 4, 2019

LONG WEEKEND 1978

"Hey, farmer, farmer put away the DDT, now. Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees. Please."    Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell - 1970 

The toxic pesticide DDT wasn’t banned until 1972, but the Environmentalist movement responsible for getting that particular ecological ball rolling is also credited with inspiring the “Nature Strikes Back!” genre of horror films so popular in the '70s. Environmental horror films (eco-horror)—movies in which wildlife and nature rebelled against mankind’s abuses—were an amalgam of the mutant monster movies of the Atomic Age ‘50s and the man-against-man paranoia films of the Cold-War ‘60s. In capturing the '70s zeitgeist, these "Green Panic" films (sensationalized, often vigorously silly cautionary tales couched in well-meaning relevance) were the anxiety-induced by-product of America’s post-Vietnam self-loathing and Watergate guilt, crossed with the onset realization that the prosperity-based corporate/industrialist “plastics” future satirically endorsed in The Graduate (1967) was slowly killing the planet.

I grew up at a time when the air was brown with smog, when it was not unusual to see motorists on the freeway dump ashtrays and entire bags of garbage out of their windows onto the road, and when city sidewalks were freckled with the dots of chewing gum, cigarette butts, and the flip top tabs of soft drink cans. Societal attitudes toward pets and animals were far less humane and sanitary during these pre-curb your dog, spay/neuter ordinance days, the lack of mandatory leash laws turning a child's daily walk home from school (me, being the child in question) into an impromptu episode of Wild Kingdom.
Long Weekend is the first feature film for Australian director Colin Eggleston, and the first feature-length original screenplay from American writer Everett De Roche, who followed this up with the telekinesis thriller Patrick (1978)

I was a three-year-old when “Keep America Beautiful” anti-littering ads began appearing on television, 13 by the launch of the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), and 14 when Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody debuted as the teary-eyed Native American symbol in that long-running series of national anti-litterbug PSAs. The few headlines at the time that weren't devoted to the war in Vietnam or our crumbling democracy were devoted to news of man-made ecological disasters, panic-pieces on the dangers of nuclear power, and the ecological risks posed by pesticides, deforestation, and unchecked industrial waste.

In the shadow of a senseless war, government corruption, and economic collapse, the rapidly deteriorating environmental landscape came to mirror the American public's eroding faith in its leaders and institutions. It has always been a given that self-annihilation was the inevitable endgame of man's inhumanity to man, but when this callous disregard for existence looked to extend itself to the destruction of innocent wildlife and the environment as a whole, motion pictures took up the cathartic mantle of providing defenseless mother Nature with a melodramatic avenue of recourse: violent resistance.
John Hargreaves as Peter
Briony Behets as Marcia
Though lacking in the kind of environmentalist score-settling that later came to typify the genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is considered one of the earliest examples of “man vs. nature” horror. Come the ‘70s, the sleeper success of Willard (1971)—with its supporting cast of rampaging rodents—spearheaded the decade’s glut of “animals on the attack” films. Many of these films, especially Jaws (1975) the most successful and influential film of this ilk, simply inserted members of the animal kingdom into the classic sci-fi and monster movie template (Grizzly – 1976, Orca - 1977, The White Buffalo - 1977, Nightwing - 1979, Night of the Lepus). 
Others, like King Kong (1976) and The Swarm (1978), sought to combine both the monster movie ethos and contemporary environmentalist themes to the big-budget spectacle of the then-popular disaster film. But it was movies with titles like Food of the Gods (1976), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Empire of the Ants (1977), and Day of the Animals (1977) that established ecological horror as a standalone subgenre which sought to draw allegorical parallels between the revolt of nature and man’s abuse of the environment. 
Long Weekend, a 1978 Australian entry in the eco-horror cycle, is said to be a classic example of “Ozploitation”—the low-budget, sensationalist branch of the indie-film boom that saw Aussie features like Walkabout (1971), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), and Mad Max (1979) finding global popularity during the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Unlike those films, Long Weekend was not a success in its home country, so its 1979 U.S. release came without benefit of advance word-of-mouth or much in the way of marketing fanfare. Which may go to explain why I’d never even heard of the film before this year and why I don’t actually know if it ever had a Los Angeles release. More’s the pity. For I found Long Weekend to be such an unexpectedly taut and atmospheric exercise in dread and character conflict, I know it would have loved seeing it in my youth.
Long Weekend wins points right out of the gate in that it deftly combines elements of several of my favorite film genres: the domestic dysfunction drama (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Two for the Road, Closer ); the suspense thriller in which internal conflicts manifest as external threats (Black Swan, Images); the '70s disaster-survival film (The Poseidon Adventure); and the parapsychological haunted house movie (The Haunting).
Peter and Marcia, an unhappy couple living in the suburbs of Melbourne, embark (with polar opposite degrees of enthusiasm) on a trip to the Australian bush to camp, surf, and commune with nature over the course of a 4-day holiday weekend. Our introduction finds the attractive (if flinty) young couple barely on speaking terms: Marcia feeling Peter is behaving like “A real shit” for digging in his heels and dragging her off to rough it in the wild North when she’d much rather spend the weekend at a mountain resort with neighbors Mark and Freda; Peter, a gung-ho, weekend-warrior type who fancies himself a rugged outdoorsman, finds Marcia's "I don't want to go" peevishness to be suspect, so he masks his passive-aggressive dominance (i.e., a total disinterest in anything Marcia wants) behind half-hearted conciliatory gestures.
"Peter, I'm not the type for crapping in the sunshine and yawning around campfires!"
Marcia's resistance to the whole camping ordeal finds her insulated from nature in an expensive tent surrounded by creature comforts while she reads a Harold Robbins novel. (On IMDB it's cited that Marcia is reading the thematically suitable "The Inheritors" by William Golding (Lord of the Flies). Alas, it's the more character-revealing Robbins novel about greed and wealth by the same name.) 

As the two embark on their outing, encountering weather and traffic conditions which all but serve as banshee-screaming harbingers of doom urging the couple to “Go back!”, it isn't long before their ill-advised journey shows signs of becoming something of a metaphorical mystery tour. Past squabbles erupt, mutual dissatisfactions are aired, and along the way, a callous disregard for nature and the environment is evinced in terms reflective of their vacillating disregard for one another. It's in this manner that Long Weekend's cyclical (boomerang?) thematic structure is reinforced. The gross discordancy of Peter and Marcia's relationship (like cast-out Adam and Eve, they are given no last names) reverberates and revisits itself upon their surroundings, their toxic bitterness having the effect of despoiling the land and surrounding creatures until nature intervenes on life's behalf.
In an interview, the late Everett De Roche summarized the premise of his screenplay for Long Weekend: “Mother Earth has her own auto-immune system, so when humans start behaving like cancer cells, She attacks.”
An unattended spear gun goes off, narrowly missing one of the campers. The already-evidenced supernatural energy of the campsite (frequently, nature is heard to scream or cry whenever attacked) has the tree to appear to die from the spear, as though mortally wounded

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I discovered Long Weekend after spending an afternoon watching Joan Collins in the deliciously tacky Empire of the Ants and logged onto IMDB to see where this rather embarrassing foray into ginormous papier-mâché insects fell in her lengthy resume (plop in the middle of a fallow spell four years before Dynasty came a-callin’). The site recommended similar titles, among them Long Weekend which I’d never heard of, but whose plot summary I found intriguing.
Wholly anticipating a fun & cheesy exercise in “When Good Animals Go Bad”-style, nature-run-amok horror, I was caught off guard (and pleasantly surprised) when Long Weekend turned out to be a grippingly suspenseful, genuinely frightening eco-thriller with a compellingly fucked-up marriage at its center.
I confess to the snarky, Albee-esque “George and Martha Go Camping” angle being my favorite element of Long Weekend, but I’m equally impressed by the economy of De Roche’s crisp screenplay and the style of Eggleston’s direction. Making the most of its modest budget (purposefully underpopulated, the film pulls off the impressive feat of making the great outdoors feel encroaching and claustrophobic); simple theme (all livings things fight for their survival); and scenic locale (capitalizing on the ominously mystical quality of Australia’s undeveloped rural coast); Long Weekend tackles a lot of big issues by training its lens on the fine details.
Marcia and Peter's interactions are frequently filmed from a low, constantly moving angle,
giving the impression they are being watched by some unseen forest creature 


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
The cyclical indestructibility of energy—evil in particular—is a familiar theme in ghost stories and haunted house movies (how many films have used variations of the line “Evil never dies, it just changes form”?). In Long Weekend, humans are the generators of the malevolent energy that nature ultimately recycles and returns (with a vengeance) in a self-preservationist strike against the violent toxicity of mankind’s jackboot ecological footprint. Whereas a great many eco-horror films are built on the premise of humans terrorized by hostile beasts and wildlife invading urban areas of safety, Long Weekend cast humans as the unsafe and unwelcome intruders and despoilers of nature's beauty.
"What have you been doing to the tree?"
"Chopping it down."
"Why?"
"Why not
?"
Humanity’s entitled encroachment upon wildlife’s natural habitat is reflected in the film’s opening scenes which present Marcia, dressed in a green floral print, tending to her indoor plants (the “imprisoned” florae harkening back to the caged lovebirds in Hitchcock’s film), packing up a frozen chicken (which slips from her grasp, as though still alive and trying to escape), and ignoring a TV news report about flocks of cockatoos destroying homes in Sydney as they gnaw on the wood structures in an effort to correct a dietary imbalance brought about by overdevelopment. (A real-life problem that persists to this day in Australia.)
If Marcia is symbolic of mankind’s indifference to the environment (she would have Peter leave his dog alone for three days with one bowl of food “She’s too fat, anyway!”) Peter—with his arsenal of violent recreational camping equipment—is humanity at its most aggro. Peter’s master-of-all-he-surveys arrogance evident in the couple’s ceaselessly acrimonious interactions (rooted in possessiveness, betrayal, and the corrupt values of affluence) is the side of humanity that would seek to exert dominance over nature rather than contemplate a balanced coexistence.
Long Weekend is at its most unnervingly chilling when the corresponding themes of its cyclical structure (nearly everything that occurs in the latter part of the film has been telegraphed earlier) converge at the campsite, and the heretofore realist narrative grows sinisterly supernatural. Nature appears to respond defensively and in kind to the couple’s amplified aggressions, leading to the ultimate face-off…a tension-filled 20-minutes without dialogue…which is an unforgettable shock.

PERFORMANCES
Given my weakness for movies about screwed-up people in troubled relationships, I don’t hold to the axiom that characters in a film need to be likeable. Interesting and sympathetic perhaps, or, more to the point, empathetic works for me. Marcia & Peter are a pretty unpleasant pair as protagonists go, but as realized by British actor Briony Behets (at the time, wife of the director), and Australian actor John Hargreaves (who is truly splendid), they are believable as hell, and therefore, their flaws and weaknesses are compelling. If there's a sympathetic character to be found in the film at all, it's Mother Nature, whose army of disarmingly benign-looking warriors somehow manage to be both cute and discomfiting.
Gay actor John Hargreaves won Best Actor for his work in Long Weekend at The Sitges Film Festival (specializing in horror and fantasy films) in 1978, beating out Laurence Olivier in Dracula, Donald Pleasance in Halloween, and Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu. Hargreaves died of AIDS in 1996 and asked that his award be buried with him.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS  
The ‘70s are long gone, but in light of today’s concerns about global warming, climate change, and head-in-the-sand science deniers; I’d say the time was ripe for eco-horror movies to make a comeback. That is, until I happen to catch the news and am suddenly reminded that I'm actually living IN an environmental horror movie, and the idea loses all its entertainment value. Much in the way I've found myself over the last couple of years having no stomach for contemporary films about political corruption, with the threat of ecological Armageddon so real, I think I'm better of sticking with the Seventies. At least the ultimate message of those films was hopeful.
The third character in Long Weekend's three-character melodrama is the lush scenery of
Australia's Bournda State Reserve, New South Wales, and Phillip Island

And indeed, from the leading lady’s Samantha Sang hairdo to the leading man’s short-shorts, Long Weekend looks every bit the 1977 film it is (it took a while to reach the screen). But that doesn’t stop this Aussie import from still being one of the best of that decade’s Crimes Against Nature genre flicks; a timeless timepiece of suspense and retribution whose cautionary-tale take on the perils of pushing nature too far is (sadly) as relevant now as when it was made.



BONUS MATERIAL
Long Weekend was remade in 2008 by director Jamie Blanks from a screenplay by original screenwriter Everett De Roche. An Australian production that I believe went direct-to-video in the States (where it was given the awful title Nature's Grave).
This entertainingly faithful remake (down to duplicate shots and dialogue)
 stars Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan.

Screenwriter Everett De Roche makes a cameo appearance in the 2008 remake as a pub
patron at the Eggleston Hotel, a tribute to original Long Weekend director Colin Eggleston
Copyright © Ken Anderson