Saturday, November 10, 2018

Raymond Chow Passes On

Raymond Chow, the founder of Golden Harvest who was pivotal in the careers of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, died on November 2 2018 at the age of 92.

Raymond Chow was born on October 8 1927 in British Hong Kong. He attended Saint John's University in Shanghai and graduated with a degree in journalism. In 1951 he went to work for the Voice of America's office in Hong Kong. He also worked for The Hong Kong Standard. In 1958 he went to work as a publicist for the Shaw Brothers Studio. It was after he complained about the quality of the Shaw Brothers' movies that studio chief Run Run Shaw invited him to contribute his own ideas on scripts. Eventually Mr. Chow would become the production chief of the Shaw Brothers Studio. It was in 1970 that he left the studio along with fellow Shaw Brothers executive Leonard Ho to found their own studio, Golden Harvest.

In the beginning Golden Harvest had problems competing with the Shaw Brothers. All of this changed after Mr. Chow saw Bruce Lee giving a martial arts demonstration on Hong Kong television. Bruce Lee was known for having played Kato on the American TV series The Green Hornet and having made several guest appearances on American television, as well as appearing in the Hollywood film Marlowe (1969). The Shaw Brothers had offered Bruce Lee a contract, but he would sign a two film deal with Golden Harvest after the studio offered him $15,000 per film, a share in the profits, and a say in the production of the films. Bruce Lee's first film for Golden Harvest, The Big Boss (1971), proved to be an enormous success. Golden Harvest would later make history by co-producing Bruce Lee's film Enter the Dragon (1973) with Hollywood studio Warner Bros., as well as Bruce Lee's own Concord Productions.

Even after Bruce Lee's death, Golden Harvest would continue to be a success with the Hui Brothers' comedies and the films of Jackie Chan. Golden Harvest would also produce the movies The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984), as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies of the Nineties. It was in 1997 during a financial crisis in Asia that Golden Harvest started to fail. Raymond Chow retired in 2007 Wu Kebo, who owns the Orange Sky Entertainment Group. Orange Sky and Golden Harvest would be merged in 2009.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Mourning Vanessa Marquez

"Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation."
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

It has been ten weeks since the worst day of my life. It was on that day that my beloved Vanessa Marquez was killed. My parents had me when they were older, so that while I am only 55 I have already experienced the deaths of many loved ones in my life.  My parents, all of my aunts and uncles, many of my cousins, and even one of my best friends has died. None of those deaths caused the amount of grief I have felt in the wake of Vanessa's death. I can speak in cliches about how I felt about Vanessa. I can say that I love her more than anyone else in my life. I can say that she was my best friend, my soulmate, the girl of my dreams, and the love of my life. In the end, however, words are inadequate to describe how I feel about Vanessa. When she died it felt as if part of my soul was torn away, and it still feels as if a part of me is missing.

The night before she died, I had made a post to Instagram stating that as Stand and Deliver (1988) was 30 years old, it was now a classic movie. This naturally meant that Vanessa Marquez was then a classic movie actress. What is more,  I named her as my favourite classic movie actress. When I told Vanessa that I had posted my favourite classic movie actress, she guessed it was Ann Blyth. I told her it was another actress who was pretty and petite. She was very happy to learn it was her. She was also surprised, although there was no reason she should have been. It had long been obvious how I felt about her. There was nothing that night to indicate what would follow that next day.

That next day Vanessa was having very bad seizures. She had me contact the paramedics. Someone else, apparently her landlord (about whom the less is said, the better), had called the police. I had to go to our local historical society's museum to work that afternoon. I texted her when I got back. After waiting for a reply I ran a search on the internet. It was about 8:00 PM Central Time that I learned that there had been an incident involving an unnamed 49 year old woman at the address of Vanessa's apartment. My worry gave way to panic. It was a little before 11:00 PM Central Time that I learned from The South Pasadenan that the woman was my Vanessa. I notified some of our mutual friends with the sad news and then posted the news of her death to both Facebook and Twitter. Not only was I in shock, but I was in more emotional pain than I have ever experienced in my life.

I also broke down crying immediately and, although I went to bed, I did not sleep at all that night. I continued crying throughout the night. It was in the early morning that the thought occurred to me that it would simply take an overdose of my blood pressure medication to put an end to my suffering. I dismissed the thought because a) I did not want my friends and family to go through the sort of grief I was experiencing; b.) it occurred to me that I had to remain alive to see that Vanessa received justice and to protect her reputation; and c.) I knew Vanessa would be very angry with me if I took my own life. Please do not worry about me. I never had suicidal thoughts before, I have not had any suicidal thoughts since, and I know I won't ever again, but the fact that I had those thoughts at all is a mark of just how much I was hurting.

I continued crying well into August 31 and would not stop until around 1:00 PM Central Time. In the meantime my Twitter feed had blown up with condolences from many. There were also requests from reporters for interviews and a few loathsome tweets from trolls (all of whom I reported and blocked--apparently one of my tweets made the news sources). I did not respond to the reporters, as in the early morning of August 31 I was still crying so hard that I probably would have been incomprehensible, not to mention I worried that they might figure out the true nature of my relationship with Vanessa. I have always been very jealous of my privacy and I was not yet ready to become known as "the boy who loves Vanessa Marquez" (which I think will be my epithet now and it doesn't bother me at all). It was later in the day that I consented to talk to Amanda Lee Myers of Associated Press as I am familiar with her work and I knew she would be sympathetic. Even then, it was difficult making it through the interview. Several days later I would talk to Daniel Vazquez of The South Pasadenan, who was also very sympathetic.

I didn't eat anything on August 31 and I continued to eat nothing on September 1. I simply had no appetite at all. In fact, I wouldn't eat anything until the evening of September 2. I did get some sleep, but not much. I awakened on both September 1 and September 2 crying. While I would resume eating, I did not sleep well for much of the month of September and it was not unusual for me to have nightmares when I did sleep. I cried every single day, usually multiple times. I don't know how many times I listened to "Paint It, Black" by The Rolling Stones, "Gone Away" by The Offspring, "Don't Go" by Matthew Sweet, and "I Don't Believe in Love" by Queensryche. I talked with our mutual friends. It felt good to talk to people who loved Vanessa and who loved me, and who were the only ones who realised just how important Vanessa was to me.

Another thing that comforted me though the month was that I was able to take part in the memorial for Vanessa held in South Pasadena after a fashion, even though I could not attend. I wrote a short piece about Vanessa for the memorial. I also chose two of the songs performed there: "Over the Rainbow" (it was The Wizard of Oz that made Vanessa decide she wanted to be an actress) and The Beatles' "In My Life" (Vanessa was a Beatles fan and she loved the song--I always identified it with her as well). The cast and crew of Stand and Deliver held a memorial for Vanessa in October at the Los Angeles Theatre Centre, and they requested that the piece I had written for Vanessa be read there too.

Of course, given how Vanessa died I was and still am very angry. I feel as if the woman I love was taken from me due to gross incompetence, criminal irresponsibility, and possibly even malice. I am not alone in believing that what happened to Vanessa was wrong, and there are those of us who are still seeking to get her justice. Until such time as the parties responsible for her death are brought to justice,  I will harbour a good deal of anger towards them.

Regardless, I am much better than I was in September. As September became October I stopped crying every single day, although I do still cry on a somewhat regular basis. There are still certain songs to which I cannot listen without breaking down crying, and I know there are certain movies that I probably can't watch without doing so (The Apartment is my second favourite movie of all time, but given I always thought of Vanessa as my Miss Kubelik, I don't know if I am quite ready for it...). Every day I watch Vanessa's videos just to hear her voice, and I talk to her every night before I go to bed, whether she can hear me or not. While I am making it out of my grief and I know that there is one day I will be free of it, I also know that until the day I die I will always miss Vanessa.

I also know that there will never be another woman in my life. I know many will want to tell me that I will find someone else one day, but I know for a fact that this is not true. Vanessa was a singular woman. She was beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, generous, and warm hearted. We had a good deal in common and got along perfectly together. We both knew secrets about each other that no one else knew. She would have been special even if she had never been a star of movies, television, and the stage.  I always wanted to move to California to be with her. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I wanted to marry her. I have had girlfriends in the past, but I can honestly say that Vanessa was the only woman I ever truly loved. There really isn't any woman who could ever compete with her and it would be unfair of me to ask any woman to compete with a ghost. And, to be honest, I am perfectly fine with spending the rest of my life alone. After all, it is not every Missouri farm boy who can say that he fell in love with a beautiful Hollywood actress and had that love returned. Vanessa Rosalia Marquez was and will always be the only girl for me.

I know the coming months won't be easy. Vanessa would have turned 50 next month and I know her birthday will be difficult for me to get through. My birthday this coming March will be difficult to get through as well. In the end, however, while I wish Vanessa had not died, especially not the way she did, and I will always miss her, I am thankful to have had such a special relationship with her. I was closer to Vanessa than I ever had been to anyone in my life, and I will always cherish our time together. And I know that when I die, I will have someone very special waiting for me in  the afterlife. While in the end I wish things had gone differently, I think with Vanessa I had an experience that only a very people ever have in life.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The 50th Anniversary of The Monkees' Movie Head

It was 50 years ago that Head (1968), best known as the only feature film to star The Monkees, premiered in New York City. Its premiere was only around two months after the last episode of the TV shows The Monkees had aired on NBC. While the show had only been a moderate success in the Nielsen ratings, the band created for that show, also called The Monkees, had proven to be an enormous success on the record charts, with four number one albums and three number one singles to their credit. Unfortunately, Head would see the beginning of a slow decline for the band. The film would bomb at the box office, while the soundtrack album would peak at only no. 45 on the Billboard albums chart. Despite its lack of initial success, Head has since become a cult film and is highly regarded even by those Monkees fans who might not have understood it upon first seeing it.

Like the TV show The Monkees itself, Head originated with director and producer Bob Rafelson. According to Mr. Rafelson's daughter Gabrielle in an article in The Guardian published in 2011, with the film he wanted to tell about The Monkees' "...manipulation, protest and substantial talents. He felt the true story, in abstract [form], would be more than worth the telling." Bob Rafelson introduced The Monkees to one of his friends, actor and screenwriter Jack Nicholson. It was in late 1967 that Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson, and The Monkees met at a hotel in Ojai Valley, California to brainstorm the movie, reportedly with assistance from a good deal of marijuana. A tape recorder was kept running the whole time and Jack Nicholson used the resultant tapes to write the screenplay. Bob Rafelson later claimed he developed the film's structure while on LSD.

Given the fact that they had taken part in the brainstorming session for the movie that would come to be called Head, The Monkees were none too happy when they learned they would not be given screenwriting credit. Led by Michael Nesmith, The Monkees except for Peter Tork, staged a walk-out on the first day of shooting. Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Davy Jones returned only after an agreement was struck to pay The Monkees more money. Unfortunately, the damage was already done to the relationship between The Monkees and Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. After Head, The Monkees would never work with the man who created the show on which they had starred again.

Head would go through various titles before its premiere on November 6 1968. One of its working titles during production was Changes. For a preview screening in Los Angeles in August, it was simply called Movee Untitled. It was ultimately titled Head partially as a drug reference and partially so Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider's next production could be advertised as coming "..from the guys who gave you Head."Of course, their next production would be Easy Rider (1969).

Unfortunately there would be signs that Head would not go over well even before its premiere. The aforementioned preview in Los Angeles in August 1968 proved to be disastrous. After the preview screening the film was edited down from its original 118 minutes to 86 minutes. The film's initial promotional campaign probably did not help matters. Posters simply featured a head shot of then multimedia artist John Brockman (later a literary agent) with the title of the film. After Head moved from limited release in New York City to wide release across the nation, Columbia Pictures would retain the "John Brockman" campaign while launching a more traditional campaign that sought to capitalise on The Monkees as the stars of the movie.

Upon its initial release Head received definitely mixed reviews. Renta Adler of The New York Times gave the film a somewhat negative review, writing that it "..might be a film to see if you have been smoking grass or if you like to scream at The Monkees, or if you are interested in what interests drifting heads and hysteric high school girls." The Motion Picture Herald gave the film a much more positive review, stating, "The humour, format and comment of Head make it attractive, entertaining and welcome." The review in Daily Variety fell somewhat between these two extremes. In the end, critics came to no real consensus with regards to Head, with some liking the film, some disliking the film, and some simply indifferent towards it.

While critics gave the film mixed reviews, audiences simply avoided Head. Ultimately it only made about $16,000 at the box office, far short of its admittedly meagre $790,000 budget. Much of the problem with Head might have been the fact that the movie was made to appeal to the counterculture, who largely considered The Monkees personae non gratae. At a screening in Greenwich Village, many in the audience walked out of the film the moment The Monkees appeared on screen. At the same time Head probably did not appeal to The Monkees' core audience, who at that time consisted primarily of teenagers and children.

Indeed, in some respects Head was a far cry from the TV show The Monkees. The film touched upon much darker material than the sitcom ever had, including war and the downsides of celebrity. To a large degree Head even deconstructed The Monkees themselves. At the same time, however, Head is not as far removed from the TV show The Monkees as some people have claimed over the years. It shared with the series the same freewheeling, often surreal humour and parodies of such established genres as war movies and Westerns. In between various sequences would be what could only be described as Monkees romps (such as "Can You Dig It" performed in a harem).

Indeed, music is as important a part of Head as it was the TV series. The film featured songs by The Monkees themselves ("Circle Sky" by Michael Nesmith and "Can You Dig It?" and "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?" by Peter Tork),  Carole King (who co-wrote "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" with Gerry Goffin and "As We Go Along" with Toni Stein), and Harry Nilsson ("Daddy's Song"). Interestingly enough, the Head  soundtrack would be the only album to feature no songs by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote the bulk of The Monkees' hits.

Despite the failure of Head at the box office and its mixed reception from critics in 1968, the film has since developed a cult following. It made its television debut on The CBS Late Movie on December 30 1974 and has since been shown on many other television outlets, including Turner Classic Movies. Among the many fans of Head are directors Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino. And while many Monkees fans in 1968 may have been puzzled by Head, today it is loved by many Monkees fans. Head may have flopped in 1968, but it has since become a success.