"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 July 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Mondo Cannes


[bishop's early morning crawls into bed]

From the Atlanta skyscraper

where Sharky's Machine stuntman

plunged into cine-immortality to

the MGM soundstage where the

Wizard of Oz's grip

made his final exit, from the

Three Men and a Baby bedroom

haunted by a sly revenant to

your own darkened rec room,

where you freeze-frame through

the otherwise unwatchable The

Crow in hope of pinpointing the

scene that brought on Brandon

Lee's "accidental death," the

lure of Hollywood snuff, real

and cryptic, has always had more

faces than Death itself.


In release for only a few weeks,

Small Soldiers already shows

signs of topping all previous

movie die-ins. "I'd hate for it

to be only Phil Hartman's last

movie," director Joe Dante said

after the star's death. But

since no other cast members were

willing to be shot by their

spouses, Phil had to do.

Although DreamWorks loaded the

film with such sure-fire seat

fillers as a high-tension wire

scene that had electric

companies around the country

issuing tantalizing

don't-try-this-at-home warnings,

it was the star's early

departure that gave the movie

that sense of mystic awe that

surrounds the yearbook photo of

your friend who died the summer

after graduation. Universal, in

loudly downplaying Hartman's

role, escaped the seemingly

inevitable conclusion that Small

Soldiers offered kids slightly

less in-your-face excitement

than Madeline.


Joe Dante never gets enough

credit for having his finger on

the pulse of America; his 1984

Gremlins, for example, tapped

into the then-current paranoia

that the country was being

overrun by fast-breeding

orientals bent on using our own

inventions against us. But the

brilliant second flank of Small

Soldiers' marketing scheme -

channeling Kip Kinkel through

its celebrated "Kip Killigan"

toy - lay in the realization

that America's greatest fear is

not Asians but teenagers.


[the second foxiest rock boy in sf]

But these are mere second-hand

killings. You can hardly expect

Average Kid, who sees 40,000

televised homicides before his

18th birthday, to be satisfied

with this kind of

crypto-eschatology. For real

satisfaction, you need the

genuine article, and for several

generations of Americans, no

death sequence has been more

genuine than the scene of John

F. Kennedy, brimming with the

same blithe lumpishness he

brought to skippering the PT

109, being chauffeured through

Dealey Plaza. It's a scene as

emblematic of the man as Ronald

Reagan's encounter with a Jody

Foster fan (who, real trivia

experts will recall, prompted

the producers of the TV show The

Greatest American Hero to drop

the hero's Kinkel-ish last name

of Hinkley) was emblematic of

that virtual President. (Really,

who among you is hard-hearted

enough to watch Reagan wave and

smile, too blunderingly tireless

to realize he's been shot, and

not wish the drooling,

hallucinating ex-chief might yet

shamble back to close out the

millennium with a preemptive

nuclear strike?)


But as you lay down your

US$19.95 for the digitally

enhanced Zapruder director's

cut, it's not so much the

snapshot of history you're after

as the promise that this time

the ride won't end with a

tasteful cut to the talking head

of Arthur Schlesinger or Doris

Kearns Goodwin, but with the

back-and-to-the-left reacting

head of the president. Op-Ed

writers, those seemingly

infinite receptacles of outrage,

have decided presidential snuff

footage is somehow a more

sleazy legacy for the Zapruders

than the Indian plunder and

triangular trade that made

America's family fortunes in the

past ("Sadly, the American

public will probably snap it

up," sniffed a characteristic

essay in the Rochester, New

York, Democrat and Chronicle), but as

every flatulent nitwit with a

soapbox moons about Saving

Private Ryan's shockingly

authentic violence, it's

heartening to see that the

barely mediated Real Thing still

has some resale value.



Among baby boomers whose

sentimentality has begun to

dawdle off into pure delusion,

there's a belief that a

non-assassinated Kennedy would

have averted the quagmire of

Vietnam. If that had happened,

though, we would never have

gotten a look at that touchstone

image of unretouched blood sport

- Saigon Police Chief Nguyen

Ngoc Loan's command decision on

a Viet Cong prisoner's temple.

Police Chief Loan, who spun out

his days as a restaurateur and

died a few weeks ago, never got

much credit for his grand

gesture. Eddie Adams, the

photographer who won a Pulitzer

Prize for his picture of Loan's

blowout, acknowledged in a

strangely touching eulogy that

the picture "really messed up

[Loan's] life." Visitors to

Loan's Virginia eatery scribbled

"We know who you are" messages

in the restroom, forgetting to

add "... and you're gear!" Nor

did any Hollywood players send

respectful thanks for the way

the point-blank temple shot has

moved up the ranks of legitimate

cinema. Without all those head

shots, Schindler's List would be

remembered as the movie where a

bunch of people took a

non-lethal shower at Auschwitz.


But that's gratitude for you.

Increasingly, for a movie to

work, somebody has to take a

fall. And with The World's

Scariest Police Shootouts and

Daniel Jones-style freeway

suicides raising the bar every

week, squibs must inexorably

yield to Vic Morrow method

acting. No animals may be hurt

in the making of a film, but for

Hollywood to survive, SAG will

have to issue work rules

flexible enough to make a GM

executive's mouth water. Rising

standards of excellence demand

not just great movies, but

movies to die for.

courtesy of BarTel d'Arcy