Ashtray Chat Films

Isolation Powered Cinematic Surprises



Sure, holed-up as we are during these plague weeks, there is the understandable urge to pleasure-binge beloved favorites. Color me guilty! I spun through the entire first season of Space:1999. Also watched Bride of Frankenstein, The Exorcist, The Omega Man (heh), a few others. But my current available library and online resources are actually quite limited; a lot stuff remains in storage, and I don’t have access to streaming services like Netflix. If I want to watch TV, I do so on my phone which supplies me with a  fistful of basic-cable channels. Ah, the sordid pleasures of ID! But while my conscience might not be troubled by the often repellent nature of the material, the frequency of the commercials annihilate what’s left of my grey matter. So, thank Satan for TCM, man. All movies, all the time, no commercials.

But like everybody else, I have my prejudices. I would not describe myself as an effusive fan of dance-driven musicals, westerns, romantic comedies; there’s no love lost for films featuring Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Steve McQueen, John Wayne. And there are an abundance of such films in regular rotation on TCM, movies that reek of “americana” and “grand old Hollywood,” and worse.

Boredom can work wonders, however, and force one to at least explore if not embrace heretofore undesirable genres. Take westerns, for example. Despite being blown away by Once Upon a Time in the West and certain films by Clint Eastwood, I still have a knee-jerk negative reaction when presented with the opportunity to scope flicks of the ‘ole dusty West. So I was fairly amazed the other night when, out of sheer desperation, I settled down to watch John Ford’s My Darling Clementine.

And I was damn glad I did, because it was awesome. No shit.


John Ford takes on the legend of the O.K. Corral shoot-out in this multilayered, exceptionally well-constructed western, one of the director’s very best films. Henry Fonda cuts an iconic figure as Wyatt Earp, the sturdy lawman who sets about the task of shaping up the disorderly Arizona town of Tombstone, and Victor Mature gives the performance of his career as the boozy, tubercular gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. Though initially at cross-purposes, the pair ultimately team up to confront the violent Clanton gang. Affecting and stunningly photographed, My Darling Clementine is a story of the triumph of civilization over the Wild West from American cinema’s consummate mythmaker. — Cribbed from the Criterion site

It was indeed stunningly photographed in glorious black and white, and Fonda and Mature were so good in their respective roles. I am so grateful that I managed to defeat my inner snob and surprisingly embraced this wonderful film.

So maybe westerns aren’t THAT much of a stretch: good guys, bad guys, etc. Ah, but how about the 1950s era dance-driven musical a-burstin’ in technicolor? UghghGhng, the inner snob immediately responds. But wait, says the new voice of temperance, There are several musicals you adore: The Wizard of Oz, Hair, Camelot, Rocky Horror, Jesus Christ Superstar. Hell’s Bells, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite things, period. So… give one of those big garish musicals a try!

Well, I did.


Gah. The poster alone makes me want run screaming. Look at that type-treatment! I watched it though, start to finish. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t h-h-h-HATE it, either. It was charming enough, in its own way. Even an uptight fuckwad like me had to to be grudgingly impressed by Gene Kelly tap-dancing in roller skates. Though it’s safe to say I remain untempted to seek out other such garish feel-good spectacles.

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Earlier I said that my physical AV library was at the moment quite limited; it’s true. But I had one disc on hand that I had never watched.



There’s a bodega in New London that sells absolutely top-notch high-quality bootlegs. Alas, the copy I purchased of The Rise of Skywalker was not of that caliber. It was shot directly off-screen, with the subsequent audio and video impairment; plus there were super-imposed ads for gambling websites in several languages. When first purchased, I watched the first five minutes then quietly, firmly said “No.”

Flash forward to the Plague Weeks. I gave the bootleg copy another shot. Yes, the defects were detrimental, but not lethal. After all, in the 80s I was very grateful for my very low-grade anime bootlegs. And I’m happy to report that the strength of Skywalker as a film far outshines the video clutter; I was happily surprised by how good it was. Easily the strongest of the last three entries. The Rise of Skywalker is far from perfect, a little too heavy on the sentimentality and nostalgia, but that’s to be expected. It’s a Star Wars movie, for goodness sake.


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So what have you been watching during these lonely weeks in isolation? At any rate, stay safe, stay sane.

Edited to add: What a dope. I initially identified the Star Wars film in question as The Force Awakens, when I meant to say The Rise of Skywalker!


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