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By Matt Mumau
Few people, if any, contended that the message of rock legend Johnny Cash’s life, as portrayed in director James Mangold’s 2005 biopic Walk the Line, wouldn’t connect with a broad, everyman audience. According to local author and Le Moyne College communications professor Michael Streissguth, the reason for that absence of argument is simple. “Cash has this appeal with so many different segments of society,” Streissguth says, “from the senior citizens to teenagers and everywhere in between: urban audiences, rural audiences and international audiences. People just are intrigued by Johnny Cash.”
Streissguth has written three books about Cash. Johnny Cash: The Biography, published by Da Capo Press in 2006, is a part of the sprawling fandom that tends to the embers of the master’s legacy. Streissguth provides detailed liner notes for the new Columbia Legacy CD box set Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, which features two discs capturing both shows that were recorded on Jan. 13, 1968.
According to those notes, “Cash’s producer, Bob Johnston, needed two shows, guessing that he’d have to piece together the album from nuggets scattered throughout both performances. As it happened, the earlier show blazed. In the later show, Cash struggled to recapture the dynamism of the earlier show, so Johnston left most of it off the original album. But to hear the later show, available now for the first time, is to understand Cash’s heart and his absolute commitment to the prisoners. He never stopped loving them, even as his energy drained.”
The set also includes a DVD that offers a 130-minute film collaboration between Streissguth and Boston-based documentarian Bestor Cram that attempts to replicate that night. That documentary will be presented in conjunction with Le Moyne College and the Syracuse International Film Festival at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., on Friday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m.
Man on Wire. (Magnolia; 94 minutes; PG-13; 2008). Because it’s there. That’s the stock answer mountain climbers allegedly use as the mantra for scaling such insurmountable peaks, and that same answer also drove the demons of daredevil Philippe Petit, as he set out to rig a cable and then amble 200 feet across the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on Aug. 7, 1974. Director James Marsh’s lively documentary employs Petit’s 2002 book To Reach the Clouds and plenty of archival footage to chart this adventure, as he crosscuts between recent interviews with Petit and his accomplices and filmed recreations of these people (including Paul McGill as a striking doppelganger for Petit’s younger self) as they map out the intricacies.
The Tingler. (Columbia; 82 minutes; unrated; 1959). Schlockmeister William Castle sure knew how to ballyhoo his cheesy black-and-white horror flicks. For House on Haunted Hill (1958), filmed in the trumped-up process of “Emergo,” Castle instructed theaters to rig a skeleton so it would slide across a cable and over the heads of moviegoers, while 13 Ghosts (1960), shot in “Illusion-O,” required patrons to wear cardboard glasses so they could see the spooks in action. Castle’s most infamous gimmick, however, was “Percepto,” which concerned the wiring of certain bijou seats to deliver a kind of hand-buzzer jolt to those watching The Tingler.
This 1948 photo surely lives up to the movie’s title, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, an expert merging of hilarity and horror that will screen Saturday, Oct. 11, 2:30 and 7 p.m., at Rome’s Capitol Theatre, 220 W. Dominick St. Also to be shown in a 35mm print will be the more serious House of Dracula (1946) with Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine. And film historian Robert Furmanek will be at the 7 p.m. show to screen Abbott and Costello outtakes. Admission is $5.50 for adults, $1.50 for children. For information, call 337-6453.
Fright Flick. (La Luna Entertainment; 103 minutes; unrated; 2008). Gorehounds with fondnesses for topless, top-heavy actresses and buckets of blood hurled onto the screen should be in seventh heaven with this no-budget slasher item. It’s up for several awards at this weekend’s ninth annual B-Movie Festival, to be held at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St.
In Dallas-based writer-director Israel Luna’s scenario, a gaggle of young filmmakers gathers to complete the Fright Flick cinematic trilogy of poverty-row slice-and-dice masterpieces. But there’s a real killer stalking the cast and crew, and the slayer’s not above offing other bystanders who get in the way. The running gag here is that the movie-within-a-movie’s stars are jaw-dropping no-talents, with busty blonde Valerie Nelson’s tongue-in-cheek performance—as leading lady Ophelia Cumming, no less—recalling the works of Independent-International’s enduring ingenue Regina Carrol.
Rollerball was filmed at a time when other futuristic flicks were advancing their own finger-wagging agendas, including the you-are-what-you-eat cynicism of Soylent Green and the don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 silliness of Logan’s Run. Such 1970s-era paranoia likewise filters into Rollerball’s pretentious plotting, especially given the sonorous John Houseman’s casting as the evil Houston honcho.
Mystic India. (Giant Screen Films; 47 minutes; large format; unrated; 2005). The 18th-century journey of an 11-year-old yogi in epic pursuit of enlightenment forms the narrative spine of this IMAX entry, as the super-sized canvas teems with India’s riotous colors and evocative panoramas. In 1792 young Neelkanth (portrayed by Latesh Patel) left his village for a seven-year quest through his country, with the yogi barefootin’ amid 8,000 miles of various terrain, from sandy beaches to the frigid Himalayan peaks. Providing the off-camera narration is Peter O’Toole, who offers context for Neelkanth’s adventures, along with Mark Twain quotations (the author traveled the country in 1896) and present-day factoids (did you know that India contributes one-sixth of the world’s population, has 18 languages and 1,600 dialects?).
By Bill DeLapp
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On Sept. 12 Syracuse University football celebrated one of its own, No. 44 running back Ernie Davis, with the world premiere of a new cinematic biography, The Express (Universal; 128 minutes; PG; widescreen; 2008), at downtown’s Landmark Theatre, with all the attendant lights, cameras and Hollywood stars and moguls. Less than 24 hours later, however, the current SU football team experienced a hapless drubbing at the Carrier Dome, falling 55-13 against longtime rival Penn State. (During ABC-TV’s Sept. 13 broadcast, Express actor Dennis Quaid stopped by the announcers’ booth in the first quarter, when the game already seemed over, and wryly commented, “I think Floyd Little’s getting suited up.”)
Private Screenings: Walter Mirisch. (Turner Classics; 55 minutes; unrated; 2008). Instead of the usual auteurs or stars that get interviewed in this sporadic series, host Robert Osborne chats with Academy Award-winning producer Mirisch, the money man who labels himself a storyteller, and has packaged such screen gems as Some Like It Hot and West Side Story. Mirisch, a spry 86, started out as a producer for poverty row’s Monogram Pictures in the late 1940s, grinding out eight-day wonders like the Bomba the Jungle Boy series for $85,000 per film. As Monogram morphed into the slightly more prestigious Allied Artists, Mirisch could land talent like a still-popular Joel McCrea for several horse operas. (McCrea, flush from profit participation from these movies, actually bought Mirisch a new car.) Mirisch formed his own production company in 1957 and began a two-decade relationship with United Artists, working with Billy Wilder, Blake Edwards and Norman Jewison on their best pictures.
Mirisch has lots of stories to share throughout this profile, too, especially his coddling of the “geniuses” of Peter Sellers (who hated A Shot in the Dark) and Marilyn Monroe, as one comes away from this program thinking that one of Tinseltown’s most famous movers and shakers is just an all-around nice guy. This edition of Private Screenings airs Monday, Sept. 29, 8 and 11 p.m., on cable’s Turner Classic Movies, with showings throughout the night of Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (9 p.m.), West Side Story (midnight), Wilder’s The Apartment (2:45 a.m.) and Joel McCrea in Fort Massacre (5 a.m.)