erik lundegaard

Arkoff Asylum

Here’s the best analysis I’ve read on the success of “Fast & Furious” last weekend:
Why does the audience keep coming to this type of photoplay if neither lust, love, hate, nor hunger is adequately conveyed? Simply because such spectacles gratify the incipient or rampant speed-mania in every American.
OK, that’s not an analysis of “F&F.” It’s poet Vachel Lindsay writing about the action picture (by which he meant something from the ink-bottle of Robert Louis Stevenson) in his book “The Art of the Moving Picture.” First published in 1915.

The more things change.

A man who knows of what Lindsay writes is Neal Moritz, the producer behind all the “Fast & Furious” pictures, as well as the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” series, as well as upcoming comic-book features such as “Green Hornet” and “Luke Cage.” Patrick Goldstein, of The Big Picture blog, has an interesting piece on Moritz this week.

Moritz represents two things to Goldstein. On the one hand, he’s the modern, more respectable version of b-movie impressarios like Sam Arkoff, who always seemed to be riding whatever wave was blowing into shore. He produced movies about juvenile delinquents in the ‘50s (“High School Hellcats”), beach-blanket movies in the early ‘60s (“How to Stuff a Wild Bikini”), motorcycle gangs in the late ‘60s (“The Savage Seven”), blaxploitation flicks in the early ‘70s (“Coffy”), and disaster pictures in the mid-and-late ‘70s (“Frogs”). Once copyrights to more respectable works fell away, he fell on them: Poe, Bronte, H.G. Wells. Goldstein interviewed him back in the day:
In his office, Arkoff had a variety of movie posters propped up against the wall, adorned with catchy titles and ad slogans. Embarrassed that I didn't recognize any of the titles, I said, "Geez, I'm sorry I missed these films. They look like they're a lot of fun." Smoking a cigar as long as a Cadillac, Arkoff laughed me off. "Don't apologize," he boomed. "We haven't even shot them yet. Never make a movie until you know if you can sell it first."

Mortiz’s father, Milt, spent several decades working for Arkoff as his head of advertising and publicity, so he knows of what he does. That’s how “F&F” came about. Mortiz the younger saw a documentary referencing “The Fast and the Furious,” an early Roger Corman feature, and got Universal to buy rights to the title. Start with the title; fill in the story later.

Which is the second, related thing Mortiz represents: the concept picture in ascendance over the star-powered picture. It’s another reminder, as if we needed one, of how the majors now put a high-gloss finish on former “b” pictures while the independents give a grittier look to former “a” pictures. B = A, A = B. Bizarro Hollywood.

Goldstein, like a lot of journalists (and like some part of me, too), has a reserve of admiration for these guys — guys that can sell crap. Maybe because they’re good copy. (That’s a great quote, above, from Arkoff.) Maybe because they're fun. They're not striving after art, they're striving after business. It seems a more sensible way to live. Until, maybe, you look at what you've left behind.


Posted at 10:25 AM on Wed. Apr 08, 2009 in category Movies  
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