Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Being There

(Chris Jay and Drew Sidaris)

So, for all of the time I spend complaining about how my job at the Robinson Film Center is all-consuming (and just ask Sara how much time that really is), there are times when it's all worthwhile. This evening was a big night for me. I finally got to meet Drew Sidaris, who directed, starred in, and otherwise created some of my favorite exploitation/action/"B" films of all time. If you're a close friend of mine, chances are you have seen this fellow's work. I've shown big, crazed house parties full of people such films as "Do or Die," "Picasso Trigger," "The Dallas Connection," and "Fit to Kill." "Fit to Kill" is the film that Alysia Leyendecker and I once co-reviewed for her outstanding Livejournal. Alysia, I met the mensch that made that amazing film. Mr. Sidaris realized at some point during our casual introduction that I wasn't just playing - I idolize the work that he and his father created. I see it as postmodern humor in the same vein as films like Edgar Wright's new "Hot Fuzz" or Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror." Films like "Picasso Trigger" (which was filmed here in Shreveport, by the way - the Sidaris guys famously used the Hibernia Bank Building on Travis Street as a stand-in for the Louevre...despite, er, slight architectural differences) get dismissed as being bad action films, but they're actually really good comedies. If you can't see that these films were toying with the genre while keeping one foot actually in the genre, I can't explain it. I guess you love it or hate it. I can see how those with more conservative tastes would hate it. I, however, love it.

I'm going to try to paraphrase some key moments in our conversation. It was one of the better conversations of my life. I mean, this guy directed the A*Team. He was famously close to director Sam Peckinpah, who literally wrote his letter of recommendation for his current job at El Dorado Casino in Shreveport. When Sam Peckinpah writes your letter of recommendation, you're the man in my book.

On what his dad's movies really were meant to be:
Me: "I actually see your dad's films as feminist in a lot of ways. I mean, it's girls with guns, blowing men's heads off."
Sidaris: "Dad saw it that way, too. He once said 'I challenge you to find one woman being victimized in my movies.' And there aren't any. The women are the ass-kickers in our movies. And I'm here to tell you, the women whop played the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies enjoyed the hell out of being the one with the smoking .45 and the rocket launcher for a change, instead of the woman in the arms of the guy with the smokin' .45."

On meeting and hiring Julie Strain:
Me: "What was it like working with Julie Strain?"
Sidaris: "I just remember the day we hired her for the first picture she worked on. My dad had recently cast Malibu Express. One of the guys who auditioned for Malibu Express, was this unknown guy at the time who was tall and had the look we were after, but was kind of a difficult person. Dad didn't hire him, and he went on to become the Tom Sellick. Dad ended up hiring Darby Hinton. I just said 'Dad, I get to hire someone next time.' Well, the next time we were casting, this huge pick-up truck with blue flames down the side comes tearing into the drive-way of the house in malibu. This seven-foot tall woman gets out, walks over and says 'I want to be in your next movie.' We walked in to dad's office and I said 'Dad, hire this woman.' He looked at her and said 'You're hired.' That was how I met Julie Strain."

On acting, or the lack thereof, that was sometimes going on on the average Sidaris set:
Sidaris: "Dad taught a lot of these women how to act. He had to because they were coming from modeling or something else and had no experience in movies. But he didn't ask too much of them, and didn't expect them to kill themselves getting it right. I remember once, this actress we'd just hired was sitting on set, reading the Strasberg book about Method Acting. Dad asked her if she had read the script for the movie we were shooting. She said 'No,' and he suggested that she did before she went so far as to read the Strasberg book. She quit reading the Strasberg book after the first chapter. I think someone showed her our script."

Me: "You know, my favorite moment in any Sidaris movie is in 'Picasso Trigger,' when they pull that drive-by on the Hibernia Bank Building steps using that wonky old motorcycle."
Sidaris: "Yeah, I was driving that motorcycle. The actor was in the sidecar, but that was me driving the cycle."
Me: *Faints*

Me: "You know, Joe Bob Briggs loves your dad's work. He's kind of got a cult following that'll buy whatever he tells them to buy."
Sidaris: "Yeah, he gave me a Golden Hubcap Award, which I guess is a good thing in his eyes. Did you know that Joe Bob is a Rhodes Scholar?"
Me: "What?!"
Sidaris: "Yeah, seriously. Joe Bob and my dad used to just shoot the shit, and I couldn't keep up with them. Dad was sharp, so he could keep pace. But I couldn't. When they talked film, it was obvious they were both incredibly knowledgeable people."
Me: "Quentin Tarantino is also a big fan of your father's work."
Sidaris: "Yes he is."
Me: "Have you seen 'Jackie Brown'? It features an homage to your dad's work."
Sidaris: *Writes down 'Jackie Brown.'*

Altogether, one hell of a cool chance to talk about a crop of films that I don't think anyone appreciates for what they really are. If you're not familiar with the late filmmaker Andy Sidaris, here's the Wikipedia entry. Obviously, this stuff isn't for everyone. The easily-offended among my friends have debated me pretty ardently about my rabid love of these films. I think in time they'll be canonized. Until then, it's maybe just up to me and Alysia to enjoy the fine talents of Chu Chu Malave.

P.S. Andy Sidaris also got Dr. Jeff hendricks his Screen Actor's Guild card, check it out. Assistant Director?! Damn, Jeff!


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