Thursday, March 20, 2014



It was another grueling day at the studio with Fillies . We’re still filming the big musical dream sequence with me in full horse make-up and tapping away in those fiberglass tap hooves. Helmut, the producer, kept trying to slide his hand up my costume between takes and encountered the metal corset that keeps my tail in place. He should be ashamed of himself; he’s old enough to be my father. Anna, his nursemaid, eventually had to be called over to restrain him – I will not have such casting couch behavior; at least not while I’m working.

Norman came down to the studio and joined me for lunch. He has a meeting with the Wayans brothers about replacing Alec Baldwin in Scary Movie IX . Poor Alec – his health isn’t what it once was but that’s what comes from late onset Prader-Willi syndrome. After that, Norman’s supposed to have cocktails with a friend from his last stay in the halfway house, Robert Downey Jr. All was going well in the commissary until Norman’s metal plate started picking up radio frequencies from the special effects shoot happening on sound stage 3. Every time they would set off an explosion, Norman would squirt Jell-O out of his nose. I had to send him down to wardrobe for a change of suit before returning to the set.

Norman hasn’t returned yet so Chateau Maine is uncharacteristically quiet. I used the brief interlude of peace to rearrange the spoon drawer and then retired to the home theater to watch something mindless and fun. This evening’s selection was Tim Burton’s Beetle Juice from 1987 with Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, a much younger Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder. Tim Burton’s visual style always mixes so well with my faux-Ottoman décor in my home theater.

Beetle Juice is a comic ghost story, sort of a ‘Topper visits PeeWee’s Playhouse’ mixed with Tales from the Crypt art direction. A Connecticut country couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Baldwin and Davis), is accidentally killed in a car accident and are consigned to haunt their former home for the next century or so. Their house, which they had so lovingly restored is bought by an ugly  arriviste  Manhattan family (Jeffery Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Ryder) who, with the help of their flamboyant interior designer (Glenn Shadix), proceed to destroy everything the Maitlands’ hold dear. The Maitlands turn to the afterlife bureaucracy for help, exemplified by their caseworker (Sylvia Sidney) and realize, that as ghosts, they are not without certain powers. Their feeble attempts to scare the interlopers away draw the attention of Betelgeuse, a self described ‘Bio-Exorcist’ (Keaton) who promises to help them, but his help is not without certain problems. Soon dinner guests are doing the calypso, Robert Goulet is shot through a roof, and other strange and wonderful things start to happen.

Tim Burton is one of the most stylishly inventive of directors and his sensibility is given free reign in this film. The sets, with their odd angles and cartoon patina, fuel his imagination and the screen is full of odd visual jokes. The otherworldly creatures are more fun than frightening and the vision of the afterlife as a gloomy, green-lit social service agency, staffed by suicides, is a delight. The clever screenplay also aids him by giving him a wonderful comic group of characters stuck in increasingly ridiculous situations.

In terms of performances, this is Michael Keaton’s movie. He takes all the manic energy he showed in his early comic performances and then tops it off with a never-ending series of impressions, vaudeville slapstick set pieces, all while hidden under a frizzy fright wig and a make-up that would have done Lon Chaney proud. As the human ghosts, Davis and Baldwin are fine and have some comic spark. Her tall, lanky, slightly gawky body and his goofy good looks are used to full advantage to make them just a little off center in the whacko universe that Burton has created. Running Keaton a close second, however, is Catherine O’Hara as the strong willed matriarch and would be cultural maven of the New Yorkers. Ms. O’Hara has long been one of our best comediennes and this is one of the few movies where she’s really allowed to strut her stuff. Her deliveries of such lines as ‘This is my art and it is dangerous!’ are classics. Glenn Shadix is a great foil for her and the victim of one of the best visual jokes in movies when he meets his ultimate fate (a joke which will be lost on most under the age of 40). Winona Ryder, early in her career, isn’t given enough to do other than mope around in black like a long lost cousin of the Addams family, but she does it well and the character influenced Goth teens for years afterwards.

Burton hasn’t been doing as well with his recent films – I hope he recaptures that exuberant quirkiness on full display here in the near future. I’m not sure if the suits have been reining him in or what, but he needs to be given his head.

Killer dog. Sand worms. Prawn salad attack. Harry Belafonte tunes. Betelgeuse mispronunciation. Miniature bordello. Gratuitous headhunter. Manchurian tongue oil. Red wedding dress. Gratuitous smoking throat. Dancing dead football players.

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