Photos of A Christmas Story House: The nicest fictional place I’ve every been

I love A Christmas Story. Who doesn’t?

Hard to believe the movie bombed when it came out 30 years ago… but it did. Making it was a lifelong goal Bob Clark had, and it was only because he had made a monster hit in Porkys did he have the (temporary) clout to get the film green-lit in the first place.

While it tanked in theatres, repeated reruns (especially the Christmas marathons from cable channel TBS) has made it a huge success and a cultural phenomenon. When I learned last week that my work schedule would bring me to Cleveland, Ohio I quickly realized that it would give me the chance to visit… the house.

Yes, THE house where they shoot both interior and exterior scenes for A Christmas Story. And the amazing part about this real-life Chistmas story is what happened to the location.

Purchased years ago by an obsessive fan (and owner of a company that makes replica Leg Lamps), the house was almost a complete write-off when he bought it. So, he did what anyone do under the circumstances… he spent a quarter of a million dollars restoring it, and added a museum and gift shop to boot.

To say that stepping into the Old Man and Ralphie’s house is surreal is an understatement. It literally IS the room they shot the film in, and is filled with furniture that replicates the original to exacting detail. They even have the original shed in the back that Black Bart used as his fort to save the family… AND the museum has the original costumes from every cast member, including the costumes from the cut Flash Gordon dream sequence. Plus, the museum features making-of photos, props, script pages…

And after reading this you aren’t ready to hop in a plane/car/bus to go visit by now, then maybe this post isn’t for you. But if it is, and getting to Cleveland is not a simple task for you, here’s some photos that will make you happy. LOTS of photos. Enjoy.

Thanks again for the owners of the Christmas Story House for letting me take these pics!! And buy a Leg Lamp from them!

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is a fascinating portrait of a very talented man

Finally got around to watching the documentary about the legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, and was quite impressed with the film. The documentary interviews some of Hollywood’s biggest names – Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, etc. – and all express great admiration and respect for Struzan’s work.

What is so amazing about the film, to me, is how completely humble Struzan is about his life’s work – he has no pretense, no ego… and yet his talent is obvious and undeniable.

The documentary steps through Struzan’s life, and showcases both highs (his cover art for Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare, his posters for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future films) and lows (he was unloved and unwanted by his parents, and was cheated by business partners out of hundreds of thousands of dollars). Throughout is a portrait of an unassuming passionate artist who, when faced with the choice of buying paints for his work or having food to eat… he’d buy the paints.

We could learn a lot about passion and perseverance from Struzan’s story, though the film ends on a melancholy note… Movie posters are now the result of Photoshop work rather than paintings these days, and because of this (and the decision-by-committee process that now pervades Hollywood) Struzan has “retired” from doing any more work for the studios. A shame, because, as one interview subject states in the film, “When Drew creates a painting, it’s often more alive than the film is.”

Here’s the trailer:

My 2014 Oscar Predictions

All the cool kids are doing it, so here’s my 2014 Oscar predictions:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle
Best Original Screenplay: Her: Spike Jonze
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave: John Ridley
Best Animated Feature Film: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty: Paolo Sorrentino(Italy)
Cinematography: Gravity: Emmanuel Lubezki
Editing: American Hustle: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Production Design: American Hustle: Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
Costume Design: American Hustle: Michael Wilkinson
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club: Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
Original Score: Gravity: Steven Price
Original Song: Frozen: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez(“Let It Go”)
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
Best Sound Editing: Gravity: Glenn Freemantle
Best Visual Effects: Gravity: Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
Best Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing: Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Best Documentary Short: The Lady In Number 6: Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed
Best Animated Short: Possessions: Shuhei Morita
Best Live Action Short: Helium: Anders Walter

Some of these are “no brainers” IMO (NO WAY is Cuarón losing, and Frozen is a shoo-in) and others… well, they could go either way (DiCaprio and McConaughey are neck and neck in most predictions). We’ll see how I do come Sunday!

Is a disruption of the movie theatre experience imminent?

No, but there needs to be.

The movie going experience is (mostly) terrible, for several reasons:

  • Inconsiderate moviegoers (who text and talk during the film)
  • More (and longer) trailers
  • More (and longer) commercials
  • Longer movies, with no intermissions (which is why the whole Runpee app was created)
  • Higher ticket prices (the only reason that Hollywood has had record box office the last two years, because total ticket sales have declined over the past ten years)
  • Stupider movies (because complex plots and dialogue is harder to sell internationally, which is where Hollywood makes most of their money these days)

Some attempts have been made to disrupt the moviegoing experience, primarily the “dinner and a movie” theatre model that has waiters and a full menu for patrons to choose from.This has met with some success, but it’s unlikely this model will ever be built out so that major theatre chains provide such a service at their multiplexes. Hollywood tried to change the moviegoing experience in two other ways over the past decade – IMAX and 3D – which met with limited success (though many analysts blame 3D for increasing ticket prices while reducing ticket sales).

There’s lots of things that CAN be done to make the movie going experience better, but until Hollywood and the theaters HAVE to change, they won’t. And why change? The money is still rolling in (even though the biggest chunk of it comes from expensive summer blockbusters), and international box office allows movies that don’t succeed in the US a chance to be successful (the most recent example is the new Robocop, which flopped in the states but is doing quite well in China, Brazil and Japan). If anything, Hollywood will look to change things for the WORSE for moviegoers in order to maximize profits (they are already doing this with home video releases – putting out multiple store exclusives of films instead of a single “loaded” blu-ray edition).

Not saying that disruption won’t ever happen, but it’s going to take a BIG drop-off in ticket sales for the business owners to look at ways they need to change to lure customers back.

Want to see the moviegoing experience get better? Stop going to see movies. Wait till Netflix and/or home video to see the big blockbusters. If enough people do this, then things might change.

See question on Quora

Human Highway is a bizarre cult film from Neil Young and DEVO

When I heard about Bob Casale’s death this week, I started researching the history of the band DEVO. I’ve always been a fan – even met them once – but I was never a SUPER fan, so some of the stuff I uncovered surprised me. I never realized how popular they were in countries like Australia, for example.

But nothing surprised me more than Human Highway.

Human Highway is the “movie” directed by (and starring) musical great Neil Young, and features songs and a score (Mark Mothersbaugh’s first) from DEVO. And whatever Young was having… well, I wouldn’t mind a serving as well.

Whew, boy, Human Highway is a weird weird movie. It’s a musical… kinda. And a love story… kinda. And it ends with (spoiler) the start of World War Three as the cast climb a literal stairway to heaven.

Human Highway isn’t very good, but it has a surreal style all it’s own. A style that looks awfully familiar.

As I watched it, I had to wonder… Did David Lynch see this?

The movie features Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, and Dennis Hopper. Many of the scenes are set in a dinner. The film has a decidedly “Lynchian” tone.

And it came out four years before Blue Velvet did.

Not saying that Lynch ripped off Neil Young, here… but I can envision Lynch watching the film and going, “Man, Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell are awesome, I need to put them in something! And Russ Tamblyn, too!” And some other elements in the film could have seeped into his unconsciousness, coming forth in later work such as Twin Peaks.

(Charlotte Stewart, who was in Peaks, is also in Human Highway… though Lynch had worked with her before).

So, if you’re a Neal Young fan, Lynch nut, or a Devolutionist… seek out a copy of Human Highway. It’s out of print, but if you look hard enough on the Internet you can find it.

Here’s the trailer:

RIP DEVO guitarist and founder Bob Casale

Yesterday brought the news that Bob Casale, guitarist and founding member of DEVO, had passed away from a heart attack. Casale, who I had the pleasures to meet at #SXSW some years ago, was a great guy and a fine artist. He will be missed.

Here’s Casale and the rest of his band performing with (of all people) Neal Young in Young’s cult film Human Highway: