EMPIRE magazine (I’m a subscriber) regularly interviews actors and directors using the questions below. I thought I would answer them myself:
1) Which character were you in your first school play?
I played Pongo the Dalmatian dog from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. I had a store bought costume and everything. No lines though.
2) Do you have a signature dish?
I make a really great homemade pizza. Also do a great plum pudding at Christmastime.
3) Which movie have you seen the most?
That one is really hard to answer. There are so many I have seen over and over and I don’t really keep track. I suspect it is either Jaws (1975) or Apollo 13 (1995).
4) Which is the last TV show you gave up on?
American Horror Story last Wednesday. Too many characters going out of their way to be mean to each other. I was rooting for the ghosts.
5) When were you last naked outdoors?
I believe never.
6) Do you have a nickname?
Many, most of them I am not going to repeat. My father called me either “Buddy” or “Richrock”. I’ll go with them.
7) Have you ever knowingly broken the law?
Every time I get behind the wheel. But only by 5 miles per hour.
8) What’s the worst smell in the world?
A dead body that’s been rotting for a few days. I won’t tell you how I know this.
9) Have you ever written fan mail to anyone?
I have. I wrote a letter to Robert Redford once. And to Michael Cimino. Also Peter H. Hunt, the director of 1776 (1972). Also Bill Clinton when he was elected president. Hunt and Clinton wrote back.
10) How much is a pint of milk?
I don’t know. We tend to buy half-gallons.
11) On a scale of one to 10, how hairy is your butt?
I haven’t looked lately. I’m going to say 1.
12) Do you have a favorite joke?
Anyone out there care to share their answers?
I believe I started to grow into the adult I am today in the spring of 1979, all with the help of the movies and books. By that point, I was almost 17 years old. My parents had done what they could. My sisters had contributed what they did. Things all started coming to a head – doors of childhood closing & adulthood beckoning – when my father announced over a Sunday lunch that our family would be moving from West Virginia back to Michigan.
Throughout my childhood, the Rothrocks were a bit of a vagabond family. In my first 18 years, we moved five times and lived in 3 different states. I attended 6 schools in 4 different cities. It was not that my father couldn’t hold a job. He just kept getting better ones as he moved his way up the school administrator ladder from teacher to finance to superintendent.
We had lived in Jackson, Michigan from 1966 – 1968 before moving down to West Virginia. Most of my childhood passed there and I loved it: six years in the northern steel town of Weirton and 5 years in the state capital of Charleston. Then in the spring of 1979, my father got a job at Pontiac Schools and we prepared to move back to the Wolverine State.
By this time, the Rothrock family consisted of three individuals on different life paths. My two older sisters had grown up and moved on to adulthood in other states. That left Mom, Dad, and me in Charleston. But even that did not remain constant once Dad took the new job in Pontiac, Michigan.
He moved up to Michigan with the aim of starting his job and looking for a new place for us to live. That left Mom and I back in West Virginia. It is important to emphasize here that my parents were fine people who taught me most of what I know (Mom passed away in 2002 and Dad in 2014) and I loved them both very very much. But part of growing up is realizing that people can have more than one side. They can be good or bad or ugly and what constitutes the whole person is how they are most of the time. My parents were two lovely people. They just probably should not have been married to each other because they tended to bring out the worst in the other.
It didn’t help that I viewed this upcoming move with as much relish as one views the end of the world. In the midst of high school, I was having the time of my life. For the first time, I had a solid group of friends and was coming out of my introvert shell. Now it was coming to an all too soon end. All that had to happen was for our house to sell and away we would go: away from West Virginia, away from my school, away from my friends.
Consequently, I started spending as much time out as possible with my friends. With Dad in Michigan and me out on the town that left Mom home alone to begin slowly developing a drinking habit and to nurse the suspicion that Dad wasn’t in any particular hurry to find a home and move us up to Michigan.
By the spring of 1979, Mom had decided she had waited long enough and announced that we were spending spring break up in Michigan. On previous moves when Dad had had to go ahead early, he had usually rented a bedroom in some widowed woman’s house. This time around, he had taken a room in nearby Waterford at the Cascade Motel (it is now the Olde Mill Inn at the corner of Dixie Highway and Andersonville Road). He had a two-room “suite” right next to the main office. One room was a living room with a TV and a kitchenette. The other contained the bedroom and bathroom. Naturally, Mom and Dad got the bedroom. I got the sleeper sofa in the living room.
I don’t remember too many things about that week. I am sure we drove around during the day and looked at the malls and restaurants and got the general lay of the land. I know we looked at homes though I cannot recall a single one and we never did end up buying any of them. What I do remember are two things.
The first is that Dad took us out to the movies one night and this was my first trip to the Clarkston Cinema. The movie playing was The Great Train Robbery (1979) starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Michael Crichton (before he traded in his director’s chair for the life of a best selling author), it told the true story of the first successful theft from a moving train in 1855 England. I remember it to be sprightly and suspenseful. I remember it to be gorgeously photographed by the man who was already my favorite cinematographer, Geoffrey Unsworth. And I remember thinking that Lesley Anne-Down did a great job filling out the curves of a black corset in a way that got my 17-year-old hormones raging.
But more important than the movie, I remember the theater and falling in love with the Clarkston Cinema right away. It was a rather small neighborhood theater, the kind that is rarely found these days. It specialized in second run fare – the movies that had finished up at the first run theaters but would stay in distribution for a few more weeks after that. This would be the first of many movies I would see at the Clarkston between 1979 and 1991 and I would treasure every one of those visits. It remains my all time favorite movie theater (and the photo at the top of my Facebook page).
The second thing I remember about that visit were the nights back at the motel. It seemed as soon as we were returned there, Mom and Dad would disappear into the bedroom and close the door. I would be left on my own to fill the time watching movies on TV or reading. At the time, I was discovering the works of William Faulkner. Some of my friends were reading his classic novel As I Lay Dying (1930). I started reading it on my own and found myself entranced by his stream of consciousness prose. Most teenagers have their literary cherry popped by J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye (1952). Mine was taken by Faulkner and I have been in love with him ever since.
When I wasn’t reading, I was watching TV. I remember having a hard time sleeping so I stayed up late watching movies. Dad had bought a new fangled invention called a VCR that could record broadcast TV onto videotape – like a cassette tape only this time it recorded pictures.
He had taped the movie Grand Prix (1966) for me, Formula One racing becoming my latest obsession. This John Frankenheimer movie had been filmed during the actual 1966 F1 season and I loved seeing on the screen the tracks I had only read about in books. And I had to admit that the life of a race driver in Europe was looking much better than my upcoming existence far from the Mountain State. Writer or racer? I couldn’t decide.
Another night, I watched Lawrence of Arabia (1962). I had seen it before and I was already a fan of the brilliant director David Lean. I marveled at his ability to transport the viewer to another time and place and make us feel as if we were realy there. How the best filmmakers could bring a distant place alive so that we could almost smell and feel it through the screech and blare of a grand prix race car or the biting whirl of a blowing dust storm in midst of the Arabian desert.
But it didn’t really matter how hard I read or how much I turned up the volume on the TV, neither could hide the noise my parents made behind their closed door. Mostly, they were fighting and bickering and while I don’t remember what they were saying, I clearly remember the tone – bitter, accusatory - neither giving an inch as they would argue hour after hour without ever getting toward any kind of resolution. Looking back, I realize now that while it certainly was not the first time nor the last when I would find myself an unwilling spectator for one of my parents’ arguments that walls could not contain, this move to Michigan was not just another new move for the Rothrocks. This was also the beginning of the end of my parents’ marriage. We would eventually buy a house in Waterford and we would eventually move there in December 1979. But things would never quite be the same and my parents would divorce 5 years later.
And what I remember more than anything about that trip was laying on that sofa bed feeling totally helpless and totally deserted. Deserted by my sisters who had done nothing wrong, just grown up and moved away, and deserted by my parents who now seemed totally consumed by their mutual power plays in which I was either the unwanted baggage or a timely pawn.
My outlook on life would brighten more in the future. I would eventually meet some of my favorite people here in Michigan who remain my best friends to this day. But I never forgot that feeling of laying there knowing that I was soon facing a life far away from all my friends and far away from anything I cared about.
The only things I would be able to hold onto were my memories and racing and books and the movies. And to enjoy all good things while they lasted because I never knew when they would end: leaving me alone again on a sofa bed in a second rate motel somewhere in Michigan.
DON'T BREATHE: Is It Horror??
The recent success of the relatively low budget movie DON’T BREATHE (2016) has a lot of people talking about how great it is to see a horror film be a big hit again. I am glad to see something with a Detroit setting be a big hit (one of my ex-students is listed in the credits). I am happy to see character actor Stephen Lang getting some notice for a very well done job. I am still a huge fan of his portrayal of General George Pickett (yes, of THAT famous charge) in the little seen but wonderful Civil War epic GETTYSBURG (1994). My hat is off to director Fede Alvarez for creating inventive and suspenseful set pieces that keep the drama moving (whether in a car or a closet or a basement) and keep the audience on the edge of their seats for the movie’s entire length. Well done! And kudos to actress Jane Levy whose sensitive portrayal of main character Rocky make us sympathize with someone who is basically a robber.
But, to my mind, the one thing DON’T BREATHE is not is a HORROR movie.
Are there suspenseful moments? Plenty of them. Are there a few scary moments meant to make the audience jump out of their seats? Yep, two or three. Are there some plot twists designed to make audience members (both male and female) cringe and cross their legs tightly? Totally.
But is it a horror film? To my mind, no.
In order for a film to be considered a horror film, it needs more than just scary moments. The scares must arise from supernatural elements: ghosts, mythical creatures (vampires, werewolves, monsters), witches, devils, demons, satanic cults, undead killers (Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy Krueger, et al), or undead/resurrected creatures (zombies, Frankenstein, dinosaurs). Essentially, people or creatures who have all had a brush with death or crossed over to “the other side” and come back to threaten us humans. They are difficult to kill because, in most cases, they are already dead. In order to defeat them, we ourselves have to go to the edge of death ourselves and come back.
The most successful horror films of the past fifteen years have all had these elements. The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies were built around a series of families that found themselves involved with demons and cults. The FINAL DESTINATION series followed a never-ending series of teenagers trying to stay one step ahead of Death after they had mistakenly survived an event where they were supposed to die. This week, the long awaited BLAIR WITCH sequel finds yet another group of investigators plunging into the infamous Burkett Woods searching for the last party of investigators who disappeared while searching for the long rumored witch of the same name. INSIDIOUS, SINSTER, THE CONJURING and their sequels. All are horror films based around characters encountering and having to defeat a supernatural element that threatens their lives.
Again, DON’T BREATHE doesn’t have any of these elements. It is the story of a trio of small time thieves who decide to break into the home of a blind military vet on a deserted Detroit street and steal the large cache of cash he is rumored to keep on site. They break in. They discover that the blind man (Stephen Lang) is not as helpless as they first believed. They encounter some surprising revelations about the man as they try to fight their way back out. But nothing they encounter is supernatural in any way. The scariest thing about the movie is that most of the surprises have been ripped from today’s headlines (as they used to say). It is scary because real people have actually done these things – or had them done to them. We are scared, repulsed, and reviled. But that doesn’t make this a horror film.
To my mind, what DON’T BREATHE is is an action film. Action films are generally defined as a movie that favors action scenes over characterization. The movie’s drama does not arise from the interaction between the characters but by the constant series of chases, gun battles, and cat and mouse situations the characters find themselves in. Action films are usually populated by criminals and cops seeking to solve or accomplish some kind of crime whether it is a robbery or a murder or a kidnapping. That is DON’T BREATHE to a tee. To my mind, it is an action film: a standard, suspenseful, action film with good performances and good direction and a fairly entertaining and resourceful script. Not a horror film at all.
Am I missing something? Is DON’T BREATHE a horror film or an action film? What do you think?
Back in 2013, Ben and I had a brief YouTube movie review show. Here we are reviewing one of Ben's favorite horror films, "V/H/S". My generational bias is showing!
What's My Brand?
Hello! Thank you for stopping by. Today is the first day of the latest relaunch of my blog. It started pretty well several years ago but a combination of daily life commitments and multiple workloads slowed it down to a trickle. Finding things to talk about wasn’t the trouble. Part of it was time, true. But part of it, the larger part, had to do with this notion of “branding”. I am sure you have heard the concept out there. We can’t just do anything anymore. We have to “brand” ourselves, especially on social media. What “brand” are we presenting to the world? And, no matter what we do, we cannot deviate from that brand.
It all reminded me of the opening credits of this old TV western called Branded that was on back in the 1960s when I was a kid :
And it all somehow left me feeling like Chuck Connors in that opening. Sorry, but this is just how my mind works. (smile)
You see, I had really started this blog and this website to publicize my writing and create a place to share what was on my mind. To look back at how things were and to look forward to how things change. The more I teach, the more I realize how little young people know about how things used to be back in the 1960s or 1970s or, gasp, the 1980s. I am sure I am not the first person to discover this!
For as long as I can remember I have loved:
Not necessarily in that order.
I love to travel. I love to meet new people and see new places. I love the heritage and the people of Indiana and West Virginia where I grew up. I love to learn. At the moment, I make my living by writing, by teaching, by freelance editing, and by script reading. Call me the perfect Gemini but I don’t have one interest nor do I want to.
And the more I read up on operating a blog, the more I kept running into this notion of “branding”. How the only way to have a successful blog was to focus on only one thing and never stray from it. Every time someone came to my blog they should know what they were going to get. So I decided to try and figure out what that one thing would be. And the more I thought about it, the more I could not come up with it. And the more I could not come up with it, the fewer ideas I would find to write about. And in the end, I just stopped writing all together.
Not that I stopped writing outside the blog. I have in the last three years cranked out a James Bond-esque thriller that could be the beginning of a book series and a World War II thriller. Those who have read pages from them give them very high marks and I do believe they are among the best things I have ever done.
But even in my writing, I started getting fixated on this whole notion of “branding” and I became afraid that if I came out with the wrong kind of book in the wrong genre then I would be sentenced to writing that kind of book for the rest of my life. I found that just as paralyzing as trying to figure out the one subject I should be writing about in my blog. “Branding” myself was actually paralyzing me. And I finally just reached a point this summer where I said, to hell with all of that. I am just going to write what I write.
So I am back now, The Middle-Aged Reviewer, ready to take on the blog again.
The last year has been tough for a number of reasons. One of the things that sucks about getting older is that we start losing our idols and our mentors because they are even older than us. Last year, we lost one of my favorite writers, E.L. Doctorow, one of the men who made me want to write in the first place. And this summer saw the passing of filmmaker Michael Cimino, the man who pretty much single-handedly made me want to get into the movies. (More on both of these subjects in the coming weeks).
As many of you in my inner circle know, I have been spending the summer writing on a novel set back in my high school days (or at least a highly fictionalized version of high school days). This one has LONG been in the works. Truth be told, I started working on this while I was still in high school. My high school days were some of the best times of my life and I recognized that while they were happening and so I started writing down events we were participating in and conversations we were having and squirreling them away in notebooks and files. I clipped out newspaper articles and compiled lists of the popular music and television shows of the time. All before I ever got that diploma. I knew they were special days and I was determined to hang onto them. To quote a scene from Michael Cimino’s misunderstood western Heaven’s Gate (1980) whose time has come:
John Hurt: “Do you remember the good, gone days?”
Kris Kristofferson: “Clearer and better, every day I get older.”
And that is so true.
I wrote the first draft of the book right after graduating high school. And it sucked. It was not ready to be written and I was not ready to write it. I put it away for over two decades. Took it back out in 2005 following the death of my mother and wrote a fairly solid draft. I was very happy with it but there was a glut of those kinds of books on the market back then so it went back on the shelf. Now it is back on my desk and now it is ready to be finished. Its time has come. It is called Mountain Cross.
As fall begins again (my favorite time of year) it is also fall again in my book and the beginning of my characters’ senior year of high school. And the more I look back, the more I discover the seeds of where we are today were sown way back then.
So I am just going to write what I want – both in books and on this blog. I am me. I am Richard. I will leave everyone else to figure out what “brand” I am.
Welcome back! I will be posting new stuff on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Please stop by. And if you have any suggestions of what “brand” I am, I am more than happy to hear them!
See you Wednesday.
Pardon Our Dust
Finally back visiting the old blog. Sweeping things out. Freshening things up. And getting ready to get back in the swing of things on Monday.
Please stop back then!