Monday, July 20, 2009

25 Years Ago in the Screengrab: Better Zmed Than Red

No publication on film, either in print or on-line, has a more illustrious history than that of the Screengrab. The SG was founded ninety years ago, in conjunction with the birth of the studio United Artists. The earliest issues of the Screengrab reported the latest industry news on loose sheets of paper taken from Big Chief note tablets and were circulated at UA board meetings so that Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. would have something on which to doodle. (It was a Fairbanks drawing of Louis B. Mayer as a pig in spats that inspired D. W. Griffith's epic film Orphans of the Storm.) Some years later, ownership of the Screengrab was obtained by Al Capone, who operated it as a tax write-off, with unfortunate results. Some believe that the government vendetta against Capone was inspired by a Screengrab editorial by then-editor Frank Nitti, entitled, "J. Edgar Hoover and Rin Tin Tin's Nut Sack: Separated at Birth?"

By the 1960s, it was understood that no critical voice on motion pictures had been fully tested until it had passed through the fire of the Screengrab's blazing furnace. It was here that Pauline Kael published her devastating essay, "Some Notes on the Auteur Theory and Its Advocates", which was soon followed by Andrew Sarris's response, "Sit on It and Rotate, Ma Barker." Many of the directors who would later make up the French New Wave--Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette--first published their views on the need for a new cinema here, only retreating to the yellow pages of Cahiers du Cinema when someone actually read the copy they were submitting and saw that it was written in some weird moon man language.

For many decades, the Screengrab was distributed exclusively by Mickey Rooney, who was paid five dollars a week to bicycle around Los Angeles sticking the Big Chief sheets under men's restroom stalls. (After a few years, Mickey began paying us, in exchange for our allowing him to stick the pages under ladies' restroom stalls.) A major change came about in the mid-1970s, when major technological advances made it possible to distribute the Screengrab nationally, by fax. Then, a couple of years ago, somebody at a party told one of the editors about this Internet shit, and as soon as he was sober enough to explain it to the rest of us, we were all over that bad boy like ugly on an ape. Now, as we approach the next and perhaps final stage in the Screengrab's evolution, we look back on the fruits of our labors, celebrating the cream of ninety years of the very best in film coverage.

JULY, 1984--For years, it's been considered all but axiomatic in Hollywood that TV stars and movie stars are not made of the same basic materials: success in one medium does not translate into success in the other. That may be changing, or it may just be that the kind of white-hot talent that has been scorching the eyes of viewers at previews of the new comedy Bachelor Party doesn't obey the usual rules. The one thing that everyone who's seen the movie agrees on is that Adrian Zmed can look forward to a long career on the big screen. Zmed made his movie debut a couple of years ago in Grease 2, in which he demonstrated his uncontainable charisma by actually stealing a couple of scenes from Maxwell Caulfield. That same year, he set up shop on the weekly series T. J. Hooker. Fans who've been looking forward to Zmed's return to the big screen but never figured that he could top his work in Grease 2 will be happily stunned when they catch Bachelor Party and see for themselves what it does for an actor's game to spend two years learning to hold his own with William Shatner.

Schooling Maxwell Caulfield does come at a price for a rising actor; his original Bachelor Party co-star, Paul Reiser (Diner), bailed out after a few weeks of shooting, presumably because he didn't like the competition. In what may be seen as a confession of defeat, the filmmakers ended up replacing him with sitcom star Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies), pairing Zmed with another TV actor, but one eager enough for the job that he was probably willing to put up with being upstaged. (Not that Hanks doesn't have his own fantasy future as a movie star, God help him; he recently starred in a Disney movie about a man in love with a mermaid. As in, fish, tail, the whole deal.) Zmed is gracious about his colleague: "I actually did an episode of Bosom Buddies," he says, "back in my hungry days, and I thought right then and there that Tom was a real nice guy. I sure didn't mind having him around the set with us. Did I think that we'd ever be starring in a movie together?" Zmed chuckles. "Well...let's just say that it's not quite the direction I thought we were all headed in back then. But who knows, maybe the producers called Peter Scolari first and he didn't answer his phone."

Zmed demanded, and got, a certain amount of creative input on the script for Bachelor Party, and he's satisfied that he was able to shape the project in ways that will carry a relevant message for audiences. "I really wanted to say something about stuffy fathers and how they need to accept their daughters' potential husbands, especially if they're cool, wacky, fun-loving guys, and not try to interfere in their lives with a bunch of wacky schemes. I see that going on around me all the time, and it's very frustrating." Zmed, who intends to continue with T. J. Hooker for the time being, also sees that show as a vehicle for social change, one that encourages people to recognize "that the good cop, the maverick cop, may not always play by the book, but by golly, you have to respect the fact that he gets results!" In the meantime, Zmed's influence is spreading across the industry on screens both big and small. "The other day," he recalls, "I was standing in line to get a veggie burger, and was next to these guys, Michael Mann and Anthony Yerkovich, who are working on this new cop show that's coming out in the fall, Miami Vice. I overheard them talking about it, and I introduced myself and asked them what their goals were with the show, and Mann said that they were trying for something really "T. J. Hooker-esque, and then Yerkovich said, yeah, but they want to do something like T. J. Hooker taken to the next level! I said that it sounded really exciting, and then they both just started nudging each other and laughing and laughing. It's a great feeling to know that the example you're setting with your own work can make other creative people that happy."

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