Friday, December 28, 2012



The story of Sir Gawain, the bravest knight of Camelot, and his encounter as a squire with the mysterious Green Knight is one of the best-known stories in Arthurian legend. While it appeared in various forms, its definitive version comes from an unknown 14th Century author (known among academics as the “Pearl Poet” due to North West Midland dialect idiosyncracies in the stanzas, or more familiarly “The Gawain Poet”--J.R.R. Tolkien was a big fan and contributor to the poem's preservation), who wrote a long-form poem depicting the young knight’s adventure.
Gawain, a brash and wide-eyed youth, was but a squire in Arthur’s court on the New Year’s Feast when the Green Knight burst through the hall’s doors and proposed a wager. Who among them would take the Knight’s mighty axe, strike a single blow and behead him. The catch? “Should the power remain in his body” he would deliver a blow in kind within a year and a day. Bewildered and suspicious of the challenge, the other knights were hesitant to take up the challenge, but young Gawain, seeing the others injuring the King’s honor, accepted. But once he delivered the blow, instead of dying the Knight simply picked up his head, waggled the bloody part at Queen Guineviere, and told Gawain he would see him at the Green Chamber, the Knight’s fortress, one year and a day from then.
Instead of mourning his last year, Gawain decides to seize his remaining time. Rewarded by Arthur of a knighthood, Gawain set off on grand adventures of chivalry, honor and chastity. At several points during his wanderings, he finds himself tempted by seductive women, particularly the wife of a lord who has given him shelter. He rebuffs her three times and on the last night, she rewards his honor with a gift of a magical green girdle (or shirt or sash, it varies) that will protect him from harm. Hedging his bets, Gawain meets with the Green Knight on the appointed time. However, he flinches before the Knight can deliver his killing blow. Laughing, the Green Knight reveals himself to be the Lord who gave him shelter, that he knows Gawain is cheating by wearing the girdle and instead gives the lad a mild cut on the back of his neck, a reminder of his last-minute cowardice and a lesson in gallantry to the end.
Ultimately, the whole ordeal is revealed to have been a trick of Morgan Le Fay, the enchantress and Arthur’s sister, who wanted to embaress the King and frighten Guineviere. Gawain was just a pawn and yet emerged a hero despite his failings.
Sword of the Valiant  is the cinematic retelling of this classic tale.
A pet project of British director Stephen Weeks, he’d already filmed the tale once before in 1973 with Murray Head as Gawain, but a dispute between producers and studios hampered production and the film was never given proper distribution. So when Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, the Israeli equivalents of Dino DeLaurentis, offered Weeks the opportunity to redo the movie, Weeks leapt at the chance. He loaded his cast with a handful of heavy lifters in British entertainment including Raiders of the Lost Ark co-star John Rhys-Davies, Peter Cushing in a completely sitting-down role as the Senechal, veteran character actor Trevor Howard as the King, and for the coup de gras, superstar Sean Connery (who was filming Never Say Never Again simultaneously) as the Green Knight. (He’d even managed to bring back Rhys-Davies’ fellow Raiders allum Ronald Lacey to reprise his role as the villainous Oswald from the previous incarnation of the film.) And while he really wanted Mark Hamill to round out the cast as Gawain, Messers Golan and Globus insisted on another international superstar to play the hero: Miles O’Keeffe. After his impressive and acclaimed debut in Bo Derek’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, not to mention all those stellar Ator movies, he was an obvious slam-dunk to play the role of one of the greatest knights in mythology.
Following the success of John Boorman’s Excalibur, Sword of the Valiant probably seemed great on paper. And it starts quite well with Connery’s magnificent entrance astride a white horse, his horned crown and armor glittering green, he looks magical. Good timing too, since “The King” (the name “Arthur” is never uttered, nor are any of the be-bearded knights), has just finished bitching that all his nobles have gone soft after wretched peacetie has settled over the land. “The Old Year limps to its grave ashamed,” he says, and demands to see some proof that knightliness exists within his castle walls. 

Bathed in emerald light, the Green Bond uses his axe to cut through a helmet, proving its sharpness. “Let any of you take up my axe and hack the head from my shoulders. One blow only. And if the power be left in me, I demand the right to deliver a blow in the same manner.”
When no one steps up, the King is about to accept but squire Gawain leaps to the rescue. He’s knighted on the spot and the Green Knight laughs. “I ask for a knight but what do I get? A youth that has not yet earned his beard.”
So Gawain beheads the Knight, a headless Connery picks up the (lousy animatronic) head and reattachs it (both the beheading and reheading are achieved by pretty fancy invisible cuts and whip pans). The Knight grants Gawain his year and even grants him a loophole. Gawain keeps his head as long as he can solve a riddle:

Where life is emptiness, gladness
Where life is darkness, fire
Where life is golden, sorrow
Where life is lost, wisdom

(Connery’s horse does not want to stand still during this poem.) And he tells Gawain to seize his year, “Only fools and priests squander life by fearing death.”
So off goes Gawain, his new squire, Humphrey (Leigh Lawson), and his new armor—all of which once belonged to King Maybe-Not-Arthur and leaves Too-Small-for-Camelot to “seek his beard”.
And oh! The adventures. Ten minutes from the castle, he requires a church key to remove his codpiece and relieve himself. And Humphrey just happens to have one. Then he decides to eat a unicorn, since, being rare and magic, it’ll probably taste better. But that creature disappears, a tent appears in its place and an Enchantress sends them to Lyonesse, for no real particular reason.
Gawain defeats the “Guardian of Lyonesse”—a land in which no man has entered nor cannot leave—leading to a circular logic that comes from updating medieval texts for the mass market—but after taking the wounded man back to the town, the dying Guardian points at Gawain and calls him his murderer. He’s able to escape the angry mob because the beautiful Linnet (French actress Cyrielle Clair clumsily dubbed) gives him a magic ring that lets him disappear but reveals him to the Eye of Sauron… no, wait, it just makes him disappear.
Anyway, other things happen. He rescues Linnet, then loses her. Then the Green Knight tells him using magic is cheating and not part of the game. So he gives it up, meets two of the dwarves from Time Bandits (David Rappaport and Mike Edmonds), they send him somewhere else, he rescues Linnet again and then loses her again, this time to the lustful Lord Oswald and his Senechal father (who wishes to use her to bargain with a rival lord, played by Rhys-Davies doing a Brian Blessed impression).
Then more stuff happens. A lot of walking left, then right, particularly in extremely claustrophopic stone corridors and staircases, which could come from shooting on location in real castles in Wales and France. He’s involved in numerous uninspired fights, clunky sword duels and one of the worst-shot battle sequences in recent memory (involving a cast of dozens!).
Along the way, Gawain uncovers the mystery of the riddle save the last stanza, earns his spurs (or beard, once he can grow one) and meets the Knight on the appropriate day. Only this time, he’s wearing a sash of invincibility that Linnet gave him, which allows him to cheat again, battle the Knight and finally learn how wisdom is acquired through loss of life.
And credits.
Though I have not yet seen Weeks’ previous incarnation of the story, I’m told that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight resembles Monty Python and the Holy Grail in terms of production value. Sword of the Valiant also has much in common with the quotable Pythonian-Arthurian take, but mostly accidentally. Everyone in it seems to be having a good time, particularly Connery, but O’Keeffe is slightly better in motion and silent than he is when having to deliver lines like, to his torturer, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?” Much of his delivery is stiff and sore-thumb contemporary. When he’s not talking, he looks okay in a romance novel-cover type of way, even when he’s trying not to fall over in his clunky armor (borrowed from Royal National Theatre and the Old Vic). But even taking that aside—I mean, who goes “Miles O’Keeffe! What a thespian!”—there are many moments where he cuts an impressive, knightly figure.
Even the clumsy action and photography can be forgiven, particularly with a modern eye, as the staging and angles call to mind some of Robert Taylor’s bosoms-and-armor pics like Knights of the Round Table or even Ivanhoe. They’re costume dramas and at heart so is Sword of the Valiant. The lame attempts to modernize the dialogue aside, it’s an earnest attempt at a story of chivalry, even if most of the source material is jettisoned in favor of Gawain’s and Linnet’s love story.
If you drop all of the niggling faults, there’s an interesting allegory going on under the surface that actually does call to mind the endless interpretations of the original poem. Scholars over the years have called Gawain and the Green Knight a Christ analogy, an early work of feminist literature (due to Morgan Le Fay calling the shots and even in young Gawain’s passive nature), even an early look at queer literature (though given the time it was written, this has been determined to be quite a stretch), due to a subplot in which Gawain must deliver a kiss to the Lord harboring him. The Green Knight is usually interpreted as the Green Man of European folklore, the guardian of the woods and an embodiment of nature. Sword of the Valiant takes this course as well. While the climactic scene seems rushed (likely due to Connery’s schedule on the non-Bond Bond movie), as the Green Knight dies from his wound, his green fades to white and he starts to crumble like snow, leaving the idea that The Green Knight was Gawain’s entire borrowed year. It’s an interesting idea and it even allows for a rewatch (which does reveal little hints to this end throughout), but by this point, you may done the first time through.
But, wait Mike, if this movie isn’t all puppies and blowjobs, why bother seeking it out? Good question, particularly due to the controversy surrounding the domestic DVD release. For all its missteps, Sword of the Valiant was gorgeously shot in 2.35:1 widescreen and makes wonderful use of the real locations (in some scenes anyway). But since it did bupkis at the box office and is pretty much reviled, the only way to get it is to locate the out of print DVD which, of course, is in an ugly cable-adapted pan-and-scan version, leaving one to focus solely on faces and acting. There is a silver lining for collectors with multi-region players: a 2.35:1 DVD is available as a Polish import and sometimes that version shows up on YouTube.
So to answer my self-posed question: that’s my riddle for you. See you back here in a year and a day. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


“This is the story of the triumph of good over evil,” we are told by the opening titles. “Obviously it is a fantasy.”
It is said that Molière and La Fontaine used to frequent the Cafe de l'Alma in the Chaillot district of Paris. But today it is visted by a group of leaders, including The Chairman (Yul Brynner), The General (Paul Henreid), The Commissar (Oskar Homolka), and The Prospector (Donald Pleasence), who privately refers to them as, “Just faceless, ordinary monsters.” Together, they form the Board of Directors of International Substrate, and they have hatched a plan to dig up Paris in order to get to the oil that lies beneath the city.
Now, it is well known that all districts of Paris have their own dotty protectors, the Madwomen, if you will. The titular "Madwoman of Chaillot" is Countess Aurelia (Katharine Hepburn, in her best performance as far as I'm concerned), who prefers to live every day as one specific date. “First, the morning paper. Not these current sheets full of vulgar lies. I always read the Gaulois for March 22, 1919. It’s by far the best. Delightful scandal. Excellent fashion notes. And of course the last-minute bulletin on the death of Leonide Leblanc. She used to live next door. And when I learn of her death every morning it gives me quite a start. To recover from which, Chaillot calls. It is time to dress for my morning walk. That takes much longer without a maid . . .”
She’s not so mad as to imagine that life really is the same as that one March morning. Time is passing, of course, but it’s not like she has to acknowledge it. “Of course, in the morning it doesn’t always feel so gay. Not when you’re taking your hair out of the dresser and your teeth out of the glass. And particularly if you’ve been dreaming that you’re a little girl on a pony looking for strawberries in the woods. But then comes a letter in the morning mail. One you wrote to yourself, giving your schedule for the day. Then, when I have washed in rosewater and put on my pins, rings, brooches, pearls, necklaces, I’m ready to begin again.”
The Prospector’s son, a radical activist named Rodrick (Richard Chamberlain), brings the Board’s scheme to the attention of the genteel lady, as well as her cadre of peers, including the waitress Irma (Nanette Newman), the Folksinger (Gordon Heath) and her most confident of confidants, the Ragpicker (Danny Kaye). “The world is being taken over by the pimps,” says master Ragpicker.
The Countess is appalled, “The world is unhappy? Why wasn’t I told?”
So distraught is she by this news of scheming, of men living life as if it was disposable, Countess Aurelia gathers the other Madwomen of the districts—Josephine, the Madwoman of La Concorde (Edith Evans), Constance, the Madwoman of Passy (Margaret Leighton), (Josephine, the Madwoman of La Concorde (Edith Evans), and Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Sulpice (Giulietta Masina). Together with the street people, her people, she desides to hold a trial for these despoilers, in absentia. The rich men and their destructive ways are represented by The Ragpicker.
“Criminals are always represented by their opposites,” assured Josephine, who was to be the judge. The trial was absolutely necessary, for something had to be done.
“If you kill them, they’ll be missed,” protested Constance. “And we’ll be fined. They fine you for every little thing, you know?”
To which the Countess replies, “Do you miss a cold when it’s gone? They’ll never be missed.”
Thus, the Ragpicker prepares the case, defending against the charge that he and his ilk worship money.
“Worship money? Me?” says the Ragpicker. “I plead not guilty! I don’t worship money. It’s the other way around. Money worships me. It won’t let me alone. The first time money came to me, I was a mere boy. Untouched. Untainted. It came quite suddenly when I innocently picked a bar of gold bullion out of a garbage can while playing. As you can imagine, I was horrified. I tried swapping it for a little, rundown one-track railroad. To my childish amazement this immediately sold itself for a hundred times its value. I made desperate efforts to get rid of this unwanted wealth. I bought refineries, department stores, every munitions factory I could lay hands on. The rest is history. They stuck to me. They multiplied. And now I am powerless. Everyone knows the poor have no one but themselves to blame for their poverty. But how is it the fault of the rich if they’re rich? Oh, I don’t ask for your pity. All I ask for is a little human understanding.”
He continues, “Ah, without money nobody likes or trusts you. But to have money is to be virtuous, beautiful, honest and witty. To have none is to be ugly and boring and stupid and useless.”
“One last question,” asks the Countess. “Suppose you find this oil you’re looking for? What will you do with it?”
“I’ll make war! I’ll destroy what remains of the world!”
When the trial concludes the verdict is clear: guilty. But how to carry out the sentence, and what shall the sentence be?

The Madwoman of Challot began life as the play, La Folle de Chaillot, written by acclaimed writer Jean Giraudoux and was first performed in Paris in 1945, a year after his death. In 1949, fellow playwright Maurice Valency adapted the story into English and it was warmly received in the United States. Subsequently, the play was reworked by Inherit the Wind authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman) into the musical Dear World, which won star Angela Lansbury a Tony Award. That same year, 1969, screenwriter, producer and pulp writer (with wife Edith), Edward Anhalt (The Boston Strangler), adapted the Valency script for the big screen, which was directed by Bryan Forbes (Séance on a Wet Afternoon). The film premiered in October, was met with favorable reviews from critics and not-too-shabby attendence, then quietly bowed out of the limelight, fading away with the final breaths of the “Summer (and Autumn) of Love”.
Anhalt’s screenplay adheres closely to Giraudoux’s play and embellishes only where he needs to. Just the same, spending the first act with the odious Board members gets a little tedious. While it is indeed fun to watch Brynner rail against the indignities he must suffer every day when exposed to the world’s rabble, the sequence becomes a slog. After about ten minutes, you’ll catch yourself saying, “I get it. They’re evil, cruel capitalists. What else is new?” But if you can stick with the movie until Hepburn’s marvelous Countess is introduced, the movie becomes a delightful ride from there. Until it slows down again with the introduction of the other Madwomen. Their first scene together unfortunately drags as well, mirroring the Board’s callousness with their own fractured-mirror outlooks on life. But the reward for coming this far is without question Danny Kaye’s moment as the Ragpicker during the trial. Assuming the collective persona of all cruel overseers and misers, the Ragpicker seems to shock himself by the end with the imperious self-righteousness he finds within. It’s a chilling moment of black comedy and the centerpiece of the film (as, I’m sure, it was the centerpiece of the play) and Kaye left me breathless, at least. 
The particulars of The Madwoman of Chaillot are, unfortunately, timeless. The rich will always run roughshod over the poor and life is wasted on the forward-thinkers, only appreciated by the young and the mad. And while the underlying themes are also universal, this particular movie seems more appropriate today than it might have in the post-war Paris of the ‘40s or mid-war America of the late ‘60s. The Madwomen and the street people, including the idealistic Irma and Roderick, could easily fit the mold of the modern “Occupy” movement; the Board of Directors are an easy surrogate for Wall Street and Corporate Culture. As the opening title card points out, almost bitterly, the results are pure fantasy.
While Anhalt invented scenes involving The Prospector and his son inside their home (where Pleasance’s character collects and displays old bathroom doors, hanging them on the wall as modern art), they wisely resisted the temptation to update the play for modern times. The Café and the Countess’s domiciles exist in stasis, the first eternally quaint and the latter decaying along with its owner’s mental stability, yet still retaining its dignity. Certainly Roderick and the Board members are given a more modern cut of suit, no hippies or swinging Londoners lurk in the background of the frame. The story stays put in its fantasy time period and could be easily trotted out for any generation.
Unfortunately, it really could be applied to any generation, as class warfare is less cyclical than it is a never-ending hypno-spiral. But how lovely would it be if we could just round up our ruthless rulers, bankers, despoilers and pimps and just march them off the end of the Earth? It’s of course an insurmountable solution. The best we can do is get up, dress up in our best, and pick a personal time from our past where life was perfect, without the simple evil of reality shattering our illusions of happiness.
For therein lies the true tragedy of The Madwoman of Challot: in the end, the Countess’s world has been intruded. Tomorrow may again be March 22, 1919, but it won’t change the fact that yesterday was quite gloomy, cold and hard.
Again, we must bow our head in silent prayer to the Warner Brothers Archives for preserving this handsome oil painting brought to life (thanks to the photography of Burnett Guffey and Claude Renoir). At the moment, it’s available as one of their movie-only standalone DVD-Rs, but it’s better than nothing at all. Amazon also has made it available on their Instant Video Service.
For another take on the story, be sure to check out the novelization on Richard Chamberlain’s website.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Nobody in Hollywood is what they are; they’re always something else.
Waitstaff are actors, security guards are screenwriters, guys who set up shop in diner booths aren’t oddballs, they’re agents. The street dancers, the buskers, the living statues, all living on “donations” from passers-by, they’re all in the business. “You have to remember that show business is all a show and it’s all business,” says Sal-the-Agent (Clu Gulager) to one of his many fresh-off-the-bus prospects. “It’s both a show and a business. I tell all my clients that. I’m an agent but I’m also a professional communicator.”
All across the world, people have that famous HOLLYWOOD sign in their eyes, and the sign is surrounded by stars, literally and figuratively. The Muppets called it “The Magic Store”. It’s where dreams come true. Where beautiful girls are discovered at soda fountains. But the further down the hill you get from those famous white letters, more litter is visible, and those names on the stars on the Walk of Fame become less-familiar as you go. The most-devoted can be found hosing condoms off of Ann Sheridan’s star. And, in an image that sums up the primary theme of the film, our title hero brushes cigarette butts of the star belonging to Elvis Presley. Where once were legends, today nobody gives a damn. It’s worse for the has-beens, but not as bad as the never-weres have it. At street level, that dream Hollywood’s been pitching for a hundred years—that anyone with talent and heart can be a star—is as faded and tattered as its namesake boulevard. It’s a town of dreamers and ghosts. 
Eddie Presley (Duane Whitaker) is not just a down-on-his-luck security guard living out of a van parked behind the Frederick’s of Hollywood building. He’s lounge star waiting for his comeback: an Elvis impersonator who got into that game before there was even a demand for it. He played all the big rooms. “Okay,” he amends. “Maybe not the big rooms, but small-to-medium rooms all over the country. All over the country!”
In recent days, he pumps his breakfast money into a pay phone to check an empty answering service, stuffs the junk mail in his PO Box into the holes in his shoes. Whatever’s left, he gives to a homeless guy, out of kindness and sympathy, only to have the bum throw it back at him in outrage: “What am I supposed to do with a fucking quarter?”
Eddie’s girlfriend (Stacie Randall billed here as Stacie Bourgeois), who goes by the stage name of Tyranny, works double and triple-shifts as a diner waitress. Everyday she dodges the regular human debris—a goggle-eyed maybe-biker, maybe-skin head named Ace; Sal the Agent set up in his office in his regular booth, taking calls on the diner’s payphone. On her breaks, she sits with a lesbian friend (Julie Rhode-Browne ) who is trying to convince her to “make her start” in porn. “A lot of actresses do it that way,” she insists. 
To make ends get slightly closer every month, Eddie works graveyard security shifts at a warehouse, but the supervisor has it in for him. He’s already on probation for taking a shower on the job at 2am. For the most part, his co-workers like him, particularly female guard Becky, who practically throws herself at him, though he barely notices. Eddie’s too preoccupied with a call that never seems to come, something that will usher in his comeback Elvis act. 
Eddie’s dying for that call, a little more every day. His old friend owns a club called “Doc’s Back Door”, and he’s always looking for new acts. Doc spends his days auditioning an endless parade of hopefuls alongside his even more critical Mexican bartender, Smokey. First there’s the horrible ventriloquist who berates the dummy when the lines don’t come out right. There’s the performance artist whose schtick involves a cockroach representing Iraq and a knock-off brand of RAID representing U.S. involvement. (Doc: “You get out of here, you commie bastard! We kicked ass in the Gulf!”) The only act Smokey likes is a shock comic (played by Tim Thomerson—“I went to a very sexually-liberated college. It was called ‘Fuck U’!” (“Hey, I do some clean material, too. I once opened for the Cowsills.”) The only act Doc likes is a smarmy cruise liner agent named “Keystone the Magnificent” (played by Daniel Roebuck)—“I taught Doug Henning my best stuff. He stole ‘em, that bastard!”  
Meanwhile, Tyranny’s own bitter frustration—“Serving shit food to shit people all day long!”—is sucking him dry. “My life is out of synch,” she tells him. Becky shows her interest in him by trying to relate to his act: “I’m a singer. Kind of an easy-listening type,” she says. “Maybe I could be your… backup singer?” At the end of a long day, Eddie doses off at work and Supervisor West (Lawrence Tierney) captures the moment on Polaroid. And why the cruelty from him? “Because I don’t like you, Presley! You’re one of those wanna-be Hollywood faggots. You’re a loser and you’ll always be a loser.” Maybe West had a dream deferred himself some time ago, so he does his best to revenge it by stomping upon the dreams of everyone around him, even those just trying to get by.
When Eddie finally gets that call from Doc (the wonderful Roscoe Lee Browne), his security guard buddies couldn’t be more supportive. Nick and Scooter (Willard Pugh and Ted Raimi) raise money to get him a stretch limo for the big night. Becky plans to get all dolled up for the occasion. The humiliation continues to pile up, though. He hands Sid his mock-up flier, invites him to the show, only to have to ask for it back so he can make copies. Tyranny can’t get off work and won’t be there. His dry cleaner agrees to come so long as he can get in for free. Worst of all, he’s billed beneath Keystone on the slap-dash marquee.
Then comes the big night and out comes Eddie Presley—King of the Kings—opening with a Southern medley and killing. Then the club’s cassette player eats his back-up music tape. At a loss, on the verge of panic, Eddie sits down with his accoustic guitar and opens up to his dwindling single-digit audience, and he lays bare the story that up until now we’ve only gotten glimpses of: a son he never sees, a business he no longer owns, a nightmare asylum where he lived after hearing the news that his hero—his Messiah—died in 1977. On stage, Eddie Presley becomes who he really is.
And anyone who has ever undertaken some sort of public art—musical performance, art installation, stand-up, film screening, play premiere—will for a few minutes share that space with Eddie. Anyone who has ever given voice to their art to a near-empty room, leaning solely on the support of the handful of family or friends who have come out of whatever—respect, love, pity—you’ll recognize that lonely spotlight and the agony of never giving up and never knowing why.
Whitaker opened up his original one-man play with director Jeff Burr to create this tone poem ode to disappointment. Described by The Quentin Tarantino Archives as “the story of a man who didn't make it back up after he fell down”, Eddie Presley is about the potential danger of following your dreams without a plan. By his own admission, Eddie gave up his family and lucrative career because he “wasn’t happy”, and took that unhappiness to its most illogical of conclusions. But since Hollywood is filled with the shattered remains of ill-conceived dreams, he’s lonely but never alone. His tunnel-vision is no different from anyone elses “out there”, which is why he focuses on his distant girlfriend with “attainable beauty” and cannot see the genuine affection his plain “friend” Becky has for him. He sees just how empty Doc’s room is during his act, but doesn’t really see the standing ovation he gets from two friends. Raimi and Pugh give beautiful if wordless performances as they watch Eddie on stage—in their eyes, he is living a dream they don’t dare pursue.  So many people around Eddie call him a loser behind his back but who are they to judge? Who is Sid the Agent who “handled them all” (from Freddie Bartholomew to Anne Francis)? Who is Keystone the Magnificent who sets his glove on fire on stage and gets savaged by the rabbit within his hat? Who is Smokey the bartender to have such disdain towards those, in his vast esteem, “suck”? Indeed, who are any of us to judge anyone following their dreams, however misguided they may be? The irony in the film is that Eddie, like Rupert Pupkin or Mickey One, is actually a pretty good performer, but the fates are not on his side. Kim Kardashian has never done one thing of note during her entirety of her existence, but she stands far above this broken dreamer alone on a dive-bar stage. 
You don’t need a Ph.D. in Jeff Burr to be able to see Eddie Presley for the personal project that it is. First came Whitaker’s play, where he poured out his own personal pain. Then Burr’s adaptation, which came on the heels of a creatively-disappointing string of franchise sequels—The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Stepfather 2—where he had no control over the final cut nor the wishes of those “suits” above him. “[The Offspring, Straight into Darkness and Eddie Presley] are more representative of what I want to do and am capable of doing,” Burr told Icons of Fright. “The frustration for me is to not be able to be allowed to put the creativity you know you have on the screen, for various reasons. That’s the frustration.”
But with all the pathos and desperation in the movie, you can tell from the cast how much the principal creators were and are. Browne, Tierney, Gulagher, Thomerson, Roebuck, Raimi, Kitten Natividad—even very brief cameos by Bruce Campbell and soon-to-be-legend Quentin Tarantino—all appeared for very little money. Michael Varrati (Master of the Massacre: An Interview with Filmmaker Jeff Burr ) asserts that Burr “somehow managed to put together this “Ocean’s 11 of cult” ensemble”, to help Burr and Whitaker get their 16mm epic off the ground. and at no point does the story take the easy way out. you know very well that at the end of his performance, Eddie’s existence will probably not change. there won’t be a rush of agents or even a steady gig to come of it all. But that time in the spotlight may very well have been worth it all in the long run.      
Bill Gibron, a critic I respect immensely, wrote in his review, “Eddie never really gets a transcendent moment, a chance for the film to combine its incredible elements to lift you out of the story and into something more special. We keep waiting for it to come and it never quite does. The movie pushes it, though. It comes awful goddamn close, so close in fact that you could get confused and claim to experience the inspirational, when in reality it was all a ruse, a cinematic sham caused with jumpsuits and jokes. Indeed, what Eddie Presley may need is more proof of our hero's music and mimicry.”
It’s a valid criticism, but it’s not one that I share. To tip its hand and show Eddie as a competent Elvis would have undercut the film’s third act punch (and just because I’ve told you about it won’t lessen the squeeze upon your heart during viewing) With Eddie Presley you have a movie that, like the dead talent on the Walk of Fame, you don’t see much of these days. And to give Eddie’s story a moment of inspiration would be grossly disingenuous. This isn’t a larger-than-life story; it’s one that’s actual size, far too intimate for gross grandeur. It’s a story that’s sensitive without sentiment; cynical without cruelty. Even though it’s set in Hollywood, don’t expect a Hollywood ending. 

[Special note for Pittsburghers: Eddie Presley is playing on a double-bill with Henrique Couto's Depression: The Movie, Friday, December 7 starting at 7pm at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont.]