SKIDOO Screenings at the 2007 Mods and Rockers Fest!
"Six Degrees of SKIDOO" - Christian Divine, The Huffington Post
Mods & Rockers 2007 Film Festival Pix by Matthew Rabin
Saturday Night, July 15, Full House at Grauman's Egyptian Theater
SKIDOO extra David Lebrun ,Christian Divine, Martin Lewis Post Show
John Phillip Law and I - July 29, Aero Theater
Theatrical poster 1968
Otto Preminger: Okay. Let's start at the beginning. Should we call the picture SKIDOO?
Doran William Cannon : I like SKIDOO. I'm not in love with it.
OP: Do you have any other titles?
DWC: The only other title I have is THE IN-CROWD.
OP: No. Very bad. THE IN-CROWD is very bad. Let's keep SKIDOO for the time being. I like it. Although I don't know what it means.
The name conjures an old 1920's expression, a line of snowmobiles, or an infamous 1968 film directed by Otto Preminger. Out of a large body of myriad, memorable and often controversial work that includes LAURA (1944); PORGY AND BESS (1959); THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955); ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959); EXODUS (1960) and others, SKIDOO remains Preminger's most unique film, produced by Paramount Pictures at the height of the peace and love revolution, and featuring an all-star cast reminiscent of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD -- except on LSD. The film gained instant notoriety upon its limited release in December of 1968 (usually on a double bill with the obscure UP-TIGHT) and has achieved a truly sub-cultural iconic status, chiefly to Jackie Gleason's incredible seven minute acid trip and the film's unavailability outside of popular bootlegs. Today, SKIDOO stands as a fascinating 1960's cinematic artifact, the missing link between the end of the Old Hollywood and the start of the New Hollywood. Unlike other big studio misfires of the decade such as CANDY (1968), MODESTY BLAISE (1966) and MYRA BRECKENRIDGE (1970), SKIDOO is always entertaining, there are some terrific performances, and the tonal shifts are almost kinetic as each scene manages the impossible feat of being more bizarre than the previous one. Just when you think SKIDOO can't get any stranger, it does, all the way until the transcendent final shot, one of the greatest in Hollywood history. Preminger frames the hippie happenings in his typical "widescreen tolerance" as Andrew Sarris noted in his perceptive review and thus, SKIDOO also has the distinction of being one of the few films of the turbulent 60's to posit a happy ending for the hippies and hope for the generation gap.
"This is why I am so happy I can do this picture instead of TOO FAR TO WALK because this is so god-damn serious. "
-- Otto Preminger, SKIDOO story conference, 1967
Based on a whimsical script by rebel scribe Doran William Cannon (BREWSTER MCLOUD; HEX), SKIDOO was to be Preminger's first real comedy since his 1954 THE MOON IS BLUE, which caused a scandal by uttering the word, "virgin," (and led to the destruction of the prohibitive Production Code). Preminger was planning a version of John Hersey's anti-LSD novel TOO FAR TO WALK (going so far as to have his brilliant title designer Saul Bass create one of his patented constructivist logos). Cannon knew an assistant of Preminger, who was passed a copy of his whimsical script SKIDOO. Preminger brought in Cannon to take a crack at TOO FAR TO WALK, although he was growing disenchanted with the book's rather simplistic allegory about a LSD devil corrupting the soul of a college youth. Preminger decided to make SKIDOO instead. Francis Ford Coppola urged Cannon to sell Preminger his script, telling him that this would be a perfect entry into Hollywood. Cannon sold the script for 75,000 dollars and they began story conferences on October 21, 1967, exactly 32 years after Preminger's arrival into the United States. Ultimately, Cannon was unhappy with Preminger's take on the material and refused to do further rewrites. Preminger brought in other scriptwriters, including Mel Brooks who lasted one meeting; Preminger told Cannon that "between him and you, I would have too much trouble." Other writers added bits to the script, with Elliot Baker receiving 10,000 dollars a week, a record at the time. Preminger always paid well. And now he wanted to understand the youth culture that was revolutionizing the world.
"So they gave me a pill. And something very funny happened."
-- Otto Preminger, Penthouse Interview, 1973
To his credit, Otto Preminger immersed himself in the world of the counter-culture, his objectivist directorial style guiding him as he hung out with John Phillip Law, his brother Tom and wife Lisa, all of whom owned the legendary 60's rock mansion, The Castle, high (literally) in the Hollywood Hills. Harrison Ford was the carpenter. According to Tom Law, "When I met Otto, he told me he was making an anti-LSD film. I asked him why and tried to explain he wasn't being truthful to the subject , that I knew many people who had positive experiences and he was contributing to stereotypes. He listened and agreed. Preminger was cool."
Preminger journeyed to San Francisco in 1967, the cultural epicenter of the hippie scene even though the avatars of the movement had already staged a "Death of Hippie" mock funeral. To further understand the LSD trip in the script, Preminger took acid under the brief supervision of Timothy Leary, who appears in SKIDOO'S trailer. Regarding his own LSD trip, Preminger told Cannon that "I saw things; I did not see myself ." He had a vision that would be used in Gleason's trip: "My wife appeared very, very small, very suddenly. I told her, 'You are so little, so charming.' I talked most of the night according to my wife." Preminger tried marijuana but his lungs couldn't take the smoke. He never experimented with drugs again but decried the laws: "I think to make narcotics a crime only helps the real criminal. Practically every doctor tells us that pot is not dangerous and not as bad as alcohol, yet there are states where you can have 30 years in prison for the possession of it. This is crazy." On a lower scale of madness, Preminger also had to find a movie star to take this widescreen trip in Panavision and Technicolor.
"Jackie Gleason Is Tony Banks..." -- line from end credits sung by Nilsson
From the start, Otto Preminger wanted Walter Mathau to play the role of Tony Banks, the ex-mobster living a respectable life until his former boss, "God," asks him to "kiss" (kill) his best friend, "Blue Chips" Packard, who's ready to turn state's evidence against the crime family. Throw in his free-spirited daughter, Darlene, who's hooked up with Stash, an archetypal hippie, and Tony Banks finds himself caught between his past and his daughter's future. Preminger talked about Edward G. Robinson for the role of God, until Bill Cannon suggested Groucho Marx, who was hired at an exorbitant fee for his first film role in years. Cannon wrote the part of Fred, radical ex-Berkeley scientific genius, for Austin Pendleton, for whom Cannon had also written BREWSTER MCLOUD, the script that brought him to Hollywood. Preminger briefly considered Michael J. Pollard but settled on Pendleton after only one meeting without even shooting the screen test he had been flown out for. Pendleton recalls that, "Otto was charming, he was enlightened and he knew things."
In the end, Preminger hired Jackie Gleason for Tony Banks, who was asked what drew him to working on SKIDOO: "The deal, pallie. The deal."
"This is why it is fun, it is comedy...that the trip makes him change his mind, that the trip makes him say "well, what difference?"
- Otto Preminger, SKIDOO story conference, 1967
I first heard about SKIDOO through Michael and Harry Medved's 1980 book THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS. The name kept popping up in cult move books and a few articles. I was always fascinated by the logline and of course the irrestible thought of Jackie Gleason having an LSD trip in Groucho Marx's last movie directted by Otto Preminger, whose work I enjoyed. I was certain there was psychedelic gold in the film beyond the glib Medveds j'accuse and I was determined to judge it for myself someday. Sadly, SKIDOO didn't show up on the late late show at anytime I can recall in my youth -- and I can recall every memorable film moment post-embryo -- so I had to wait until 1990 to see it in the best way possible: at the ornate movie palace The Crest in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, December 1, my birthday. Matias Bompal, the dedicated manager, had secured a beautiful 35 mm print of SKIDOO from Paramount and I had secured a hit of purple acid (kids, don't try this at home. Bad kitty!). I was invited to a party in Berkeley, but my heart was set on SKIDOO. I made the right choice.
SKIDOO was everything I hoped for and more. From the first blast of Nilsson's catchy theme over a cartoon version of a dancing Jackie Gleason, I was hooked. It was eight o'clock on Saturday night, the beautiful theater was crowded , I was starting to trip the film fantastic, and I was 23 years old; the perfect time to watch, nay, to experience SKIDOO. Not that anything beyond your own senses is necessary to enjoy or be astounded by the film. What I learned is that you don't need drugs to watch SKIDOO because SKIDOO is drugs. The film has the manifestations of an LSD journey, and no wonder since Preminger himself took acid under the tutelage of Timothy Leary and even Groucho Marx himself dropped with counterculture legend Paul Krassner so they could be truthful to the film's identity. Later, Preminger told screenwriter Bill Cannon that, "I saw only things; I did not see myself." He also saw mathematics, which is depicted in Gleason's amazing seven minute trip, to this day one of the strangest scenes in Hollywood film history. Within the deco womb of the Crest, as I watched Groucho Marx's head on a screw spin through a purple haze, I was almost having an out of body moment (independent of my chemical state) because the image was beyond surreal. I imagined what stunned audiences must have thought in 1968, picturing a 60's nuclear family going out for a night of Chineese food and "that funny new Jackie Gleason picture." I also loved the thought of old school studio special effects technicians putting together a fake Groucho head and compositing a shrinking Austin Pendleton for a big budget acid trip. And just when I though the film couldn't match this peak, it went further, from a garbage can ballet to Carol Channing belting out the infectious theme song at the climax. The audience stayed to the very last frame (as you must) and there was enthusiastic applause as the lights went up. We knew had shared a special celluloid moment. I thanked Matias on the way out and stepped into the frosty December air, feeling giddy under the dazzling string of xmas lights along the K Street mall. Experiencing SKIDOO had felt like the most bizzare, perfect Saturday Night At The Movies ever. A great birthday.
"We are going to be able to have cartridges... Instead of a television program, you will see what you have on this cartridge, any movie." -- Otto Preminger
Cut to the year 2000 at the edge of the 20th century. Fresh out of Texas after two years, I find a bootleg copy of SKIDOO in a San Francisco store and decided to take a trip back - minus the acid. In my friend's living room, eating pizza on Friday night, I wonder as I pop in the raw cassette, will the film remain a better forgotten figment of an induced state? To my glee and renewed sense of awe, SKIDOO remains exactly how I saw it almost exactly 10 years earlier. But to my wonder, the film was even more unique and transcendant. I couldn't stop rewatching it that weekend and forced my friend Andy to watch it. He couldn't believe the film nor that I would watch it more than once. The next few weeks I gathered small groups of unsuspecting, adventerous friends and showed them SKIDOO just to further test the public waters. To my pleasure, people loved the film, each for their own idiosyncratic reasons. One of my comic book artist friends said, "That was brilliant" after it ended. A dog walker friend couldn't believe what she was seeing. The audience was never bored. I continued showing SKIDOO to anybody that would let me. I never had a negative response. Incredulous, yes. Even my mother couldn't fathom it: "This is weird."
I felt I had a new mission: expose SKIDOO to the world like a cinematic virus.
Unmaking Of Skidoo Roadshow:
OCTOBER, 22, 2005: THE OTHER CINEMA
FEBUARY 1, 2006: LA BRAINTERRAIN LISTING
CURTIS ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW: NILSSON & SKIDOO
7 Dudley Cinema, Febuary 1, 2006
Standing Room Only
Austin Pendleton and me. Shock Cinema interview, New York, Dec. 4, 2006
SKIDOO writer Doran William Cannon. 1933-2004
Otto Preminger with Timothy Leary. 1967
Invitation to SKIDOO cast and crew party at The Factory
FBI memo on SKIDOO, April 10, 1968
SKIDOO letterhead, 1968
Jackie Gleason on LSD