As a home video fanatic – the demented owner of thousands of DVDs, Blu-rays and laser discs – I am in particular a fan of the Criterion Collection, who consistently live up to their promise of putting out the highest quality DVDs and now Blu-rays of “classic and important contemporary films.” I have scores of Criterions in my collection, on all three formats, and as an indie filmmaker, having one of my films available from Criterion would be the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail or maybe that atomic box from KISS ME DEADLY.
Well, I have found the atomic box if not the Holy Grail (Monty Python or otherwise). In June, Criterion is bringing out (on both DVD and Blu-ray) what looks to be the definitive release of Robert Aldrich’s great film noir, KISS ME DEADLY…actually, the official title is MICKEY SPILLANE’S KISS ME DEADLY. I was approached about a month ago by representatives of Criterion wondering if they could use my documentary MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE as a special feature on this disc. At first they wanted to just use excerpts, but ultimately they asked if I could do a re-edit on the piece to bring it down from around 48 minutes to half an hour.
For those of you unfamiliar with MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, it’s a documentary I did in 1998 with the full participation of Mickey, utilizing all sorts of wonderful interview footage with the likes of Stacy Keach, Shirley Eaton, Lee Meredith, producer Jay Bernstein, Leonard Maltin and a galaxy of mystery writers and experts (Donald E. Westlake, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley, Otto Penzler, Marty Greenberg, Paul Biship, Joe Gores, Stephen Marlowe, Parnell Hall, Loren Estleman and on and on). It was produced for a company that went out of business and it never saw the light of broadcast day, although it won awards at festivals here and abroad, with a particularly memorable screening at the National Film Theater of London as part of a Spillane film festival (Mickey and I were both guests of the British Film Institute). The doc appeared as the major element of my anthology film SHADES OF NOIR a few years ago – which is only available in the boxed set BLACK BOX from Troma (it’s out of print, I believe, but can be found).
Anyway, I agreed to come up with a new edit expressly for Criterion – they wanted an emphasis on Mickey, Mike Hammer and (not surprisingly) KISS ME DEADLY. This was tricky because I did not have the original elements – I had to edit a new version from the existing version. Anyone who knows anything about film or video editing knows what a nightmare that is – this was a fully scored piece, meaning edits involved music at every point (the score was by my Seduction of the Innocent pal, Chris Christensen). Those who follow this update will not be surprised that I turned to my longtime collaborator, Phil Dingeldein, at dphilms in Rock Island. With his help – and that of editor Ryan Orr – we came up with a 39 minute cut that we have delivered to Criterion. A little longer than they had asked for, but in the ballpark.
In many respects, I like this new cut better. We lost a few really nice moments, but because the documentary was segmented, I was able to cut whole sections, including material on the MIKE DANGER comic book and Mickey’s appearances in my MOMMY movies (both were timely when I did the original doc). Some personal stuff about Mickey’s home life and family went, as well – material that played better when, frankly, Mickey was alive and well and among us. This shorter version acknowledges Mickey’s passing and works better, I think, as a career piece at this shorter length. I’m proud of it, and trust Criterion will indeed use the entire new edit (and not just excerpt it). The presence on their KISS ME DEADLY disc of this documentary – and, frankly, of me – is very important, because film critics have a smug tendency to dismiss and even dis Mickey’s source material in regard to Aldrich’s film. I have not heard the commentary tracks or read the Criterion background booklet, but I can guarantee you that there will be nasty things said about Spillane. And now I will be there to counterattack…er, I mean counterbalance.
Some nice web stuff this week.
The great review column Bookgasm did a fanastic write-up on the Quarry reprints from Perfect Crime.
My first Mallory novel (second published, first written), NO CURE FOR DEATH, got a very nice write-up. There’s a lot about the plot, and I remember almost none of it. In my defense, it was written around 1970.
You can pre-order RETURN TO PERDITION here and/or get a sneak look at the cover art.
And here’s a fun story showing how Mickey Spillane’s feisty widow Jane is keeping her local government honest (they promised to re-name a highway after Mickey, then didn’t follow through – bad idea!).
Finally, here is a mostly B.S. list of the supposed top 111 hardboiled heroes. Nate Heller, Mike Hammer and Dick Tracy make the list, but Quarry doesn’t. Irritating Quarry is almost as dangerous as irritating Jane Spillane.