Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog written by one of our members. This month, we’re featuring Paul Parcellin, who writes at Life and Death in L.A.
CMBA: Why do you blog?
Paul Parcellin: Other than blogging’s potential to reach readers instantly and attract a worldwide audience, I blog about films because it’s akin to thinking out loud. In my experience, there are few better ways of discovering how I really feel about any topic, film included. Each time I sit down with the laptop, I challenge myself to sum up my cogitations about the stuff that I’ve watched and try to put it into context.
When I begin, my opinion is not fully formed. It’s only when I’m pounding it out on the keyboard that I’m confronted with my initial reactions and sometimes it’s surprising — do I really feel that way? But there it is on the screen, staring at me, challenging me to flesh out my perceptions and present those ideas in a way that’s coherent and interesting to readers. I ask myself if what I’m saying makes sense. I wonder if it’s an accurate reading of the filmmaker’s intent, or if I’m carrying my own baggage that alters my take on a film. It’s tough to answer some of these nagging questions, but asking them keeps the writing process interesting. For me, there’s an urgency that’s part of film writing. Thoughts are ethereal things that will soon dissipate. It’s important to get them down on paper — or in pixels.
But perhaps most important of all, blogging is a two-way street. If my facts are inaccurate, my
opinion is spotty, my reasoning is skewed, the readers will let me know about it. We can learn
from each other.
CMBA: Besides classic movie blogging, what are some of your other passions?
Paul Parcellin: I am into the visual arts — painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography. I like to visit museums and galleries. Fortunately, L.A. has a lot to see. I also collect DVDs and Blu-rays — not a big surprise for a classic movie blogger. I don’t have an enormous number of titles, but I prefer discs to streaming or digital downloads. I’m also a dedicated amateur guitar player — I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, so it was practically mandated by law that I would play.
CMBA: If you could program a perfect day of classic movies for TCM, what would be the seven films on your schedule?
Paul Parcellin: My idea of a perfect day of TCM programming would include crime, comedy and foreign films. Here are my top seven in no particular order:
Double Indemnity (1944). The gold standard of noir. It’s got classic voiceover narration and
knockout performances by Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwick and Edward G. Robinson, and
lots of quotable dialogue — “I never knew that murder could smell like honeysuckle.”
Bringing Up Baby (1938). Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Howard Hawks; need I say more?
La Dolce Vita (1960). Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, the Trevi Fountain; wonderful Fellini.
Get Carter (1971). The one starring Michael Caine, of course. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness,
like the steel-gray sky hanging over Newcastle.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Whip-smart Preston Sturges. Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake and a cast of Sturges’s regular comedic actors. A great send-up of a film director who takes himself a little too seriously.
Breathless (1960). Jean Luc Godard said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, and he showed us all how it’s done. A classic crime film of the French New Wave.
Out of the Past (1947). Jane Greer is one of noir’s most stunning and ruthless femmes fatales. Robert Mitchum is the fall guy who knows he’s doomed but can’t walk away from Jane. Who could?
CMBA: What is a classic movie that you love, but most people don't know about -- and what do you love about it?
Paul Parcellin: Straight Time (1978), with Dustin Hoffman as Max Dembo, an ex-convict who wants to stay on the right side of the law but is having a hard time of it. Great performances by Hoffman, M. Emmet Walsh as an oily probation officer, and Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton as Max’s partners in crime. Based on Edward Bunker’s novel “No Beast So Fierce,” the film’s many small details feel authentic, probably in large part because Bunker knows of what he speaks. He led a life of crime and was incarcerated, then turned to writing. He also acted in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, playing a member of a gang that holds up a jewelry store. Straight Time also features a jewelry store heist that is one of the more intense and realistic action sequences seen in 1970s crime dramas. But the film’s shoot ’em up aspects get a minor amount of screen time. It’s really a character study in which we see Max’s good intentions crumble until we realize that he isn’t really what he seemed to be. The ending is bleak — it is a 1970s crime drama, after all. And for Max, no other conclusion would seem as true to life or as inevitable.
CMBA: What is something that most people don't know about you?
Paul Parcellin: I moved to L.A. just in time for the big economic meltdown of ‘08 and there were hardly any jobs to be had. I did manage to find some spotty work, including being an extra on TV shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and a short-lived sitcom called Better Off Ted — in one episode I’m in the opening shot with a bunch of people who are supposed to be attending a business meeting. It was sort of fun, and in addition to getting paid, we got free food from craft services, which was a great fringe benefit for starving extras. I was also cast in NCIS as a Marine colonel with severe wounds. I was in the makeup trailer for hours with two
artists who made me look like a corpse that had been stitched up. On set, as I lay down on a
stainless-steel autopsy table for some photos the director said to me, “Welcome to the
worst job in Hollywood.” I smiled, but frankly I’d had much worse jobs that paid a lot less
for my trouble, and besides, this one was a pretty cool adventure. Of course, I was bursting
to tell everyone I knew about my impending appearance on a network TV show, but
something told me to hold off on that, and it’s a good thing that I did. When the episode
finally aired, I was disappointed to find that my scenes ended up on the proverbial cutting
room floor, so I never made it onto the show. That happens a lot, I guess. But I still have
photos of me in full makeup as a reminder of what my NCIS debut would have looked like,
and that’s OK. It was certainly not an average day at the office.