STORYVILLE Storyville

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
This film really deserves a bit of discussion somewhere as it was Mark Frost's movie released in within a couple of days of Twin Peaks in the USA in 1992.

It's got a terrific cast and I remember really enjoying it. I haven't seen it in many years, because it's not available in the UK, even on DVD: just pricey imports. I remember it being a very sultry neo-noir that, while lacking the utter darkness that lies in David Lynch's work (where even in the blackest shadows there's something even darker moving around just out of one's visual range) manages to tell an engaging story. It's complete absence on Blu-ray, especially in light of Twin Peaks: The Return's arrival, baffles me. It would be a day one purchase for me.

Fantastic cast: Jason Robards, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, James Spader, Piper Laurie...

I'm a sucker for moody New Orleans-type stories. Anyone else got good memories of this film?
 

Jackwithoneeye

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 14, 2022
108
135
I remember it didnt play in any movie theaters around me in 92, and I did find I think one place, hours away, but it was gone quick.

It didn't come to any of the video rental stores I went to, but it did play on cinemax in 1993. i watched it at least once. I remember liking it. Back when James Spader was super handsome. I havent seen it in 30 years now. I would like to re-visit it.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
I remember it didnt play in any movie theaters around me in 92, and I did find I think one place, hours away, but it was gone quick.

It didn't come to any of the video rental stores I went to, but it did play on cinemax in 1993. i watched it at least once. I remember liking it. Back when James Spader was super handsome. I havent seen it in 30 years now. I would like to re-visit it.
Yes, me too. I think it ran on the old BBC-2 Moviedrome strand in the UK in the mid-1990s, which is where I saw it. I had it recorded from that screening on VHS for a few years after, at which point I cleared out most of my VHS stock, selling the pre-recorded films and binning the recorded films and TV shows. I backed up some to disc, but it seems not this one. So it's a good 23-24 years since I saw it.

It seems to have been forgotten somehow, which is really odd.

Edited to add: I just found it on Amazon Prime here in the UK, but Amazon Prime are not good for quality at the best of times once you get off the main list. The version on there is 4:3 and barely better than a VHS rip. I hemmed and hawed about continuing with it, but when James Spader showed up in 'smearovision', I called it a day. It's mildly better than a VHS rip, but looks like it's been copied on someone's phone camera through a sheet of dirty glass! I'd rather wait and hope for a decent release.
 
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eraserJoe

Great Northern Hotel
Apr 12, 2022
75
210
I saw Storyville sometime in the 90's on vhs. I don't really remember it that well. I've always wanted to see it again. This was always a fairly hard to find movie. At least it was released on dvd, which has been out of print for some time. The dvds go for about $50 here in the US.

Dom, I was going to say that Storyville is on Amazon Video and I just noticed your edit. Beat me to it! In the US it is 99 cents to rent or $2.99 to buy in standard definition. I was going to at least rent it, but not now. Thank you for the information regarding the aspect ratio. 4:3? Hell no.

Some fun Twin Peaks related facts: Not only is Piper Laurie in the cast, but so is Michael Parks and Galyn Gorg. Johanna Ray did the casting, Ron Garcia did the cinematography, Richard Hoover did the production design, and Deepak Nayar was first assistant director. I may have missed some others.

Guess I'm going to have to wait even longer to finally see this again...

Edited to add: The dvd appears to include both the 4:3 version and widescreen version. Back in the day they often did that. But why would Amazon offer the 4:3 version? I don't know about these things, but did they scan the one side on the dvd for streaming and not realize the widescreen version was on the other side of the disc? Or most likely it is the version shown on cable in the early 90's?

 
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Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
The dvd appears to include both the 4:3 version and widescreen version. Back in the day they often did that. But why would Amazon offer the 4:3 version? I don't know about these things, but did they scan the one side on the dvd for streaming and not realize the widescreen version was on the other side of the disc? Or most likely it is the version shown on cable in the early 90's?
In all likelihood, it's an interlaced analogue broadcast master - probably Beta-SP origin - from the 1990s that's been de-interlaced by field removal and field duplication. It'll either be panned-and-scanned or unmasked for aspect ratio and will, of course, have faded badly over the decades. Beta-SP material from the 1990s looks terrible now. I had to cut a trailer about ten years ago for the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to be shown on a minor UK satellite channel. It was from a Beta SP tape and looked awful. At least I went to the trouble of boosting the colour signal a bit and crushing the blacks a little for the trailer, because it was terribly faded. It wasn't as bad as Storyville looks on Prime, but I bet the tape, if it exists now, is unwatchable!!! And, of course, here's me watching Storyville, which is probably 480p (but with field duplication de-interlacing actually 240p) on a 43" 4K TV. It ain't gonna look good!! :D
 

Jackwithoneeye

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 14, 2022
108
135
yeah ive found a lot of obscure less popular films have only been telecined back in Beta SP days. and sometimes an HD transfer from a beat-up fuzzy, dirty release print isn't much better.

crazy to think people invested millions of dollars in films that wind up with 35mm negatives MIA.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
yeah ive found a lot of obscure less popular films have only been telecined back in Beta SP days. and sometimes an HD transfer from a beat-up fuzzy, dirty release print isn't much better.

crazy to think people invested millions of dollars in films that wind up with 35mm negatives MIA.
Indeed. For all it's mocked, Exorcist II: The Heretic was a major studio film directed by a prominent director in John Boorman and the negative has been lost. Even Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release is from the interpositive. Perversely, I rather like the film, bonkers mess that it is! :D

Even worse, there are films out there where the original materials have been lost, destroyed or allowed to decay, so the only existing materials are old video masters! There's a 1980s Franco-Japanese animated series called The Mysterious Cities of Gold. For many years, it was a standalone work. In recent years, there have been sequels. The 1980s original, though, appears only to exist on PAL videotape, because there was reportedly a fire and all the materials burned. It's tragic.

It's hard to believe Storyville hasn't been released since those early days of DVD. In the UK, it was classified '15' by the BBFC for home video in 1993, but I can't see any evidence it ever got home video release. There's evidence of VHSes in France from back then on French Amazon.
 
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Jackwithoneeye

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 14, 2022
108
135
there's some obscure movies I like, like Stunts (1977) with Robert Forster and the DVD is an awful low resolution transfer from a print from god knows when. I wonder if good elements even exist.

I have a friend who made a low budget film in the 90s, and when i saw his DP was nominated for an oscar a few years ago, I said oh wow, you should get a re-scan and put it out again - and he said, actually all he has is the Beta SP, he threw away all the 16mm negatives thinking they worthless years ago..
 

Jordan Cole

White Lodge
Sep 22, 2022
733
1,145
My dad threw away most of my student films, as in the actual film, and even the miniDV tapes, so all I have are my VHS copies from 20 years ago. It's one of the most upsetting things for me. I had one film roll salvaged and I had it digitized but it looked all faded with all the wrong colors, I have no idea what happened or if that's normal. In fact, if anybody knows a great color correction person, I really would love to fix it up.

I've never seen Storyville but I did find a file of it online and hope to check it out, especially after reading Conversations with Mark Frost.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
My dad threw away most of my student films, as in the actual film, and even the miniDV tapes, so all I have are my VHS copies from 20 years ago. It's one of the most upsetting things for me.
Yeah, I don't have the source mini-DVs from one film from the mid-90s anymore. I do have the digitised media from three more, but not the edits, which is frustrating. A couple more are in 'Old Final Cut Pro Hell', as I'd need to convert the projects and deal with the fallout of converting them to FCPX or Premiere Pro. I've got a couple of negatives - one from a Bolex and three reels from an Arri - lying around. No idea what state they're in. They've been in cans for 30 years since I rescued them from a bin at film school. I was furious when I found out they'd not returned the negatives to us and - worse - were pulling the negatives out and binning them so they could use the cans - they charged each of us in our teams £300 to do those projects. The grading notes from the shoot were lost.

It was pure chance, the year after I left, that I was in there with a friend who had stayed on for an extra year and happened to be in the Steenbeck room. I was going to get them telecined in 2020, but whacky fun happened in the world instead and the place I could have got them done at an affordable price closed down forever! I'm keen to get it done though. I also need to get the Nagra audio tapes digitised. Unfortunately one is missing, so I'm probably going to have to use the Nagra tapes as a reference and revoice.

I've never seen Storyville but I did find a file of it online and hope to check it out, especially after reading Conversations with Mark Frost.

I really liked it. It definitely hovers somewhere in the Lynch/Frost universe. It's not necessarily on the same planet Earth as Twin Peaks, but it's on one of those realities. As has been pointed out, there are a lot of Twin Peaks/David Lynch people involved in it.
 
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Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
i hope the storyville negatives are being kept in good condition. i imagine very few release prints were struck.
Yes, it's astonishing how many materials get lost. Apparently the reason we've yet to see many classic Hong Kong films from the 1980s and 1990s on Blu-ray of 4K is that many of the original materials are MIA. I've been crossing fingers for films such as Bullet in the Head, Hardboiled, The Killer, The A Better Tomorrow series, The Chinese Ghost Story series and the like for years and there's still no sign. Supposedly the archiving in the former colony is a disaster zone.
 

Jackwithoneeye

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 14, 2022
108
135
My dad threw away most of my student films, as in the actual film, and even the miniDV tapes, so all I have are my VHS copies from 20 years ago. It's one of the most upsetting things for me.
I feel your pain. We all suffer from this from time to time. My mother threw away photographs that were very important to me. it's a huge sadness.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
693
690
I feel your pain. We all suffer from this from time to time. My mother threw away photographs that were very important to me. it's a huge sadness.
I had a load of teeth pulled out when I was a teenager to have braces (aka retainers!) My Mum chucked them out while I was living in London and (macabre as it sounds) I wanted to keep them. I'd kept all my baby teeth as well. I considered them important parts of my development! My folks also binned all my school reports, going back to primary school when I was five. I used read them from time to time to laugh at them!
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
Was inspired to revisit this one, after voting in the special election yesterday to fill my district's House seat...

As others have said, this is a solid '90s neo-noir. It's shot in a mostly functional, competent style, nothing too flashy. There are very few shots that call attention to themselves in the way that some of Frost's shots in Episode 7 of Twin Peaks do (I'm thinking of the "bite the bullet" scene, the roulette-wheel-to-eye transition, the antlers behind Hank, etc.). The book the film is based on is set in Australia, I believe. I can't even find a synopsis of the book online, so it seems pretty obscure, but it's titled Juryman and was cowritten by an Australian defense attorney and an Australian journalist (both of whom are famous enough to have their own Wikipedia entries). The writer on the film before Frost was hired, Lee Reynolds, switched the location to New Orleans. When Frost came on board, he was happy with the setting and decided to play it up more, because he had directed the first episode of the Lynch/Frost docuseries American Chronicles which covered Mardi Gras, so he felt he had gotten to know the city well and was excited by its darker side. The cinematography (by Ron Garcia) and production design (by Richard Hoover) are also for the most part tasteful and not too attention-grabbing, aside from a few sets and lighting setups that are very '90s (I'm thinking particularly of the club where Cray and Lee meet up, as well as the aikido studio).

BTW, "Storyville" was the name for New Orleans's red light district (i.e., legally sanctioned/regulated prostitution) from 1897 to 1917, named after city alderman Sidney Story, who drafted the legislation that led to the district being created. Prostitution was made illegal during WWI when troops were stationed in the area, and the federal government didn’t want them to be distracted, and "Storyville" was shut down. Louis Armstrong grew up in Storyville (and his recording of "When It's Sleepytime Down South" plays over the end credits of the film). In the film, Storyville is the name of the aforementioned night club which, as far as I can tell, is fictional (and looks tacky as hell).

James Spader as congressional hopeful Cray Fowler carries the movie on his shoulders and is in nearly every scene. He's likable, charismatic, boyish...a bit of a Southern JFK, which Frost has said was intentional. The very faint trace of a Louisiana accent Spader gives to his dialogue is nice and subtle. Others go bigger with their accents: the great Jason Robards and frequent Frost crony Charlie Haid (Renko from Hill Street Blues, here playing a hilariously rambunctious pornographer) both go for broke, as does Michael Parks (doing a Cajun dialect distinct from but just as delightfully broad as his Quebecois Jean Renault accent).

Frost gets really solid performances from almost everyone, although the two main ladies are unfortunately the weak links. Joanne Whalley is fine but not particularly memorable, and her accent is rather grating...it comes off as a British movie actor's idea of a generic Southern accent. Charlotte Lewis is very attractive, but just isn't given much to do...and I don't buy her as a Vietnamese character.

Robards naturally steals every scene he's in as Cray's crass, colorfully amoral uncle Clifford, with just the right amount of scenery-chewing (except for one or two lines in his final scene, where I felt that Frost chose takes that were just a BIT too big). Frost clearly particularly enjoyed writing for this character, and Robards delivers delightful dialogue that nonetheless doesn't roll easily off the tongue and could have fallen very flat in the wrong actor's hands. Witness: "I'll lay even money that the ten o'clock news could find our boy in bed cross-eyed with a troop of circus midgets and a green monkey that's under indictment, and come election day, his margin of victory wouldn't dip any lower than tits on a giraffe."

Also in Cray's entourage is Pudge Herman, played by the late Chuck McCann. McCann, a friend of Frost's, was a successful puppeteer on regional NY children's television throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, then transitioned into animation voiceover work (including playing two of the Beagle Boys on the 1980s DuckTales cartoon). He put in a rare, and great, dramatic turn as a mentally challenged mute in 1968's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter opposite Alan Arkin. Lynch/Frost fans may remember him best as the puppeteer in the "Mr. Peanuts" episode of On the Air. Although he doesn't get a lot to do in this film, McCann has a couple of memorable scenes where he chats with Cray on a dock and on a staircase, and conveys a lot of melancholy in a little screentime.

Piper Laurie, as Cray's mother (who seems to have some sort of unspecified mental degeneration going on), is naturally wonderful, and leaves one wishing that she had a bigger role. She's only in a few scenes, but elevates every single one, playing the character with great poignancy (and a great accent). Her final scene, near the end of the film, is especially moving.

Frost not only has Renko from Hill Street in the film, but he also gets Renko's partner Hill -- Michael Warren, who plays the role of Nathan LaFleur. (Frost has mentioned Renko and Hill as among his favorite characters to write on Hill Street.) I'll admit, although I've seen this film several times over the years, I have no idea who LaFleur is exactly, but he's evidently some sort of important local community leader (particularly in the black community) whose support Cray needs in order to get elected. In any event, Warren plays LaFleur with gravitas and nobility...although it turns out that maybe he's not quite as noble as he first appears. More on that below.

Other notable performances in the film include a late-career Woody Strode as a nearly blind man, Galyn Görg (Peaks's Nancy O'Reilly) as a prostitute (talk about type casting!), and Chino "Fats" Williams in a small but delightfully hilarious role as the barker at a strip club.

Oh, and I've neglected to mention the best performance in the film! A bearded actor by the name of Mark Frost plays the indelible role of TV reporter Cyril Pons, seemingly having temporarily relocated from Washington State to Louisiana...

Some more plot/spoilery stuff below...


The idea of a politician's career being threatened by a sex tape was, I suppose, fairly prescient circa 1992, but it feels positively quaint in this post-"Grab 'em by the pussy" era. Would anyone even care today if there was a video disseminated of a congressional candidate having sex with another consenting adult? I would hope that people would be more outraged that the candidate was taped without his consent and had his privacy violated.

I suppose the potential PR problem is mainly that Cray is still nominally married; although he claims at one point that they're "separated," and we see that he's moved into an apartment, he's still having her tailed by a private eye to find evidence of infidelity, and he's still buying her a car (and she says she'll need a phone in the car for after he's elected, implying that she thinks the marriage is still very much a long-term thing). The private eye plot point raises a sort of interesting question. We're supposed to be outraged on Cray's behalf (and rightfully so) that he was videotaped without his knowledge having sex. But he's essentially done the same thing, by sending a P.I. to photograph his wife having sex, to give him leverage to pay less in the divorce. Is it somehow less sleazy because he's being cheated on? Especially given how outraged he is to find out the videotape exists--he is PISSED--it seems at least a bit hypocritical that he just did essentially the same thing a couple of days earlier.

The fight between Cray and Xang (Lee's dad) ends kind of awkwardly. Xang seems perfectly fine as he knocks Cray into the wall, and then immediately after Cray loses consciousness, Xang just sort of...keels over for no reason? Then, when Cray regains consciousness, Xang has his throat slit (by the Michael Parks character, we later learn). So what causes him to initially pass out? I guess Cray has his hands (sort of) around Xang's throat for like a second before that final hit, but realistically, it looks like Cray is just grasping Xang by the shoulders. Not great stunt work / editing. Every time I watch that scene, I rewind it to see if I missed something.

There's a ridiculous headline that the camera focuses on: "Asian Woman Held in Fathers [sic] Death." This immediately reminded me of the famous Twin Peaks headline, "Asian Man Killed!!" I was a kid in the early 1990s, but I do not recall newspapers in that era ever having headlines that specified the races/ethnicities of people, let alone using the incredibly vague descriptor "Asian." Was there just some randomly racist prop house that was making these newspapers for films?

It's kind of odd that the film sort of temporarily transforms into a courtroom drama about an hour in. I'm assuming the book was perhaps more focused on the courtroom stuff (considering that it's titled Juryman and was cowritten by an attorney), and perhaps Frost grafted some of the surrounding political intrigue onto that framework? As I said, I haven't even been able to find a synopsis of the book, so I'm just guessing here.

So, putting on my lawyer hat for a minute, what really drives me crazy is the gross ethical violation of Cray representing Lee. He was there at the scene and fled, he removed the murder weapon from the scene. So he's now suppressing evidence and failing to disclose his personal involvement with both his client and the events of the case itself to the court. Plus, he's also obviously encouraging his client to lie on the stand to hide his involvement. And LaFleur--who has seemed to be a pretty decent guy and a great lawyer--decides to go along with this as co-counsel, because, as Cray tells him, "You're a practical man," and if Cray succeeds, LaFleur will have a congressman in his pocket. Again, it's not entirely clear to me who LaFleur is besides being a great defense attorney, or why he needs a congressman...but evidently, he decides this is worth "violating every known ethical standard," as LaFleur himself puts it. After this point in the film, I find it very difficult to root for Cray, and I'm not sure if that was Frost's intent.

There's another moment that confuses me, when Piper Laurie's character talks about her late husband building a house for a hummingbird just before he died. This seems to lead Cray to check out a workshop area, where he finds a phone number written on the wall by the phone that leads him to uncover the family scandal/coverup about the mineral rights. It feels a bit clunky that Cray attaches significance to this random line from his senile mother about a hummingbird house, and that it pays off and leads him to crack the case.

It's also ridiculous that Cray is able to show his witness the knife (that he stole from the crime scene) without laying any foundation, with no chain of custody (and without objection from prosecution or the judge!). There's other trial stuff I could complain about, but that was the craziest one, so I'll let the rest go. :)

I'd said that there aren't too many showy shots in the movie, but the final wacky over-the-top courtroom shootout does have a couple, including my favorite: the judge whips out a gun, and shoots the Michael Parks character directly through his police badge!

As with so many of Frost's stories, the film eventually reveals itself as a story about privilege and class (and, in this case, race). To Cray's credit (despite his courtroom shenanigans), when he learns that his family's legacy was built on his poor cracker grandfather stealing mineral-rich land from black sharecroppers, he is dead-set on righting the wrong, no matter the cost to himself or his family.
 
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Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
775
1,740
I got my hands on the book that Storyville was adapted from. I had to have it shipped from Australia, as I don't believe it was ever sold in the States. As I suspected, the book, entitled Juryman, is much more focused on the courtroom aspect. The main character is a political candidate, as in the film, but that element is much more incidental in the book. Frost expanded on that a great deal, and all the backstory about the family dynasty and the conspiracy in the family's past was added for the film (Frost has cited Chinatown as an influence for that: whereas Chinatown is about water rights in L.A., Frost decided to make Storyville about mineral rights in New Orleans). In the book, the main character, George Powell, becomes involved with a shady Vietnamese karate instructor / pimp nicknamed Sandro (his real name is Xang, which makes him the only character to keep the same name in the movie adaptation). George falls into a routine of late-night karate lessons with Sandro followed by sex with a girl named Liu whom Sandro keeps in a nearby apartment. After Sandro's wife decides to leave him as a result of his many affairs with both women and men, taking the money and the karate studio with her, Sandro tries to blackmail George, claiming that Liu is fifteen years old and pregnant with George's child. Things get physical and George, in self-defense, accidentally kills Sandro with a one-in-a-million karate chop that he couldn't repeat if he wanted to...but George when he flees the scene in panic just assumes that Sandro is stunned, not dead. Months later, Sandro's wife is on trial for the murder, and in another coincidence defying all odds, George finds himself on the jury! (Unlike the film, the main character is not an attorney, he's a publishing magnate.)

The legal stuff feels much more true to life and interesting in the book as compared to the film version (which makes sense, since the book was cowritten by a defense attorney--apparently one of the most prominent defense attorneys in Australia at the time). I don't know much about the Australian legal system, but it seems pretty similar to the American system, which makes sense as both are derived from British common law. Things get a little silly at the end, but other than that, everything feels very true to reality, and long sections of the book are presented as courtroom transcripts which are entirely believable and compelling. I sort of almost wish the movie had remained truer to the book. While the coincidence of George winding up on the jury is pretty ridiculous, if you can get past the initial unlikelihood of the premise, it's a really compelling idea...he knows the wife isn't guilty, and he wants to dissuade the rest of the jury on what seems like a very strong case, without tipping his hand as to his own guilt and outside knowledge of the case. As the book goes on, George descends further and further into a deep hole of guilt and self-loathing as he struggles with the contrasting ideas of self-preservation and doing what's right. I found this a much more interesting idea than the film's approach, where Spader is just sort of sleazy in the way he deliberately inserts himself into the court case and conceals his own prior involvement, and never faces consequences for this.
 
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