Tag Archives: ben gazzara


I’m sat in a Portland hotel room watching CNBC documentaries on Whole Foods, Costco (kings of the white t-shirt) and awaiting the J Crew documentary on personal hero, Mickey “Helloooo” Drexler — one of the greatest micro managing CEOs ever, before heading out to order a burger from an eatery staffed by people in thick framed glasses, bearing knuckle tattoos. In the time zone confusion, I forgot to update this blog with things. Other than watching retail-based TV, there’s a few other things I’m into at the moment. The gents at the increasingly bootlegged Palace brand are making power moves of late and their whole Fall lookbook has a VHS fuzz that’s appealing — I was amused to see the Palace Surf “sub brand” within the range, complete with the all important colour fade in the script and stonewash cotton fleece to evoke an appropriately surf-centric look. I think the crew are amusing themselves with memories of the lurid gear we used to break out back in the day — surfwear birthed street and skate wear as we know it anyway. That Tri logo is slowly taking over and I’m looking forward to seeing the less lurid shirts and trousers too when they eventually materialise.

On the subject of Londoners making power moves, Kyle and Jo at Goodhood’s ‘Unloveable’ lookbook is a winner too (as is their ‘How Soon is Now?’ women’s collection shoot). There’s no men in OBEY sauntering round a local park here — good food and beverage accessories, crisp photography, black and white and apparel picks worn right. I’ve mentioned it a lot here, but the R Newbold and Goodhood gear is some of the best collaborative clothing on the market. This season’s college football shirt gets a look right — something that can get a little too Superdry in the wrong hands. Crucially, this imagery makes me want to go and buy shit from them (which is kind of the point of the project) rather than feeling like some obligatory action to get a couple of thousand apathetic blog impressions and significantly less click-throughs. This is the kind of thing you get when designers are in charge rather than copyists. Cassavetes’ letting his team roam free might feel a million miles from Drexler’s tightly run retail empire, but both visions are quintessentially American in their own unique, driven ways. There’s lessons to be learnt from both characters.

Now Cassavetes, Gazzara and Falk are all improvising together in the afterlife, it’s always worth taking another look at a ‘Life’ magazine issue’s shots of the production of ‘Husbands.’ I’m a Cassavetes fan, but I’m not a huge fan of this film, yet I love the documentation —1970’s ‘Omnibus’ on the movie and this May 1969 collection of photos capture John’s emphasis on creativity and personal expression. Now when an actor juggles mainstream movies and their own indie flicks, it usually signals kooky self-exploration and tedious soul-searching, but Cassavetes did it with an unsurpassed integrity. What a guy. From suits to sweatpants, the mid-life crisis addled trio look cool between the yelling and drinking.


Farewell Peter Falk. Forget Burberry’s smart ‘Art of the Trench’ initiative — Peter made ruffled look aspirational. Who wouldn’t want to get one up on smug, murdering company CEOs, landowners and wealthy philanderers and their villainy at the last moment? Detective Columbo wasn’t like the rest of the feds — he did his thing with a shambolic veneer that concealed a mastermind. It’s unlikely that Falk would be too annoyed at being typecast in that role with the whole nation commemorating his passing by pausing by doorways hunched and saying that line in a gruff voice — he was grateful for the Columbo role because he’d been in a succession of TV mobster roles prior to the 1971-2003 run of mysteries (only 68 episodes in 32 years).

Still, Peter’s work with Cassavetes —1970’s ‘Husbands’ (which was the subject of a post here a while back on Ben Gazzara) is a classic and the 1969’s trashy greatness of ‘Machine Gun McCain’ (where they met),1974’s ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ and 1976’s ‘Mikey and Nicky’ is equally notable, mixing b-movies with John’s uncompromising sense of the real. That mix gave Falk’s career a real depth, but I’m glad he got to work with another of my favourite directors — Mr. Walter Hill — in 2002’s overlooked ‘Undisputed.’ While many of Falk’s final roles were mob figures, Mendy Ripstein is the best of them — all world-weary menace, and his language during a particular outburst stays classic.


With Master P, Silkk the Shocker (who’d made Columbo reference on CD six years prior), C-Murder and Boz performing in ‘Undisputed’ as the Gat Boyz and Puff Daddy in the far weaker ‘Made’ the previous year, in which Falk was equally mobbed out as Max, Falk had some brushes with hip-hop heavyweights. That allows for a mildly tenuous segue way into references to Columbo on rap tracks. Most rappers pepper their lyrics with the televisual pop culture references, but Columbo seemed to be a popular one – unusual to see ‘the man’ celebrated like he was, but there’s a fair few negative references to sneaky cops using the fictional character’s name. Nowadays only elders like Malice make reference to things like “…avoiding the Kojak,” but once it was no real surprise. After all, Theo Kojak and Frank Columbo were hardly Rampart-style douchebag types while they were doing their jobs — Columbo barely even carried a gun.

It’s fitting that Prodigy — a man who once released a street album appropriately called ‘Return of the Mac’ has the best ‘Columbo’ reference on the title track of ‘HNIC’ but in hastily concocting this list I had to omit the presumed references to New York’s Columbo crime family, of which the Mobb were occasionally prone. LIFE’s images of Falk, Cassavetes and Gazzara at the latter’s 1982 third wedding (to Elke Krivat) are excellent, while Falk’s solo appearance on a 1975 ‘Rolling Stone’ has a certain slovenly elegance that’s pleasantly at odds with Bryan Ferry’s advertised dandyism. Fuck an iron.

(Note the sheer volume of ‘Jumbo’ and ‘Gumbo’ rhymes)

“Met this girl at the party and she started to flirt/I told her some rhymes and she pulled up her skirt/Spent some bank — I got a high powered jumbo/Rolled up a wooly and I watched Columbo…”
Beastie Boys ‘The New Style’ 1986

“I roll into the party as if I was Five-O/Book investigation biters like Columbo/Pushing rap for some info in exchange for a jumbo/And when I find a sucker it’s time to play Rambo…”
EPMD ‘Get Off the Bandwagon’1988

“If you’re on a drug tip, don’t be a Dumbo/Police investigate like Columbo if they think you’re sellin’ jumbo…”
Kool G Rap ‘Rikers Island’ 1990

“Stupid ass nigga, sewed your ass the raw/Cause the bitch in the ride ain’t nothin’ but the Law/Attached with the wire, Columbo for hire/So now the Law was on their way/Stupid ass nigga had the burp in his tray…”
Above the Law ‘One Time Two Many’ 1994

“Y’all niggas soup, I’m gumbo, ready to rumble, ready to tumble/Yo’ girlfriend outta line, I’ma catch her like Columbo/Tongue twistin’ like an Uzi, y’all niggas can’t do me…”
Silkk the Shocker ‘How We Mobb’1996

“I scope like Columbo/Pose like Mutombo/And blaze MC’s with rumblo…”
Show & A.G. ‘Put it in Your System’ 1998

“I drive up and down Harlem blocks, iced out watch, knots in my socks, cops think I’m selling rocks/Pulling me over to see if I’m drunk but I’m sober/They wouldn’t fuck with me if I drove a Nova. Listen Columbo, you’re mad because your money come slow…”
Big L ‘Da Enemy’ 1999

“Too hot to hold, too hard to handle when I unload?Still knockin’ jumbo watchin’ for Columbo/Rock it to the top of the pot like gumbo…”
Rame Royal ‘Stick Wit Her’ w/ B-Legit, Niki Scarfo and Richie Rich 1999

“Dunn, I catch you while you shoppin’ for kicks/Surprise bitch/Shoot outs is spontaneous and oh, from now on call me Columbo/’Cause I come through wrinkled up, think I give a fuck?”
Prodigy ‘H.N.I.C.’ 2000

“Slang rocks and snort coke, we cook keys like gumbo drops/We chop O-Z’s to jumbo rocks, pay off Columbo cops…”
Yukmouth ‘Spitz Network’ w/ Brotha Lynch Hung 2001

Lately I’ve been working on some copy writing and despite attempting an avowedly anti-1993 stance here, a recent research mission (more to follow later) unearthed one of my favourite ad campaigns for a record – the brave Blood of Abraham LP on Ruthless with the ‘JESUS WAS A BLACK JEW’ line. It caught many a Source reader’s attention, but alas, that didn’t translate to sales. I never was a Crazy Town (a group that Brett “Epic” Mazur was a member of) fan, but Mazik’s role in starting Conveyor at Fred Segal is well worthy of note — as is the subsequent music video direction. Few groups would have the balls to run this ad and it’s a confrontational classic.

I’m still bugged out to see my writing anywhere, but to spot it on the point-of-sale for the Free Run+ 2 City Series, the 1948 iPads installed in the new Nike Sportswear east London store and on the wall of the mezzanine section upstairs was strange. Not as strange as seeing your work reflected in a pool of water, but strange nonetheless.


‘Cult’ is a broad term. It can cover something successful with a rabid fanbase or something more niche, but with disciples willing to die, or at least, exchange crossed words with critics over it. It’s so overused that it’s barely worth using any more. In cinematic terms, post ‘Pulp Fiction’ in 1994, became an epidemic. Contrived quirky dialogue and sudden bursts of violence? Cult. Botched heist? Cult. ending? Cult. Riddled with referential touches? Cult. Cult status can be bestowed in hack poster quotes before the damn thing’s even screened to the public. For the recent Cass Pennant biopic the tie-in book declared it to be “a remarkable British Cult Film” from the get-go. In 2010, unless it’s a bearded guru sanctioning nerve gas subway attacks, there’s no point buying any talk of cultdom. Fuck it. This wasn’t always the case.

Sometimes you’ve got to pay tribute to the teachers. Shoes..apparel…it’s all totally irrelevant compared to films and music. Films in particular are important, but having grown up poring through Halliwell’s Film Guide and Leonard Maltin’s annual tome, those guys dropped the facts, but badmouthed De Palma’s ‘Scarface’. There was a conflict of personal opinions that necessitated a new guru.

Without an equivalent of the mighty ‘Z’ channel as documented in ‘Z: A Magnificent Obsession’, Alex Cox on ‘Moviedrome’ (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post) screening the likes of ‘Walker’ and Danny Peary’s trilogy of ‘Cult Movies’ books published between 1981 and 1988 were my mentors. Peary introduced this Brit to ‘Over the Edge’, ‘Seconds’,  ‘Massacre At Central High’ and ‘Behind The Green Door’ (RIP Marilyn Chambers) – classics. As relevant to my formative pop cultural education as ‘The Face’, ‘Spraycan Art’ or ‘Rap Attack’, this trio of books still holds an important place in film literature – much of what was covered in the first volume has been elevated in Blu-Ray special editions, but the ensuing chapters still hold some rarities.

Peary created a checklist – a curriculum for students looking for the odd, erotic, violent and offbeat, and he has excellent taste, with writeups (ignore the spoiler synopsis for each film) that can still enlighten an eager viewer. This was my film school. Always bear in mind that here you’re reading the ramblings of someone who spent afternoons as a child cross-referencing his cousin’s ‘Cracked’ and ‘Mad’ parody issues with the corresponding Halliwell reviews. Strange. Very strange.

Why there was never a ‘Cult Movies 4’ is a shame, but post 1988, perhaps the overkill of cult talk proved repellent. Danny’s ‘Guide for the Film Fanatic’ and ‘Alternate Oscars’ were essential too. This was a writer who just seemed to understand that populist wasn’t tantamount to entertainment. Easter is the perfect time to catch up on some films, and seeing as a ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake has fallen flat (without sounding like the anti-synth idiots of the early ’80s, CGI lacks soul – stop motion still wins), revisiting some of Peary’s tips made sense. 1969’s ‘Medium Cool’ and 1979’s ‘Saint Jack’ still capture their respective times, split by a decade, the former with sledgehammer subtlety compared to the latter, but linked by obsessive documentation and controversy.

Haskell Wexler’s ‘Medium Cool’ with a mix of real riot footage, revolutionary talk and fictional anti-apathy subplots, takes on some incendiary topics with regards to media ethics and earned itself an ‘X’. Despite notions of hippie idealism, it stays relevant. Quentin Tarantino was right to re-up Robert Forster’s career on the back of this and grindhouse favourite ‘Vigilante’.

Quentin apparently owns an original print of Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Saint Jack’ – an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel, and Peter’s last great film. Set in Singapore in 1973, it contains one of the decades most overlooked performances alongside Harvey Keitel in ‘Fingers’ from Ben Gazzara as the titular pimp operating in Singapore – the film is one of the only Hollywood films shot there, and despite the Brits and Americans looking like the real villains of the piece, Singapore authorities banned the film until 2006. With a yearly narrative showing Jack in deeper looking more world-weary, it’s a low-key affair, but a forced tattooing at the hands of Triads and the ensuing flowery cover up should prove interesting for the ink fans out there too. Both deserve wider audiences. After DVD releases early last decade, they’re out-of-print now, commanding some heavy prices. Where’s Criterion when you need them?

The background of both films is so interesting that 2001’s ‘Look Out Haskell It’s Real: The Making of Medium Cool’ screened on the BBC just prior to the digital release, and the 2006 book, ‘Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore’ are the perfect follow-ups. The book in particular is a product of obsession, but the guile and wranglings required to shoot the film justify 240 pages, but the author, Ben Slater is evidently a man as driven as Peary in putting his passion to paper, and it’s a story rarely told. Slater’s tie-in site is still getting updates, and this site, dedicated entirely to Danny Peary’s listings is worth spending some time with too.

After talk of Cosmo’s greatness in ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’ last month, other Ben Gazzara moments of note (and of many) today are this ‘LIFE’ cover from 1969 too preceding the release of ‘Husbands’ alongside John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, looking sharp, and from a film that even I can’t bring myself to extol the virtues of, despite another great performance as Charles Bukowski from Gazzara, his fine speech on the nature of style from ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness’ – best to stick with ‘Barfly’ or ‘Factotum’ if you want a good motion picture on the pock-marked literary don-dada though.