No Wimps Allowed
'Real Oakland' Night at the Movies
The 80th annual Academy Awards take place Sunday, Feb. 24—writers or no writers—and TV audiences everywhere will be clamoring for a glimpse of Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and an animated rodent named Remy.
But for Oaklanders whose taste in movies runs from the marginal to the outrageous, there’s little to cheer about in Oscar’s parade of mainstream commercial hits. Hollywood doesn’t particularly understand Oakland anyway, despite the Academy Awards success of Oakland-identified movie folks over the years (Tom Hanks, your agent is calling), and we like it like that. We pride ourselves on our toughness. Nothing ever comes easy for Oakland—a concept Tinsel Town finds hard to grasp.
So instead of crowding into a party with a billion or so of your best friends and sipping overpriced cheap champagne, call up a few of the homies, grab a sack of bánh mì or a plate of barbecue hot links, pop open a suitable beverage (preferably locally brewed) and lay up with one or two of this six-pack of East Bay–legendary old movies. All of them make an effort to show the real Oakland, tire tracks and all. And each of them, like every movie that’s ever been made, is as fanciful as Children’s Fairyland. Not counting the Raiders fans, of course.
Unlike the otherwise OK Hells Angels on Wheels, this one actually stars Angels president Sonny Barger and various “Original Oakland Hells Angels” in speaking parts. Most of the action happens on a run to Las Vegas, where a pair of interlopers from S.F. (Tom Stern and Jeremy Slate) hooks up with the Angels for a dangerous scheme: using the club’s trashing of a casino as a cover-up for a heist. Sonny, Terry the Tramp, Magoo, Tiny and the other Angels bring to their roles a filthiness and unpredictability sorely lacking in the usual biker-movie fare of the day. Directed by Lee Madden and shot on location in the Bay Area (second unit), Red Rock Canyon State Park and in and around the old Caesars Palace on the strangely naked Vegas Strip of 1969.
Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969):
The Mack (1973):The life and times of an Oakland pimp trying to get over. Actor Max Julien (he was a writer on the two Cleopatra Jones films) and director Michael Campus evidently modeled the story of Goldie (Julien) on Huey Newton—meaning they thought Goldie was not just another street hustler but a social revolutionary trying to get even with The Man for years of injustice. As in American Gangster, the brother gets help from his family. The production definitely benefited from the participation of the notorious Ward Brothers, who ran the downtown O locations where this heavily influential new wave blaxploitationer was filmed. The Players’ Ball sequence, with limos full of pimps and hos gliding up
for the annual awards ceremony, remains a must-see for young urban filmmakers. Costarring Richard Pryor, in top form, as Goldie’s buddy Slim.
Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978):Moonlighting Merchant Marine Nick Nolte brings a shipment of heroin back from the ’Nam and has a rough time disposing of it in this authentically hard-edged crime story. On his way to a psy-war showdown in the mountains down south with the goons who beat him up (Ray Sharkey and Richard Masur), Nolte’s taciturn working-stiff Ray Hicks, dope messenger for a bent army officer stationed at Cam Ranh Bay (Michael Moriarty), swaggers through a righteous procession of East Bay locations, including the old West Oakland Army Base, freight depots at the Port of Oakland and the late great Cody’s Books on Telegraph in Berkeley. Adapted from Robert Stone’s novel Dog Soldiers and directed by Karel Reisz.
Made in America (1993):Every knock-down movie list needs a little lovin’, and this romantic comedy provides. East Bay–style hilarity develops when an African-American Oakland teenager named Zora (Nia Long) goes behind her mother’s (Whoopi Goldberg) back to seek out her birth father and discovers he’s white, a car salesman and Ted Danson—what a trifecta. Turns out he donated to a sperm bank and Whoopi made a withdrawal. Naturally, the kid tries to get mom and pop together. Awww. The best to be said about the screenplay is that it’s interracially amiable—as a treatise on parenthood it’s on a level with Ma and Pa Kettle at Home. The movie’s advertising tag line is: “At the sperm bank she asked for a tall, intelligent black man. One out of three ain’t bad.” See Whoopi and Ted traipsing down College Avenue in Rockridge. See Whoopi ruffle Ted’s rug. Directed inoffensively by Richard Benjamin.
True Crime (1999):Oakland’s own Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a broken-down, alcoholic Oakland Tribune journalist (is there any other kind?) trying to save a wrongly condemned man by solving a murder case 12 hours before the man’s execution. Sure, no problem. From what we can make out through cinematographer Jack N. Green’s ink-bottle-in-a-coal-mine lighting scheme, Eastwood captures the beat-out feel of downtown Oakland in the ’90s: Tribune Tower, Broadway, etc. Surprisingly for the Oakland-bred actor-filmmaker (he went to high school at Oakland Tech), True Crime is the only Eastwood film to use the city as a location—evidently he preferred San Francisco, his birthplace. Nice cast: James Woods, Isaiah Washington (as the imprisoned Frank Beechum), Denis Leary and Eastwood main squeeze Frances Fisher. Clint, by the way, is Oakland’s Oscar king, outpacing Tom Hanks five to two. Goldberg captured the Supporting Actress statuette in 1990 for Ghost, thanks no doubt to her formative years as an improv player in Berkeley’s Blake Street Hawkeyes.
Oakland Raider Parking Lot (2005):Jason Blalock’s hella-Oaklandish portrait of tailgate-party and Black Hole madness is the only documentary on the list, proving that truth is much, much stranger than fiction. Bay Area filmmaker Blalock shot, edited, directed and produced it, partly as a tribute to the 1986 rock-music doc short Heavy Metal Parking Lot, with Raiders fans correlating to those nutty characters who idolize Judas Priest and Dokken—but then the true magnitude of the project took over. A boiling sea of silver and black, pride and poise, pirates and plunder, witches and warlocks, skeletons and barrels o’ beer. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, a football game.
All of the above except Oakland Raider Parking Lot are available on DVD. We recommend dressing up in a Raiders T-shirt, torn jeans, black-leather motorcycle jacket, platform shoes and a Man with No Name serape, topped with a chinchilla-fur fedora. Invite a few like-minded friends over and forget the Oscars. Who needs the Academy when we have Goldie and the touchdown zombie?
—By Kelly Vance