Richard Crouse is a noted critic, author and broadcaster. He is the host of a show about movies called – what else? — Richard Crouse’s Movie Show on E! and the Independent Film Channel. Crouse is also a frequent guest on many national Canadian radio and television shows. In April 2008 his new Saturday afternoon radio show, featuring movie reviews and news, began its run on News Talk 1010 CFRB in Toronto.
He is the author of six books about popular culture, including the runaway bestseller 100 Movies You’ve Never Seen and its equally popular follow-up, Son Of The 100 Movies You’ve Never Seen.
Crouse is also one of the “usual suspects” at This is Not A Reading Series. For the TINARS launch of his latest book, Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, he joined forces with the brilliant comedy troupe Monkey Toast. At TINARS, Crouse has also interviewed Kathleen Turner, roasted Marc Glassman, and, most recently, was a “celebrity assassin” at the event to launch Graham Roumieu’s 101 Ways To Kill You Boss. He will interview novelist Tony Burgess and award-winning filmmaker Bruce McDonald about their acclaimed adaptation of Pontypool Changes Everything, at The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom on Tuesday March 3.
How long have you been collecting the “Best Movies You’ve Never Seen”?
I’ve always been a fan of outsider and cult movies so I guess I have been collecting these titles for my whole life. I grew up as a movie obsessed kid in a tiny town in Nova Scotia. This was long before Video Stores dotted the landscape, so I had to rely on television (we only got 3 channels) and the local movie theatre to get my fix. The theatre was amazing. The town, Liverpool, was originally meant to be a very busy port so it had a very grand hotel and an opera house, but it was never as successful as hoped and the opera house was eventually converted into a movie theatre. The movie theatre could literally hold half the town’s population. It was grand and it was great. Also, because it was located at the very butt end of the distribution path the programming at the theatre was a little erratic. One day they’d play a Hollywood blockbuster (although six months or so old, but new to us), the next might be a Bruce Lee flick coupled with a Russian art film. I was indiscriminate and went to see them all and I think that’s what gave me my eclectic taste in movies.
Of the 200 that you have assembled thus far in book form, what is your personal favourite?
They’re all like my kids; it’s hard to pick a favorite but I’m really partial to The Cameraman’s Revenge in the Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. It’s a 1912 stop motion animation film about a jilted husband whose revenge involves filming his wife and her lover and showing the result at the local cinema. All characters are played by animated insects and the results are so realistic one critic wondered if director Ladislas Starevich taught bugs to perform for the camera. It’s a bizarre, beautiful artifact from one of the pioneers of the art form.
What is the difference between a ‘little known’ and a ‘cult’ film? Are such semantics merely a matter of marketing?
All “little known” films would like to be “cult films.” If a film is little known, I guess it means that it is also little seen, whereas cult films have a life that transcends the actual movie. Cult films develop dedicated fan bases who go see the movie over and over, dress up and even act out the films. Little known movies don’t inspire such fanaticism… and usually have an inch of dust on them at the video store.
Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, scissors?
Rock when I’m feeling sad; paper when it rains and scissors at tax time.
Dozens of movies are released every week. You can only review a fixed number on your show. How do whittle down the stack, to the titles that will receive coverage?
I generally see pretty much everything that comes out and review different movies for different outlets. On Canada AM I stick with the big guns, the Hollywood blockbusters; on my CFRB radio show (Saturdays at Noon!) and my E! show, Richard Crouse’s Movie Show, I generally mix it up with a bit of Hollywood tempered with Canadian titles and cool foreign films and docs. In print, on my website (www.richardcrouse.ca), the CTV.ca and CFRB websites I generally cover as much as I can.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I read a lot and there is always a stack of books piled high on my bedside table. I just read Eric Nuzum’s Dead Travel Fast, a fascinating look at vampire culture and history. I recently finished Deconstructing Sammy, a look at Sammy Davis Jr’s troubled final years by Matt Birkbeck. I bought it because of the back cover blurb. It’s a grabber! I’m one chapter away from finishing Vanity Fair’s Tales of Hollywood and am midway through Hellraisers, a book about the drunken exploits of Peter O’Toole, the Richards—Burton and Harris—and Oliver Reed.
If you could put one recent cinematic trend on ice, what would it be?
Bio pics that end with the main character dying only to reappear in a feel-good montage just before the credits roll. The old Hollywood wisdom says that heroes aren’t supposed to die at the end of movies, so I think bringing them back is a cheap trick to try and placate an audience. I get it, but I don’t like it. Going into these movies we know Harvey Milk and Che die, there’s no reason to bring them back for one more ghostly turn before the camera.
Who is your favourite character on Sesame Street? Why?
Ernie, because I think he has a secret life.
You have participated in countless Hollywood junkets over the years. Do any stand out in your mind as being particularly surreal?
Strange things always happen to me when I go to LA. Two of the strangest have involved Gary Busey. (Caution! Dropping names ahead.)
On a hot June evening in 1992 I had dinner at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Malibu called Granita. We scored a great table on the patio, and were seated between Johnny Carson, who had just retired, and Gary Busey, who was celebrating his birthday. The meal was relatively peaceful until Busey started opening his gifts. He insisted on showing us each of his presents, which was fine, but he had a lot of presents, and we were trying to eat. Eventually we stopped commenting on the gifts and tried to enjoy our meal. It was then that I felt a bread roll hit me in the back of the head.
“Hey! Tell Wolfgang we’re having a food fight,” Busey hollered as he winged another roll in my direction.
I didn’t know what to do, and didn’t really want to get involved, but the rolls kept coming, so eventually I threw one back at him, hitting him in the chest. I’m sure Mr. Carson was impressed with my aim. Thankfully someone at the table (I think it was his mother) got him to stop, and we never progressed past the rolls into throwing hot entrees at one another.
I didn’t see Busey for another eleven years, and much has happened in the intervening years. He has worked steadily, mostly in straight to video movies that earn a “Terrible,” or “Appalling” user rating on IMBD; he had a plum sized tumor removed from his sinus cavity, has been arrested and become a born-again Christian. He has starred in a couple of reality shows, Celebrity Rehab and I’m With Busey, a reality show a la The Osbournes. I think the show’s tagline says it all: “Somewhere, between reality and insanity, Is Busey.”
He is sitting inside with a group of people, including a friend of mine from Toronto. At one point Busey decides that he wants to smoke one of his large Cuban cigars, and comes outside to our table. Actually he looms over the table, sitting on a ledge above us, with his feet resting on one of the chairs. Introductions are made. I tell him I am from Toronto.
“I have made ten movies in Toronto. Ten in Vancouver and three in Montreal,” he says loudly.
“I must have missed those,” I’m thinking, but say nothing.
When I don’t take the bait he starts spouting Buseyisms, which are basically acronyms of his invention which contain his philosophy on life.
“Do you know what FEAR stands for?” he asks me.
Not sure where this conversation is going, I say no.
“FEAR… False Evidence Appearing Real,” he says. “F-E-A-R.”
“Do you know what LIGHT stands for?” he hollers.
Before I have a chance to answer, he says, “LIGHT! Living In God’s Heavenly Thoughts… L-I-G-H-T.”
I have a feeling this is going to go on for a while, so I order another drink.
They came in quick succession… GOAT! Get Over Adulterous Tendencies! BIBLE! Beautiful Instructions Before Leaving Earth!
Then, to make a peculiar scene even more bizarre we were joined by one of Busey’s friends, Sal Pacino. No, that’s not a typo, I said Sal Pacino, father of Al. Sal is in his eighties, but has a strong resemblance to his famous son. He was wearing a very cool belt with the letter “S” on the buckle, and didn’t say much. He didn’t have much of a chance to, as Busey holding court, sucking up all the air on the patio.
I wondered if it was just me who didn’t really know what Busey was on about, but later read a quote from his son Jake, who said, “He’s always telling stories about monkeys and toads and rockets… I can never understand what he’s talking about.” Good, even his blood relatives can’t comprehend him. I think if I could identify with what he was saying then I would have something to worry about.
Anyway, as quickly as he joined us, he was gone, leaving nothing but perplexed looks and a cloud of cigar smoke. It was definitely the oddest celebrity encounter I have ever had.
What songs would you put on a mixtape CD for a cineaste you were courting?
I used to be the king of the mix tape, but my skills have dulled in recent years. For sure I’d kick off with Misirlou by Dick Dale and finish with Jarvis Cocker’s Running the World from the Children of Men soundtrack. In between I’d wedge in some Tom Waits, perhaps Singin’ In the Rain, some Elvis Costello and lots of Ray Charles. No mixed tape is complete without some Ray Charles, preferably Midnight or I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.