Full Tilt Boogie (1997): Backstage at the Titty Twister, with QT & Clooney…

A movie about the making of the movie “From Dusk Till Dawn”, a movie made by people whose movies are about movies – you don’t get much more “Movie” than “Full Tilt Boogie”. Sarah Kelly’s on the fly making-of doc is a refreshing glimpse behind the scenes of Robert Rodriguez’s trashy, naughty splatterfest, a Tex-Mex vampire western with a sum of parts considerably greater than the whole.

“From Dusk Till Dawn” featured a triumverate guaranteed to get film geeks drooling. Robert Rodriguez was the darling of indie cinema after his El Cheapo one-man-band debut “El Mariachi”, and its bigger budget remake/sequel “Desperado”. George Clooney chipped in with an assured, attention-grabbing first lead role as the slightly less psychotic elder Gecko brother, Seth. And Quentin Tarantino, shit hot after “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”, dusted off an old script and got himself cast in a major role, safe in the knowledge that an adaptation of his shopping list would make money and could survive his cringe-worthy acting.

“Full Tilt Boogie” opens with a sequence that Tarantino probably would have opened with if he was making it – QT and Clooney, decked out in their seedy Gecko Brothers outfits, leave their dressing room and swagger down endless corridors to set accompanied by the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive”. The crew anxiously await their arrival while the duo shove fanboys away by the face and stop to sign autographs for hot chicks. The scene is obviously staged, but is pacey, fun, and in keeping with Tarantino’s self-fulfilling Geek’s-Own fantasy, and sets the audience up nicely for the rest of the feature.

For much of the documentary, Kelly chooses to focus on the crew’s lesser lights, from the Grips to the Caterer, from the Electricians to the Drivers. Most are endearingly down-to-earth characters, relishing a few moments in the spotlight, and it is intriguing to hear their motives for being in the movie business in the first place. Some are disenchantingly hard-nosed and cynical, seeing it as just a job, and a way to pay the bills; others are more romantic about the film-making process and love the idea of commiting something to celluloid.

They fantasize about the bathfuls of ice cold beers awaiting them at the end of a long, hard day on location, bitch about the lunches, vote on who’s got the best butt, and gossip about who’s shagging who. It creates the impression of the crew as a living, breathing micro-culture behind the camera, and is a far cry from those repellent talking heads “Making Of” docs where the stars just gush on about how thrilled they are about the project, and what an honour it is to be working with so-and-so.

Nobody appears to be labouring under the illusion they’re making a classic, though, least of all Rodriguez, who appears lazy and complacent after his flash-fame rise to prominence in the 90’s. Here he seems happy to sit around playing his guitar between takes, and let his Assistant Directors do all the hard work.

The documentary often wanders off into self-indulgence, especially when Kelly senses the opportunity to thrust herself centre stage.  She attempts to turn the film into an expose of Lyle Trachtenberg, the mastermind behind IATSE’s proposed strike action on the non-union production, hunting him down to explain himself on film. I expect all this union stuff will be of little interest to anyone outside the business, and Kelly flunks anyway when her sub-Michael Moore invasion of a conference results in Trachtenberg’s ant-climactic refusal to talk on camera. This whole segment is a flop and seriously disrupts the flow of the film.

“Full Tilt Boogie” works best when keeping it simple and focusing on the highs and lows of the production itself, and some of the actual “Making Of” stuff is quite fascinating. The motley crew have fun with the stunts and gross special effects; a controlled explosion goes out of control and sets light to the Titty Twister set, and a sandstorm causes havoc on the desert location. Another highlight is Clooney and Tarantino larking around between takes, and the two stars share genuine chemistry.

Of the major players, Clooney comes across as the most interesting, a lean, mean, charismatic leading man, who is funny and flirtatious; a superstar in waiting with a hungry gleam in his eye, who’s not above boozing it up with fans…while still wearing his Seth Gecko gear.

Tarantino is as sharp, over-enthusiastic, smug and irritating as you might remember. However, despite his motormouth shtick and strangely endearing bad acting, it’s hard not to admire and even like the guy – after all, he’s the film geek living the dream for all the film geeks out there.

Unlike Rodriguez, who just turned into a shite version of Tarantino, QT actually makes movies that get critics moist and moviegoers dancing in the aisles, He brings out memorable performances in his actors and makes movies about the enjoyment of watching movies, and in two decades he’s yet to make a dud. What will he be like when he grows up?

Early in the film, a caption explains Harvey Keitel refused to appear in the documentary because he was too busy making “From Dusk Till Dawn”. When he belatedly makes an appearance in a short interview granted to Tarantino, it’s hard to imagine how he could be anymore out to lunch. His lofty, existential ruminations on the nature of acting are in hilarious contrast to the schlocky movie he’s appearing in. It’s good to see someone taking their work seriously but this is a vampire stripper movie, not “On The Waterfront”.

Salma Hayek in conspicuous by her absence, but Juliette Lewis comes across well and not nearly as nuts as you might imagine, a hip young woman with an edge and a suspicion of a warm heart; B Movie icons Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo and Michael Parks all make an appearance to round out the cult appeal.

“Full Tilt Boogie” won’t be for everyone, but it provides a vital snapshot to an era when the Indies were king; one minute you’re losing count of how many Oscars “Dancing With Wolves” is hoovering up, the next someone’s sticking a fucking gun in your face…

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 02/05/2012, in Documentary, F, Film, Horror, Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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