Are you flirting with me?

Like a lot of men, I’m not particularly skilled at knowing when a woman is flirting with me. I just write it off to the woman being talkative, or full of questions, or inebriated. I’ve honestly never considered myself that attractive. So throw in a pinch of insecurity and you end up with a guy that needs to be hit over the head with flirtation for it to sink in.

Except now that I work as a bouncer, the flirtations are crystal clear to me. This piece is about the silly flirtatious behavior that I can easily identify, meaningless as it is.

First off, I don’t want this to sound at all like I’m bragging. I’m not. I just find the extent of these drunken flirtatious anecdotes quite amusing. I am literally twice the age of some of the women in here. I know full well that these situations only occur because I am there at a venue or bar in a position of authority. And people are drinking and doing drugs while they are here. Therefore, their boundaries get blurry and their confidence spikes. What a great combination. I don’t consider myself a magnet for anything except talkative drunk people.

But now that I’m a bouncer/door guy at various music venues, things are slightly different. Lord above, things are different. All kinds of extra happy people just love to talk to me, ask me all the questions, and say ridiculous things. Being the bouncer, I’m the first person people interact with and the last person they see at the end of the night. Depending on the set up, people may have just those two interactions, or 10 more little conversations each time they pass me. Or they might come to where I am just to bend my ear and grab my elbow a dozen times while talking about the band playing there. I might end up calling them a cab, or catching them in my arms as they lose the battle with their high heels and vodka tonic. I do give out a lot of hugs.

The number one comment I get is some variation of “I love your dreads!” “Beautiful dreads!” Dudes will say, “Sick dreads, man.” One woman walked up to me and said, “I am obsessed with your dreads.’ I replied, “Obsessed? That’s….quite a word.” She back pedaled and said, “Well, ok obsessed sounds weird. But I just really love them.” I thanked her and smiled. I hear at least one comment about my dreads from a patron every night, and sometimes many more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered. And it usually starts a small conversation. But it’s also the most basic thing you can talk about. It’s the first thing you notice, and the first trait you would use to describe me. I’m a white guy with dreads in Portland, but I’m not a 21-year-old hippie stoner. Many times a patron will reach out to touch them or ask if they can touch my dreads. I’ve gotten used to pulling away and telling people firmly, “You shouldn’t touch people’s hair without asking.”

One dread-locked woman in her 30’s came in and I checked her ID. We had the typical mini-bonding session about dreads where we complimented each other and asked how long the other person has been growing them out. Then she said, “Can I Avatar you?” Luckily I knew what she meant. We each grabbed one of our own dreads and held them out towards each other. Then we touched the tips of our dreads to each other. She smiled and walked away into the venue. Each time we saw each other for the rest of the night we did this little ritual. And this has now happened several times with different people with dreads. (For those of you not in the know, this is from the 2009 James Cameron blockbuster film called AVATAR. The Na’vi have these fiber-optic tendrils that they hold up to each other. The tips of them connect and lock together with little blinky-light tentacles. Then they essentially mind-meld like in Star Trek, making a neural connection and sharing thoughts. The Na’vi connect their queues during mating to create a strong, emotional, and lifelong bond.) I really do appreciate the nerdy sci-fi reference when people do this. My coworkers usually stifle a chuckle when a dread-locked woman asks if she can Avatar me. And I don’t blame them. I laugh too.

Sometimes it’s just the usual drunken flirty comments like, “Are you single?” To which I smile and reply, “Nope. But I appreciate you asking.”  Or a woman puts her arm around me in a very intimate way and says something nice like, “This handsome bouncer right here will make sure that we’re safe all night.” Again, I just smile and say, “Yep.” A woman walking by me outside asked, “Oooooh, what is that cologne you’re wearing?” (It was probably a mixture of sweat and spilled beer, honestly.) One regular patron liked to call me Thor. I’ve been told that I look like the wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. And one rocker dude asked me if I was the lead singer of Morbid Angel, the Florida death metal band. One woman made a b-line to me from across the bar and said with dramatic pause, “What is your name? You……….are just………beautiful.”
Of course I smiled and thanked her. She asked my name and we chatted for a minute. She had enjoyed a few drinks, of course. And she was there with her fella.

That’s another consideration. Some people are trying to make the person that they are there with jealous by flirting with the bouncers. Some women like to see guys fight over them. Some people are just trying to make the big mean bouncers break a smile. Maybe even a bet was involved. “If I can make that bouncer smile in under 30 seconds you buy my next drink.” Some just honestly like teasing bouncers, or are showing off for their friends. I’ve had some people come in and say that their friends advised them that it’s always a good idea to befriend the bouncer on your way into the establishment. And that’s true. If you were nice to me coming in, and you come to me later about a disagreement, or that someone was rude to you, it is likely that I’ll side with you. Human nature. We are there to keep you safe, and kick out anybody that isn’t being safe.

I was outside the front doors on break and a woman who I already carded came back outside to talk to me. It was still daylight, and she had seen the Gonzo tattoo on my forearm from inside the bar. I am a huge fan of the author Hunter S. Thompson, and I have his symbol tattooed on my right arm. The one with the knife blade and the fist clutching a mushroom cap with his nickname “GONZO” as the hilt of the knife. It turns out that she has the same tattoo and wanted to show me, which was on her lower back right above her butt. Some folks call this the ‘tramp stamp’ area. So she turns around and bends over slightly to expose her tattoo. She was in the classic pin-up girl pose, where you bend over from your hips and look behind you. I’m bent over looking at her tattoo, which is indeed the same as mine. Then three coworkers walked outside and saw this strange sight. It probably looked like she was blatantly flirting by wagging her ass at me, with me bent over checking it out, close enough to grab it. They all smirked and quietly laughed at the scene. The woman and I went on to innocently talk about Hunter and which of his books were our favorites. My coworkers were skeptical when I told them that she and I had the same tattoo. Literature, people!

It’s the more specific and unusual compliments that I always remember and appreciate more. I’ve heard variations of this one a lot, “You’re the nicest bouncer here.” One guy said that I won the “Nicest bouncer ever” award. I loved it when a woman told me, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” I suppose a lot of bouncers don’t smile. I like to smile at people and attempt some sort of connection with everybody coming through that wants to connect. A particularly awesome compliment came from a red-haired woman wearing a willowy green and white dress. We chatted a few times throughout the night when she would pass through my area. I got the distinct feeling that she was Wiccan, or at least into magic and Goddess energy. At the end of the night she asked my name and said, “You have the kindest eyes.” I thanked her and chatted about the concert that just ended. I wished her a good night and she sort of spun circles out the door making her dress flare and said, “If the fates wish us to meet again then we will meet again.” Yes indeed, witchy woman, this is true.  I was tempted to say, “Blessed be,” but I held back.

After working in security in music venues for about a year and a half, I’d thought I’d heard it all. I was proven very wrong. A guy wearing tie-dye and John Lennon glasses walked past me and smiled and asked, “Have you ever done porn?” For once I was speechless. I started to laugh and he smiled. I said, “You got me with that one, buddy. That’s a first.” He walked into the music venue to see the show and I didn’t see him again. I did wonder exactly what he was asking though. Did I look like somebody he’d seen in a porn film? Or was he a porn director fishing for new talent? Was he wondering if I already was a porn actor, or if I would consider being a porn actor? Or was he just trying to embarrass me? I suppose I will never know. But he gave me the best laugh of the night.

Another valuable skill I’ve learned is dodging a kiss. People are just so happy, drunk, high, buzzed on seeing their favorite band, or all of the above that they want to kiss you. I have become adept at turning my body away from them, stabilizing them by holding their waist (side-hug), then moving my face away so they kiss my cheek instead of the intended mouth. I know other bouncers who don’t have this skill (or are single), and have been kissed full-on by a drunken patron. It’s a bit unprofessional as well. I was working a dance party one night and five women walked behind me to the exit. I felt a hand slip around my waist. It was the way you would grab your lover and only your lover, very intimate. This short young woman moved into kiss me and I turned so she only got my cheek. She smiled slyly and said, “I’m from Seattle.” I responded, “Welcome to Portland.” She followed her four friends out of the dance hall onto the next place.

Sometimes women flirt with me because they want something. Something like me overlooking an expired ID, letting them into a show without a ticket, or allowing them into the green room or backstage area without credentials. I can usually tell when it’s about to happen. The big exaggerated smile comes out, she sashays towards me, and pushes her breasts together with her arms. She might get really touchy and put her hands on my leg as she leans in super close to me. Often she pushes her breasts against me and asks me something like, “What would it take for you to let me backstage?” Having a steel will, a stubborn streak, and boundaries as clear as on world maps, I say, “A backstage pass laminate.” Seconds go by. Did she really think I was going to say, “Twenty bucks and a kiss?”  Hoping that I might be the person who can issue those, she says, “So how do I get one of those laminates?”  Like a teacher explaining how erosion works, I answer, “Well, the band members or tour personnel would have issued you a pass earlier today. It’s usually for family members and crew. You can’t purchase them.” She makes the sad pouty face and purses her lips and then slinks away. Lady, it isn’t 1982 at a Motley Crue concert. You don’t just get to go backstage because you’re hot.

One woman intentionally mashed her ample breasts into me while interrupting and asking me for some sort of favor. She didn’t pull away or act like it was an accident. She just kept them pushed against my chest and bicep awkwardly. My brain started playing The Police song “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”  She’s so close now. This girl is half his age.
I was busy talking to another person and checking their ID or scanning their concert ticket while she did this. I had already been dealing with rude people and putting out fires all night. So I said loudly, “Ma’am could you please get your breasts off of me so I can do my job here?” The other people within earshot made wide-eyed expressions and the breast-masher looked embarrassed and moved away.

Most of these stories are relatively funny (I hope), but imagine if the gender roles were reversed. Imagine a man asking a woman in public if she has done porn? Picture a man making provocative but vague offers to a woman in return for a favor.  Picture a man trying to kiss a woman without consent, or pushing his body parts against a woman intentionally. All of that would be creepy at the very least and sexual harassment or sexual assault at the worst. And if it happened like that I would intervene and physically bounce the guy out of the venue. It gives me pause, and gives me issues to think about during the occasional boring moments at work. Double standards. Male privilege. Becoming numb to people’s drunken behavior and violating my personal bubble. Considering people’s increased awareness and dialogue about respect and consent and sexual harassment, it’s interesting that I brush this off and shake my head for the most part when it happens to me. Perhaps I should be more angry when this happens? I don’t feel like I’m being sexually harassed at the time. But perhaps I am? I certainly have more work to do around this. We all evolve. I know that I would be pissed if a man touched any of my female friends in the ways that some of these women touch me and my co-workers. But as bouncers we sign on for a job in which we know we could be punched, spit on, kicked, attacked, or even stabbed or shot. So I guess we know that we are in harm’s way for violence, or sexual harassment. It’s not right though. It’s an intriguing facet of the job that I will be giving some more thought to.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep writing down the funny shit people say to me. And by the way, I’ve never been single while I’ve worked in security. I’ve happily been with the same woman since 2015, and we got married in early 2018. So all this silly flirting is for naught, these women are barking up the wrong tree.
But if you have dreads, come by and maybe we can Avatar each other.

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How did I become a bouncer?

This is a really good question. On difficult nights I’ll ask myself this question repeatedly. Sometimes out loud.

I never had any aspirations of becoming a bouncer. As a kid I didn’t daydream about throwing aggressive drunk people out of a bar. Nor did I fantasize about breaking up fights. I don’t think many people do. It just happens. Hell, as a kid I was so scrawny and little and shy that this would have been the last possibility for me.

I did, at various points in my life, daydream about becoming an architect, a psychologist, a movie director, and a musician. I tried the first two, never tried the third option, and am honestly still trying to make that musician thing work.

A lot of huge guys are drawn to working security or being a bouncer. And I say guys because it is an inherently sexist field. Not as many women choose it, or continue at it long due to the sexist bullshit inherent within. I’m lucky in that I work at several venues that do employ women security guards. And they rock. I have so much respect for them. But let’s be honest, 9 out of 10 bouncers are dudes, and big ones at that.

I’m honestly not that big of a guy. I’m about 210 pounds and maybe 6 foot tall wearing my work boots. I am, however, what people would refer to as ‘stocky’. And I have muscular drummer arms from playing drums in numerous bands over the years. But when I’m working an event with other dudes that weigh in at 300 pounds and resemble a 7 foot tall Viking, I do sometimes feel like the Ewok to their Wookie.

I went to college for a Psychology degree and focused on abnormal psych and child development. All of my full-time jobs were working with youth. And they were all non-profit agencies that were trying to actually make a difference. I worked at numerous locked psychiatric residential treatment centers. There are the facilities that youth are placed in by the state to receive treatment, stabilize after a crime, await their trial date, learn skills to transition into a new home, etc. Most kids there had a dual diagnosis, which is both a mental illness and an alcohol/drug addiction. It’s very hard to separate the two and treat them effectively. I even worked in Juvenile Detention and other treatment centers where I staffed the sex offender unit. Working with sex offenders is a discrete skill that not everyone has. Or wants.

I started working in locked residential treatment for adolescents in 1992. Various job titles that I held over the years were Residential Treatment Counselor, Custody Services Specialist, Adolescent Mentor, Group Life Residential Advisor. And as you can imagine, a large part of working in these facilities is doing physical interventions and holds with aggressive or suicidal clients. Most of these places have ‘Quiet rooms’, which are padded rooms with nothing inside them. If a client is suicidal or assaultive they are physically restrained until calm enough to move into this quiet room, where they are then left to calm down. Or, in some extreme cases, if they continue to try credible self-harm in the room, the staff would re-enter and hold them to prevent serious injury. Lots of kids lose their shit even more during these holds. Often kids who were sexually abused or raped will actually re-live the rape during this hold. Having four adult men holding down a teenager is less than ideal for everyone’s mental health.

But to work in these places and do what they call therapeutic physical holds, you must be  officially trained by the state. The two trainings that I received over and over again for all my different jobs were PART and OIS. This is along with the mandatory CPR/First Aid certification and the federal background check and fingerprinting. PART stands for Professional Assault Response Training. OIS stands for Oregon Intervention Systems. Both of these trainings are for safe hand-on methods of intervening with a violent person. These do not ever involve pain-compliance holds like law enforcement uses. It’s mainly immobilization of the joints. It also involve defensive techniques, verbal de-escalation techniques, and things like escorts, floor holds, wall holds, and quiet room holds. It’s intense and stressful. But responding to physically assaultive youth was sometimes a daily occurrence in these jobs. And I have to admit, I loved the adrenaline rush of it all. And the unpredictability and variety of each day. You never knew what the shift was going to offer you, and you truly never knew what was going to happen. While some of my friends complained of being bored working in a coffee shop, I would complain of wrestling two teenagers who were as big as I was to the ground.

In 2003 I started attending the Burning Man event in the desert. Over 80,000 people attend this bizarre art, music, dance, and counterculture event in Nevada every year. It’s extreme camping under harsh conditions, and the largest leave no trace event that I know of. And essentially no supplies are available there, so it’s pack it in pack it out. After a few years attending I started volunteering as a Black Rock Ranger. Those are volunteer non-confrontational community mediators. We try to solve all the problems without involving law enforcement if possible. If not we interface with law enforcement and assist.

At the end of the event there is a gargantuan effigy burn of ‘The Man’. This is a controlled burn of a massive wooden structure. The following night there is another burn of The Temple. This is the wooden art structure that you can interact with by leaving memorials or things you want to say goodbye to. The structure begins blank, but by the end of the week it is covered in memorials to people and pets who have passed away. People write letters to their abuser and nail them to the structure. People attach entire wedding albums from a marriage that ended in divorce. People make photo tributes to those who have died. Some just grab a sharpie and write something on the wood itself. You basically leave anything you want to say goodbye to. Pain, insecurity, guilt, regrets, past relationships, and the dead. It’s an amazing and very emotional experience to see this Temple burn with thousands of people watching silently and crying. Over the 14 years I attended Burning Man, the Sunday night Temple Burn became one of the main reasons I went. It is the spiritual keystone of the entire event.

I gave you the background on that so you would understand the need for a subdivision of Rangers called ‘Sandmen.’ This is a reference to the 1976 sci-fi film LOGAN’S RUN. “Sandmen catch runners.” I volunteered as a Sandman for many years out there. Our job was to patrol the inner perimeter of both of those burns and prevent anyone from running into the fire. This is the one scenario where we are allowed to put hands on a participant non-consensually. If someone is attempting to run into the fire they have already made it past several waves of rangers and other staff. So, in an effort to save their life, we will spot them and vector in on them. Then tackle them to the ground. We then speak with them and have them make a verbal contract to walk out with us to law enforcement. We release them to law enforcement and get back in the perimeter to stop further runners. People are often under the influence of lots of alcohol and/or drugs. So they truly don’t understand the dangers of running near the largest fire they’ve ever seen. They really can and will self-immolate if they get inside that fire. Or, in some cases, they understand that very well and they are actually trying to commit suicide. Especially on Sunday night for the emotional Temple Burn. Either way, this is the worst case scenario and we’re there to get them on the ground in any way possible to save their life. I’ve done it a few times. Sadly, even with our protocols in place, a runner has gotten through twice and died.

I never thought that I would be able to legitimately list anything from Burning Man on a resume. But I surely did for my first few security jobs and it worked. Anything where you’re responding to an urgent crisis situation and using physical force against someone is relevant. It’s like I was the bouncer at a burn perimeter in the desert. I’m trying to ensure that everybody has a good time until they’re not. Then I will make you leave. “You are showing visible signs of intoxication. You’re trespassing. And you’re behaving in a way that is a grave danger to yourself. That fire behind me will end your life. Your night has been concluded. Get the hell outta here.”

I don’t have any military experience, nor am I a martial arts competitor, boxer, or football player. That’s not necessarily what you need. In my case it’s a strong background in therapeutic physical holds, working with risky populations, a wee bit of Tai Kwon Do, tackling hippies at Burning Man, extensive verbal de-escalation skills, being comfortable with physicality, and the confidence to do it. Oh, and firm boundaries. I tell people ‘No’ all night long every night.

You take a two-day DPSST certification course where you learn legalities and how to spot fake IDs. You pay for the certification card, take a test, wait for your background check, and you’re in. Honestly it’s about people’s perceptions of you. Once you put on a shirt that says SECURITY on it, and wear a walkie-talkie and an earpiece, you have become that person of authority. You can put your hands on people and make them leave the establishment. That’s the way simplified version. But honestly that’s what that is.

There are several scenes in four of my favorite films that summarize my life as a bouncer.

First, the quick little scene from Michael Mann’s 1995 epic crime drama HEAT. During the opening credits Val Kilmer is purchasing explosives and he shows his ID to the seller. The guy looks at his ID very closely but passes inspection (Or he was paid off and knew full well it was a fake ID). He sells him the explosives.

Second, the scene in James Cameron’ 1984 film THE TERMINATOR. When Arnold goes inside the dance club Tech Noir hunting for Sarah Connor. The way he moves through the crowd looking for his prey is sometimes how I feel when looking for someone who we need to kick out. Sometimes we get a report of a person selling drugs or harassing someone on premises and we just have their basic physical description from the bartender.

Third is the 1995 Martin Scorsese film CASINO. Robert DeNiro’s character figures out that two customers are cheating. He notifies security and 5-6 security staff literally just emerge from the crowd to position themselves around the two customers. Scorsese keeps them in the darkness of the crowd and them brightens them up to highlight them as they get ready.

The fourth scene is from the 1993 Brian De Palma film CARLITO’S WAY. There is a scene where Al Pacino is eating dinner at the club and defends a female employee that John Leguizamo’s character is harassing. Threats are made and a fight breaks out. Within seconds a bunch of bouncers are involved, grabbing all of the thugs and hauling them away and out of the club. They were reading the body language and raised voice tones early on and made their way over to the table before anything had happened. When it did happen, they were already there to respond immediately.

I should put these four scenes on a loop. Checking IDs, searching for people in a crowd, coordinating proper placement when you have a situation, and busting up a fight and bouncing them out of the club. That’s my work life sometimes, over and over.

I do have to add that I had worked in the non-profit sector with at-risk kids for 25 years. I had been at the same job for 16 years as a youth mentor. As rewarding as those jobs were, I was definitely burned out. I needed a change. Sweet baby Jesus I needed a change. Some of those jobs were so emotionally and physically taxing. And those jobs never really ended. I took the work home with me. And I was always essentially on-call. I could get a crisis call at any time from families, counselors, therapists, police officers, correction workers, medical personnel, or the youth themselves. Then the endless detailed documentation and paperwork. I’m so relieved to now have a job that I clock in, clock out, and don’t think about it again. Except, of course, when writing a blog about it.

My friends tease me that even as a bouncer I am essentially still working with kids. Just bigger, older, drunk kids making terrible choices. I suppose they’re not wrong.

I do love music. I’ve been attending live concerts since 1986. I’ve performed in bands of my own off and on since about 1990. I love to listen to music and create music and write lyrics. And man do I love beating on my drums. Strangely, I had never seriously considered working in music venues until I started my career in security in 2016.
I’ve created a fun little niche for myself of working as security solely at music venues. The list includes Bossanova Ballroom, The Analog Theater, Doug Fir Lounge, Kell’s Irish Pub, Ash Street Saloon, The Crystal Ballroom, The White Eagle, and The Mission Theater. The road here was circuitous for sure. But here I am. Making up for lost time. Seeing all the concerts and ensuring people have fun and stay safe while they are with us. And I have a pocket full of earplugs. Rock on. And please be nice to your bouncers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active shooter scenario

What is the worst thing that you worry about at your job?

I just attended a training today for work called Active Shooter Scenario. It was a sobering and depressing topic to cover, especially in such a business-like way. It is the worst case scenario for anyone working in any security role. It is on the absolute far end of the continuum of possible situations we will have to deal with. I truly hope that I never need to use what I learned in this training.

I am very sad and sickened with American culture that this training is even a necessity. I resent and hate the gun-obsessed American white men that are so frequently bringing assault weapons to murder groups of people in public settings. Not only are large gatherings and festivals and concerts being chosen for these shootings, but now even churches and schools. The last two places that you would ever think would me made to suffer these tragedies. And American culture just sort of nonchalantly shrugs its shoulders about this epidemic of murder and flips the channel on the tv.

The first major shooting that I can recall is the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This was a few years after the Oklahoma bombing in 1995. But since then these events have ramped up and happen more and more. It’s so frequent now that I can’t even keep track of them. It feels like there is a shooting at a school, a mall, a movie theater, a church, a night club, a concert, or a sporting event, every damned month. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, The Batman movie theater shooting in Colorado, the Charleston Church massacre, the Capital Hill Massacre in Seattle, the Clackamas Town Center shooting in Portland, the gay club shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the shooting at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris. People hesitate to call these terrorist acts, but they 100% are. And every shooting of this nature involved an AR-15 Assault rifle, or a similar weapon.

This piece could easily turn into a tirade about gun control in America. But I’m going to stay focused on the thoughts about the active shooter training for the jobs that I work security at. You can read between the lines and determine my opinion on assault rifles. But that hot topic is best dealt with in another blog.

The unspoken subtext of this is that my role may put me in direct contact with a shooter in the music venue that I work in. As a DPSST certified Security/Bouncer/Event Staff, I would definitely be in a position of direct contact. And it’s my job to try to help. We have about a 1500 person capacity with the potential for a few hundred more in a smaller bar downstairs. This would, sadly, be a ripe target for someone trying to murder a large group of people in a huge open room. 1500 people standing around paying attention to a concert is a great potential body count for them. And since the venue is upstairs, a team of shooters could position people outside the main doors downstairs to mow down people as they stream out. So even if I’m directing people towards the exits to escape, I may be inadvertently sending them to their death.

We actually do have metal detectors and a bunch of staff at the front door. But what I fear is somebody thinking that they are Keanu Reeves from The Matrix. Walking through the detector and setting it off, then opening his jacket and pulling out assault rifles. Or, more realistically, just having a team and charging through the metal detectors and taking us out so that they can get upstairs into the venue where the true crop of victims awaits. It’s all a very realistic and scary possibility.

In an event like this, there are various things I could do to attempt to help people. The initial main things include communicating with managers on the radio, contacting law enforcement, guiding people to exits, helping people escape, assisting trampled people, interfacing with medical responders, providing basic medical care or comfort to the wounded, taking a photo/video of the shooter, etc. But all of those responses are passive reactions trying to help the aftermath of the situation.

My role could indeed have a different potentiality. A much more pro-active one.
I could have a unique opportunity to distract the shooter, delay the shooter, or even disarm the shooter. I could disable the gun or remove the gun from him. I could use a fire extinguisher on him. Either as a bludgeoning weapon, or spray it as a distraction and to obscure his vision so he can’t see what he’s firing at. I could tackle said murderous asshole and detain him. I could get my arms around his neck and choke the motherfucker until he is dead.  I could do lots of things. In that very particular deadly moment. To prevent him from mowing down dozens more innocent people with an assault weapon. I could intervene. I’m right there.

I could also be one of the first victims. Or one of the last victims. It’s real. Security staff often die in these situations because they’re the first responders and are actually trying to mitigate the situation. We aren’t allowed to carry guns, so we would be trying to tackle the shooters and take their guns away from them.

People always have this idea that being a hero is being like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Being some indestructible embodiment of machismo and never-say-die determination. I am certain that these situations never happen like they do in the movies. You probably never get that magical opening where the enemy cannot see you approach. I would guarantee that there are lots of people who try to be the hero in that moment by charging the shooter, and they just end up on the list of victims after the bodies are identified. We never know their story of courage and bravery.  But in that time did they pull the shooter’s attention away long enough so that 4 or 5 people made it out of the room and out of harm’s way?

I’ve never forgotten the 2004 shooting death of Pantera/Damageplan’s guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Darrell was onstage in Ohio with his new band, Damageplan. A gunman got up onstage and shot him in the head. His brother, Vinnie Paul, was the drummer and watched Darrell get shot to death in front of him. The head of security was killed tackling the gunman, along with another venue employee. An audience member trying to perform CPR on them was also shot and killed. The drum tech tried to disarm the gunman and was shot three times and then taken hostage. Police officers arrived quickly and one was able to get behind the gunman and shoot him in the head with a shotgun, ending the situation. These men were all heroes. I wish that I could thank them for what they did.

What makes a hero? Am I more of a hero if I charge somebody who is wielding an AR-15? Or am I more of a hero if I help others get out of the range of his gun? Or am I more of a hero if I get myself out alive so I can continue to me there for my family? I used to think I was indestructible and that nothing bad would ever happen to me. That was in my 20’s. Now that I’m decidedly older, I know that bad things can indeed happen to me. And my life has substantially changed recently. I’m not some single guy who wouldn’t mind sacrificing myself to save others anymore. I’m now a husband and a stepdad to two amazing kids. Kids who I don’t want to have to grow up without me. Kids who I want to see go to college. And a wife that I want to grow old with.

I think about these possible scenarios a lot. What exactly would I do when faced with hell? Crouched down behind a bar, glass breaking all around me, bloody bodies on the floor, bullets hitting the wood, ears ringing from the gunfire but still able to hear the screams of people being shot. What would I do? Would I freeze, or would I take one of the aforementioned hero paths? This is the question that plagues me. I hope that I don’t ever have to make this decision. But I know that I might have to.

“Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.”

Just let me check your ID

I truly don’t understand why it’s so difficult for so many people to navigate this quick little formality. It’s a transaction that, if done smartly and successfully, might take 10 seconds and a smile. As a door guy/bouncer at music venues and bars, a major component of my job is to check the ID of every arriving patron. We need to do this in accordance with the guidelines given to us by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). Depending on what venue I’m working at, I might check anywhere from 200-800 IDs per night. It’s not rocket science. And it shouldn’t take very long.

You walk up to the venue door to find me smiling and greeting you. I’ll ask to see your ID and you’ll hand it to me. I examine it quickly and hand it back to you, then usually give you a stamp of some kind as we make small talk. I might answer questions you have at that point, but basically our little interaction is over. Unless you become a problem later in the night and I need to exit you from the establishment, you probably won’t even see me again until the end of the show when you go home. That really doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?

Sadly, this ideal scenario is not how it usually goes.

I’ve given this whole thing some serious thought. Especially when I’m frustrated with how badly a recent interaction went down. I try my best to be direct and clear when asking questions or explaining rules. I speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Sometimes I have to dumb it down for someone due to a language barrier, or more often due to a stupidity barrier.

I’m interested and invested in helping all of you with this challenging situation. I really am. Let me talk you through some points that will help you succeed. I might make an instructional video of this that you can watch outside while you’re waiting in line.

And perhaps I should elaborate on exactly what I am looking for when I check IDs. Just so you don’t rush me or think that I’m taking too long. I’m not just looking for your birthdate. I’m first looking at the photo and comparing it to your actual face. Then I’m checking the birthdate and making sure that it happened before this date in 1997. Then I’m checking the expiration date, because an expired license or passport is a useless artifact. I’m also feeling the card for thickness or irregularities. Fake IDs often don’t get the card thickness or firmness right. Also lamination problems can mean a fake ID. Then I’m also flipping it over and looking at the back of it. Lots of fake IDs just make the front and the back is completely blank. So that’s 6 things I’m assessing in a few seconds of your valuable entertainment time. Just let me check them all without any hassle.

First off, don’t just try to blow past me and act like the rules don’t apply to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Unless you have a white beard, ride up on a horse named Shadowfax, and answer to the name Gandalf, I’m gonna need to see your I.D. When I enter a bar or music venue, I expect the staff to card me and give me some sort of stamp. Even if I don’t know how it works I am capable of reading the environmental cues around me. Like the 2-3 security staff standing around with radios checking IDs? That’s a pretty clear sign that you also need to do that. When I see a group or a line of people waiting to interface with the door staff holding their drivers licenses out, I can infer that this is an ID check. I don’t just try to walk around everybody and get inside. But you do, and then you get embarrassed because we have to stop you verbally or even physically and get you back in the line.

The most common statement offered as a justification for this behavior is, “Oh, I’m just going into the bar.” That’s right. The bar. Where they serve beer, wine, cider, and hard liquor. Exactly, you street-smart genius bar-hopping drunkard. You have literally answered the question of why I’m asking to see your ID. It’s like these people have never been out drinking in a bar before. Why are you somehow surprised that I want to see your ID? That’s literally how that works. To go into a bar where liquor is served, you need to have a valid ID and show it to the staff first. Because you have to be 21 to legally drink alcohol.  I’m not just carding people for fun, or to go into a different part of the business. It’s one stop shopping. I card you as you come in, then you can go anywhere inside that you want. I’ve had to hook people in the crook of their arm to stop them after they’ve gotten past the first two security staff and say, “Hey, they need to get your ID first.”
“Oh, just to go to the bar?”
“Yeah, especially to go to the bar.”

Next, take your driver’s license out of your damned wallet. The leather edge of the ID holder almost always blocks out the expiration date on Oregon licenses. And besides that, I need to hold the ID in my hand and flip it over to look at the back. I’m checking to see if the ID is fake, and several other bits of info on the license. You see all the people in front of you who have their licenses out in their hand? Yeah, copy them.

Look I know it’s slightly weird to hand your ID to a complete stranger. I’ve tried to put myself in your shoes to see why so many people get awkward or even offended when I ask to see their ID. I suppose you don’t like handing me all of your personal information. I suppose it might be odd that I could read your ID and get your age, your weight, your full name, and your full address. I suppose that could be weird. Except that I honestly have no reason to ever look at your weight or your name or your address. I don’t care. I’m looking for your birthday and the expiration date. I’m not memorizing your personal data and then planning to stop by your house with flowers tomorrow. I might examine 300 driver’s licenses and passports tonight. I’m certainly not memorizing any details about anything. The most I’ll ever do regarding something I see on your ID is wish you a happy birthday if your birthday is today. And most people like that. Sometimes if the ID is expiring in the next few weeks, I’ll inform them of that as I hand it back to them. Almost every time the person had no idea and thanks me profusely for helping them out.

More tips on how to behave during the ID check. Don’t make small talk or ask me questions. This is often a distraction technique when people know that something is wrong with their ID. In fact, the more you make jokes or ask questions or flirt with me, the more closely I’m going to look at your ID because I’m wise to your schemes. I’ve actually had to ask a woman to please get her breasts off of me so I can do my job. She thought she was cute and could flirt her way around an expired license. In general, just let the door guy lead the conversation. If I don’t ask you any questions, just wait for me to look at the ID and return it to you. If I do ask you questions, it may be to assess your current level of intoxication. I’m not flirting with you, I’m asking you questions so I can hear your speech patterns. I’m listening for slurred words and incoherent drunken answers.

Don’t be talking on your phone while you come in. Hang up the phone and be an active participant in this interaction. You can call the person back. I probably need to ask you some questions anyway. Actually, I’m going to go around you and check IDs of all the other people in the entryway or the line. I’ll wait for you to hang up your phone before I even start this process with you. Basic respect and common sense, but apparently it needs to be said.

Don’t purposely cover your photo with your finger and hold it up to me like you’re a detective flashing me his badge. That’s not going to work. You’re not cute. That’s not helpful at all, and it will make our time together longer than either of us want. If you make me say out loud, “I need to actually see the photo” this isn’t going to go well for you. Don’t cover your photo. Hand me the card, don’t make me take it out of your hand.
Conversely, I actually love it when people hand me the McLovin ID from the movie Superbad. This always makes me laugh heartily, and then they immediately hand me their actual ID. I know some door guys don’t like this, but I think it’s hilarious. It breaks the tension. Hell, people might look at the bouncers as they come in and decide to use the funny fake ID just in an attempt to make us laugh because we look grumpy.
Bring it on.

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Oh and don’t say something like, “You need to see my ID? Really? I’m old as dirt.”
Then when I look at your ID you are actually much younger than me. So you just inadvertently insulted me without knowing it. People actually say to me, “See? I’m old, right?” And I never agree with them. I always say age is just a number, or age is how you feel. Or I’ve even said, “I know better than to ever agree or disagree with a person’s assessment of how old or young they are. I’ve had training.” That usually gets a laugh. Most commonly I just smile and answer, “No, not at all.”
One guy was surprised I was carding him and he said, “I’m old enough to be your Dad.”
I looked at his birthday, leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, “Not unless you had me when you were 4 years old.”
One particularly grumpy man was offended that I was even asking for his ID. He blustered loudly about how he was here for his daughter’s wedding and he is obviously over 21 and his passport is buried in his suitcases. I then intentionally checked his ID very slowly and returned it saying, “Most people your age are flattered when I ask for their ID. You should try that.”

Look at me. Do I really need to say this? Don’t have your face turned all the way to the side talking to your fiends, or turn around to talk to your friends behind you. Don’t keep your face covered by scarves or a hoodie or a balaclava. Part of what I’m doing is comparing the photo on your ID to your actual face. Of course we have to account for minor changes over time. Hair length, style, and color can change. Skin tone can change. Glasses might be on or off, or beards or mustaches have come and gone. Hell, my ID looks nothing like me because it was issued to me 8 years ago. I didn’t have dreads or a beard or the most recent 25 pounds on me in the photo. So then we’re looking at facial structure and basic features that don’t change. People often try to pass off an ID of their older sibling or even friend who looks similar to them.

These concerns are certainly not your problem. You haven’t chosen to be a bouncer at a bar like I have. But this is my job. I take pride in it. Most of the time I actually think it’s fun. But if somebody gets in here with a fake ID or is underage, there are repercussions. Not only could I get reprimanded and lose my job, but the establishment itself will get heavy fines. I’ve seen some of the checks written out to pay these fines, and they aren’t small numbers. It’s the cost of doing business I imagine, but too many of those fines can easily bankrupt an establishment. Worst case scenario is that the bar or venue actually loses their liquor license due to numerous violations of this kind. And any bar or venue that can’t sell liquor is going to fail. So just play along and show us your ID, please.

One of the most common reasons that I deny people entry to a venue is not that they are already too drunk. You would think that, but no. It’s that their ID or passport is expired. That makes it invalid. If people hand me an ID that expired a few days ago, or even a few weeks ago, I can somewhat understand. You still can’t come in, but I empathize. Life gets away from you, you hate the DMV, you procrastinate. I hear ya. But people hand me passports or IDs that expired 6 years ago. I usually make a point to say, “Your ID is expired. Like REALLY expired. 6 years ago expired.”
What in the hell have you been doing for the last 6 years?!

But at least they had something on them and attempted to pass it off to me. What really confounds me are the people who come up and tell me that they don’t have any ID at all. They ask if a Visa card works. For identification. How in the hell do you not have any ID on you at all? Did you drive here? Because if so you just broke the law. I hope you get pulled over and a cop makes you feel like an unprepared child. Maybe you always ride your bike or Uber around. Sure, but don’t you purchase things and the clerks ask to see your ID to verify the debit card purchase? Do you never go to any establishment that severe liquor? Or have you just been going to the same neighborhood bar for years and they know you and yell out “NORM!” whenever you walk in?

Then they inevitably say things like, “Well I’m clearly over 21. Look at me! I’m 34 years old!” I often say, “Well, you legally need ID to prove that.” Or I might say, “It’s not that I don’t think that you’re 21, but you must have a valid form of ID on you just to be in here.” If I’m feeling particularly confrontational I might say, “How do you get along in your daily life with no ID?” I got my drivers’ license at age 16, so I’ve been managing and renewing it for decades now. And I can’t recall one time that I didn’t have that driver’s license in my wallet in my back pocket. I’ve never lost it, never misplaced it, never had it stolen, and never not had it on me. I’m always ready. But damn, some of these people haven’t had a valid ID for 6 years and act like I’m the jerk for being surprised and not letting them in.

Then there’s the people who try to distract me because they know that their ID isn’t valid. They’ll start asking me all kinds of questions about the bands playing tonight, or which stamp means what on which hand. Some people try to flirt with me. Or the one I get the most is, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” Like I said earlier, this makes me focus more on the ID. Sure enough, the person isn’t 21 or the ID expired already. Then they feign shock when I inform them that they can’t come in.
This is my favorite anecdote of this sort:
A male handed me his passport and was all bubbly and talkative. He tried to distract me by being condescending. Apparently he thought I was looking at his passport too long, so he points at it and says, “Oh, the birth date is printed right up here.” He tapped the passport with his finger on the birth date. Like I can’t find it. Like this isn’t my job and I haven’t been trained to examine IDs. Like I’m incompetent and stupid. Like I don’t do this ALL NIGHT LONG. I was looking at it longer than normal because I did notice something wrong with it. I wanted to be sure, and make him sweat a little. My response was, “Yeah. The birth date is right there. But the part that tells me that this expired 3 years ago is right HERE.” I tapped the passport on the expiration date he was hoping I wouldn’t notice. I handed it back to him and said, “You can’t come in here with an expired passport. Bye.”

And if you don’t have your ID or passport, do not try to show me a photo of it on your phone. That asinine bullshit doesn’t even make sense. My 10-year-old kid could Photoshop their photo onto a template faster than it would take you to drive home and get your damned ID. There is no establishment anywhere that will accept a photo of a passport or driver’s license. Think a minute. Can I pay for my dinner with a photo of a 20 dollar bill? The actual state-issued driver’s license or government-issued passport needs to exist in our hands to be examined. Good lord.

Here’s the last observation. There are grown adults out there that don’t know their left from their right. Many of them. Legion. Once we approve your ID we give you a stamp on a particular wrist. If you pay for the show then we may give you a different stamp on your other wrist. I always make sure to say this clearly and slowly, while looking at your eyes and even pointing at the particular wrist. “I need to stamp your LEFT WRIST.” Without fail, 75 percent of the time the person juts out the wrong wrist. Don’t we usually learn our left and right in kindergarten? Dumbfounded and saddened at the state of humanity’s declining intelligence, I usually say, “That’s your RIGHT wrist, I need your LEFT wrist. THAT one.” They get embarrassed, I shake my head.
What I want to say comes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.
“I know you are dumb, Private Pyle, but do you expect me to believe that you do not know your left from your right?!”
“Sir, no sir!”
“Then you did that on purpose. You want to be different.”
“Sir, no sir!”
I punch you hard in the face.
“What side was that, private Pyle?”
But that’s just a movie.

I’m actually a pretty friendly bouncer. Some people have called me the friendliest door guy they’ve ever met. But I know that is the exception. And even I get flustered sometimes. A lot of bouncers and door guys are gruff at best, and downright unpleasant at worst. But you have to understand why. Any problem that occurs gets passed to us. We deal with every problem, from mildly irritating to hostile and dangerous. As with many customer service jobs, you deal with stupidity and assholery on the regular. Add alcohol to that recipe and you have our job. People are dumb enough as it is, but add too much alcohol and it becomes the proverbial shit-show. And entitlement, insecurity, and testosterone don’t help either. So night after night, we deal with the stupid. And the belligerent drunks. And you simply can’t reason with drunk people. Sometimes you just have to physically remove them from the premises. So yeah, door guys are often grumpy. Our patience has already been tried for hours before your arrival. We have to have a high tolerance for idiocy. Please give us a break and try to be compliant and friendly when you deal with us. I want to help you have a good evening. Just let me do that. Just let me check your ID.

I’ll end this with this classic joke told to me by another bouncer:
     What’s the difference between a bouncer and a toilet?
     A toilet only has to deal with one asshole at a time.

 

The Art of the Car Chase

When I was a young boy I learned to love movies. And, strangely, I learned to write categorized lists of certain particular things that stood out for me. Perhaps I had a touch of OCD about making lists. Or maybe I just was really moved by certain cinematic moments and wanted to keep track of them. Possibly I just didn’t want to forget the names of the movies. I wouldn’t forget the scenes themselves, but back in the 70’s and early 80’s there weren’t such convenient ways to watch a movie again. You essentially just had to wait until it came on television, albeit in a interrupted-by-commercials version. And also edited for content and time constraints. No salty language, no nudity, and no graphic violence. And hell, this movie is too long for network broadcast anyway, so let’s just cut out an additional 25 minutes while we’re at it. It’s gotta fit in-between the new episode of Happy Days and the 11 o’clock newscast.

Of course I made a master list of pretty much every movie I’d seen. Movies seen in theaters had that fact denoted by a bold capital T next to it, for theater. Movies I watched at home on TV had no code written by the title. I would start with the movie title, the year it came out if I could find it, and then a star rating between 1 and 4 stars. My lists were written on classroom notebook paper with the blue lines and three holes on the left side. I wrote my lists in pencil, like I was doing a research project for my 6th grade project. Which, in hindsight, I should’ve actually done for some school credit.

Looking back on this I totally understand the fascination with car chases. These are very exciting scenes in films, riveting and smartly edited. Fast motion and danger always intrigues viewers. Also I would have been fascinated by car chases because it was a magical foreign powerful thing to a child who isn’t old enough to drive. It was like watching a science-fiction movie with a character flying a starship into warp drive. It was unattainable and fantastical. You can’t get your permit to drive in Oregon until you are 15 years old. So to a 7-year-old boy, even the possibility of driving a huge steel gasoline-powered vehicle was still another 8 years away. So my entire lifetime up to that point would need to be doubled for me to even be allowed behind the wheel of a car.

The car chase need was also fulfilled more regularly on television shows of the times. Ones that I watched regularly were Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, The Streets of San Francisco, and Starsky and Hutch. The car chase became an expected staple of these shows, and some achieved quality chases less and less regularly. Watching these predictable and sanitized car chases each week just made me appreciate the real deal found in theatrical films all the more. There was literally never any threat to the main characters, because we knew they would return the following week in the next episode. These tv show car chases mainly felt like an opportunity to crash some cars in slow motion.

Most of my favorite car chases have one thing in common. No music. A truly great car chase lets the sounds of the engines, squealing cars, and car horns be the soundtrack. Then add in some panicked dialogue, gunshots, and breaking glass to this symphony. My top three car chases are Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). No music. Well, Bullitt has some moody jazz music while they play their slow cat and mouse game around San Francisco. But when they click in their seatbelts and start the car chase in earnest, the engines roar and the music disappears. I hate when a Hollywood film adds music that is essentially telegraphing to us what we should feel at that moment. We don’t need it. Especially with chase scenes. They are exciting enough and the visceral excitement of the scene will transfer to us off of the screen.

Yet another complaint about recent trends of car chases is the unnecessary use of CGI, or computer generated images. You’ll notice that none of the films I cite as my favorites have any fake effects in them. So they’re primarily from the 70’s and 80’s. There are indeed some filmmakers who continue to shoot films honestly, seeking realism over grandiosity. I don’t list any of the Fast and Furious films on my lists. Fuck those movies. Ridiculous cartoons with cars and humans defying the laws of physics on the regular. It’s like watching an updated Wile E. Coyote cartoon with the Road Runner in a tricked out muscle car. Any computer graphic designer can animate a realistic looking car and add smoke and skid marks. But why would you? Then we’re watching a video game cut-scene. Just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean that you should do a thing. Give me rubber on asphalt. Let me hear the gears shifting and grinding. Let me see actual human actors in the driver’s seat looking over their shoulders in panic. Let me see windows shattering and broken glass on the road. Put a camera in a chase car and follow the cars at 90 mph. Give me a real car chase.

The movies I grew up watching were from the 70’s and 80’s. So obviously, all car chases were actually done in-camera.  I have so much respect for the stunt coordinators and drivers of the cars in the chase scenes. Back then, you had to block off entire lengths of streets or highways and close them off with Police barricades. Then you would repopulate them with dozens of stunt drivers. Not only were the two cars involved in the chase driven by professional stunt drivers, but every single other car in the background was too. You had to coordinate every element of that chaos. It was vehicular choreography.  A precisely timed dance of sedans.

Unless you were William Friedkin filming The French Connection. He went out in the streets of NYC without the necessary permits, and filmed one of the most frenetic, stressful and exciting car chases in cinema history guerrilla-style. Stunt driver Bill Hickman drove the Pontiac while William Friedkin filmed from the backseat. Some of the cars that veer into Gene Hackman’s path are just neighborhood residents who didn’t even know that a movie was being filmed. One actual collision was just a random guy heading to work that drove in front of Hackman’s chase car. This crash is in the movie. The producers later paid the man’s repair costs for the car. This movie’s chase was also unique because it didn’t involve two passenger vehicles. It was a chase between Gene Hackman’s car and the elevated subway train that the bad guy had commandeered.

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Then about 15 years later, William Friedkin gave us yet another of the best car chases in cinema. To Live and Die in L.A. is a gritty, dark, unique crime thriller that came out in 1985 and starred William Peterson and Willem Dafoe. I imagine that director Friedkin had to say to himself, “OK, I currently have one of the finest car chases under my belt. It’s time to top myself. I can do even better.” And for my money, he certainly did outdo himself with this one. While The French Connection is indeed great, it’s one guy in a car chasing an elevated subway train. With To Live and Die in L.A., he has two secret service agents in a car trying to get away from pretty much everybody. It starts out with a payoff gone wrong and their contact being shot by unknown shooters. They flee, and more and more cars and shooters pop out of every overpass. Clearly their operation was being surveilled, and they are greatly outnumbered and disadvantaged. Just when they lose one car, another one pops out and joins the chase. More agents shoot at them from nearby overpasses and cars. The desperation grows. One great element is the point of view perspective of our anti-heroes inside the car where the sound disappears and it’s just the noise of the passenger’s panicked breathing as he sort of loses it. The driver flashes back to his bungee jumping scene of adrenaline rush, and the passenger replays the shooting death he just witnessed. They recklessly charge through alleys, streets, railroad tracks, and dry aqueducts before they are stopped and surrounded. Then, in an even more desperate and insane move, they decide to enter the highway going the wrong way to escape. It’s a batshit crazy scene. Even stranger is that Friedkin actually put our two anti-heroes on the correct side of the highway. It’s all the other traffic that is going the wrong way. Just another subtle directorial choice to put the viewer on edge. I didn’t notice this disorienting detail until years after first seeing the film. This car chase took 6 weeks to shoot, again giving us about 10 minutes of an amazing chase sequence.

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Now we arrive at my ultimate favorite car chase movie, Bullitt. Stunt driver Bill Hickman did the driving in this classic Steve McQueen film from 1968. You can also see him driving in the 1973 Roy Scheider film The Seven-Ups. In Bullitt, he drives the black 440 Dodge Charger against Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang GT Fastback. Steve McQueen was an avid race car driver, and wanted to personally do all of the driving that the insurance company would allow. He was a stickler for realism, and he wanted as many shots as possible to actually show him driving so the audience bought into it. He knew that anytime we see a shot of a driver that isn’t the actor, we are immediately brought out of the movie. Some of the shots where the two cars are raging along at 90 mph, ramming into each other, skidding, and even firing shotguns are made all the more amazing because we can see that it’s actually the actors. Today you would more likely see a digitally recreated actor’s face on a stunt driver’s body. And the scene would suffer because of it.

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In my opinion, Bullitt has the car chase to end all car chases. There might be more showy car chases now, or chases with a higher body count, but this one will be rightfully copied and imitated forever. For me, this car chase has not been bested in the 50 years since it came out. And every car chase that has come after was influenced by it. Steve McQueen’s detective Frank Bullitt realizes that he is being tailed by two bad guys. He loses them and comes around behind them. The hunter is now the hunted. The assassins click in their seat belts and we know we’re in for a ride. At one point the car that Bill Hickman was driving corners just a little too widely and actually crashes into the camera setup. This was a tripod camera set up on a parked car. The screen flashed to white and we cut to the next scene. The camera itself was destroyed but the film canister was salvaged, and the shot was left in the film. Things like this greatly add to the believability and realism of the action.

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This chase goes all over San Francisco and has so many iconic moments. It’s also messy, like a real car chase would be. McQueen overshoots the turn on a residential street and has to back up and peel out again. The entire chase is brought to a halt when they can’t navigate around a grouping of cars and trucks and a motorcycle. McQueen’s character actually pauses to make sure that the fallen motorcycle driver gets up and is ok before restarting his pursuit. This chase has all of the key elements of a great car chase. Avoiding obstacles. Jumps. Point-of-view camerawork. Collisions. Innocent bystanders getting in the way. Very high speeds. Ramming each other off the road. Gunfire. And a very explosive climax. Some car chases just have one or two of these essential elements. Bullitt has every single one. If you haven’t seen this chase, shame on you. It’s arguably the most influential car chase in cinema history. It reportedly took three weeks of shooting, and gave us almost 10 minutes of high-octane car chase perfection.

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I saw this film countless times on television growing up. Then it was the first VHS tape I purchased as a kid. I remember it was in an oversized clamshell case. I saved up $29.99 to buy it from the local video store brand new. I found the book it was based on at the library and read that (Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike). I bought the plastic model kit of the 68 Mustang and glued that together. As per usual, I immersed myself in this film as much as possible. I read up on any trivia I could find about this film. Then, as an adult in my 30’s, this film screened at a high-end cinema here in Portland, Oregon. I finally got to see a screening of one of my favorite films ever in a great theater with amazing sound. The sound of the engines absolutely screamed from the screen, filling the theater with RPMs from 35 years ago. The point of view shots of the cars jumping the hills actually made me move in my seat like I was bracing for the impact of the jumps. The screeching tires were so loud it made me wince. When the white-haired assassin fires his shotgun at McQueen, there is a shot with McQueen driving and bullet holes from the shotgun appear on the windshield. His car starts to veer back and forth at 90 mph making an unearthly squealing sound before he rights it. It’s a harrowing moment, especially because losing control at that speed would result in the car rolling a dozen times before finally stopping.  The print had been restored so it looked like it was filmed just a few years ago, instead of the washed out, grainy, damaged print I had seen so many times on TV. And no commercial breaks. I was in car chase heaven that day. I felt like I was an 8-year-old boy again sitting at home my pajamas watching this movie for the first time on TV. And that’s exactly what movies are supposed to do.

 

Just for reference, here is my listing of greatest car chases from when I was a little guy. It honestly hasn’t changed much. There’s just a couple of additions from more recent films.

  1. BULLITT (1968)
  2. DUEL (1971)
  3. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
  4. THX-1138 (1971)
  5. THE SEVEN-UPS (1973)
  6. THE DRIVER (1978)
  7. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
  8. MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
  9. THE TERMINATOR (1984)
  10. TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985)
  11. THE HITCHER (1986)
  12. THE HIDDEN (1987)

More recent additions:

  1. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
  2. TRUE LIES (1994)
  3. RONIN (1998)
  4. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
  5. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
  6. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

Honorable mentions:

  1. VANISHING POINT (1971)
  2. TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971)
  3. THE GETAWAY (1972)
  4. THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)
  5. GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974)
  6. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)

 

 

Reading the movies

I am a certified movie freak. A cineaste. Huge film buff. Master of movie minutiae. A cinephile.

It’s difficult to attempt to pinpoint just when this happened. But cinematic art has dominated my life since I was a young boy. Some of the best experiences of my life involve seeing a film opening weekend in the theaters with people I love. I’ll go see a movie alone just as often as I will with friends. I’m the guy who can name a movie if you give me a starring actor, or tell you the director and year of release of a film being discussed. I’m overflowing with useless trivia about films that really affected me. I read the trivia section of imdb.com for fun. I quote films all the time in regular conversation. I’m honestly not as clever or quirky as my friends think I am, I’m just quoting obscure movies all the time. I can list off every Sam Peckinpah film in chronological order including the year of release. I wish I could somehow monetize this collection of cinematic data that lives in my brain. I could retire tomorrow if that were possible. My fiancée says that in a certain scenario where aliens land and can only communicate through movie references and trivia, I could legitimately save the world. Or, in a more real-life example, I can win some pitchers of beer at movie trivia nights.

I am also an avid reader. A book nerd. Word geek. A collector of paperbacks and first edition hardbacks. I attend author readings at bookstores.

I read everything, all the time. I always have. My parents said I learned to read very young, and I haven’t stopped. I read comic books as a kid. I read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at age 14 for fun, not for a school assignment. As an adult I collect graphic novels of all genres. In college I devoured textbooks by day, and then read pulp horror novels at night. I also played drums in a band in college, and would garner inspiration by reading music biographies of all kinds. I read books about Jim Morrison, and I read poetry books written by Jim Morrison. I read Henry Rollins poetry books and other titles from his publishing company, 2.13.61. Jimi Hendrix biographies. Newspapers, blogs, obscure authors, feminist authors, mainstream authors, unknown new authors, and all the science fiction I can find. Gimmie that book, I’ll read it. Sylvia Plath, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack London, Bret Easton Ellis, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Mario Puzo, Charles Bukowski, Dan Simmons, Tolkien. Going to Powell’s Books here in Portland, as I have been since I was a teenager, is a religious experience for me. Before I lived in Portland, I would drive up from Eugene to visit Powell’s and return with bags full of used paperbacks. My home always is dominated by bookshelves, and moving into a new house is mainly boxing up my books and carrying those heavy loads into my new library.

So naturally, combining my two great loves of movies and books is perfection. Books about movies. Movies based on books. Memoirs from the set of a film. Screenplays. Books about the behind the scenes making of the film. Art books examining the matte paintings, costume design, and model-making involved. If I’ve read the source material for a film, I have all that extra information with me as I watch the movie. This definitely increases my enjoyment of the film. And when I’m reading the printed version of the movie, I obviously have all the visual imagery in my mind as I read. Both experiences are greatly improved.

As a pre-teen I would watch a movie and then track down the novelization of it to read. Anything to further immerse myself in the world of the movie. Often the film novelization would be written by a known author looking to make an easy buck. Other times it was written by a nobody, and occasionally it was written by the screenwriter or even the director. I was always looking for explanations of confusing or abstract concepts in the film. Or just trying to find out exactly what happened to certain characters whose demise in the movie was off-screen, implied, or edited out so they could show it on television. I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of ALIEN for this very reason. There were sometimes scenes that were not in the movie, characters who weren’t in the movie, and even added prologues and epilogues. Often it was like reading the extended director’s cut with an added hour of reintegrated footage. If the book was written first and the film was just ‘based on’ the book, it might be nothing like the movie at all. Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is so dissimilar to BLADE RUNNER that the only commonality between the two is that there are artificial humans called replicants.

I also tracked down the novelization of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. It was written by Curtis Richards, which is a pseudonym for author Dennis Etchison. There’s probably not a very large audience for a novelization of a slasher movie. But I was happily surprised to read several chapters that actually explained the concept of evil that travels from person to person and is literally unstoppable. There were flashbacks to ancient Samhain rituals that (incorrectly) involved human sacrifices. This was fascinating to me as a teenager. For those people who didn’t buy how Michael Myers could suffer those injuries and just keep on attacking Laurie Strode, the book gave the back story in a very satisfying way, making me enjoy the movie even more. It was pure evil that traveled over centuries through different hosts.

Acclaimed author Orson Scott Card, famous for the countless Ender’s Game books, wrote a novelization of the James Cameron underwater adventure THE ABYSS. Piers Anthony wrote a great novelization of TOTAL RECALL, even though that film was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Vonda N. McIntyre wrote several of the Star Trek movie novelizations, after creator Gene Roddenberry himself wrote the novelization of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. David Morrell wrote the amazing book First Blood in the 70’s. After the Stallone film was made of that book, he himself wrote the novelizations for both Rambo: First Blood part 2, and Rambo 3. Another horror movie novelization that I read repeatedly was THE OMEN by David Seltzer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK even got a novelization by Campbell Black. Alan Dean Foster seemed to do exceptionally well with film novelizations. I had several written by him including ALIEN, ALIENS, PALE RIDER, OUTLAND, STAR WARS, and THE BLACK HOLE.

Here’s a quote from Alan Dean Foster about taking film novelization jobs:
“I took it for two reasons. First, because I was a young writer and I needed to make a living. And because, as [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget. So it was fun.”

There were also movie tie-in books called FOTONOVELS. I got into them as a young kid collecting a series of these based on the original Star Trek series. These ‘books’ were literally just a collection of hundreds of color stills from the film in chronological order. The dialogue was written on each photo like comic book styled balloons. They are essentially storyboards of the entire movie, but with actual frames from the movie instead of charcoal or pencil sketches. The one I remember reading a lot was the FOTONOVEL of STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN. My copy actually had a significant mistake in it. A portion of the book was out-of-order. 20-30 pages of the story happened way before it occurs in the film. There were no page numbers in this book, but since I had seen the film in theaters twice when it came out in 1982, I knew the story well. The pages were put in the wrong order. I wonder if that book with that printing error would be worth money now. I probably should have hung onto that.

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There were Fotonovels of the first 12 episodes of Star Trek, then the first two Star Trek films. I also had the Fotonovel of the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. These were all paperback-sized books. Then there were some larger format ones called Movie Novels of the films ALIEN and OUTLAND. I pored over these photos, especially focusing on the special effects and gore shots. These two books were from violent rated R films, so I was riveted by the detailed photos. Sometimes a shot will only show for a second in the film, so it’s almost subliminal. But these books had bright color pics of the chestburster scene in ALIEN and the depressurized heads exploding in OUTLAND. The amazing set design and alien design by H.R. Giger in ALIEN was also on gorgeous display in the Movie Novel. Prior to the arrival of VHS players, this was really the only way we had of reliving and analyzing the films.

After watching the great Roman Polanski film CHINATOWN, I was moved to read all I could about it. It’s a confusing movie with shielded character motivations, and the political machinations of the water bureau and Noah Cross passed over my head as a pre-teen. This was a pretty adult movie for my little kid brain to absorb. This movie wasn’t based on a book. Robert Towne wrote the screenplay. It is commonly regarded as the greatest screenplay ever written, and is studied in film schools as such. This was long before you could just look up any screenplay on the internet. I tracked down a company that printed up screenplays and sent them a check for $30 for the script to Chinatown. It came in the mail and I stayed up all that night reading it. Hearing the actors speak the lines in my head. Singing the Jerry Goldsmith musical themes (that trumpet!). Visualizing the amazing actors bringing these words to life. The screenplay really was just a bound paper script like actors would use on set. I learned the art of the screenplay format from reading this repeatedly. The way you indent, center, and list character lines so the actors can easily find their parts. The way you set the scene with location, time of day/weather (INTERIOR. OFFICE – NIGHT.). The short descriptive sentences written to get the point across without the flowery over-descriptive paragraphs like in a book. The brief stage directions for dialogue like ‘mocking’, ‘sing-song voice’, ‘wounded and sad’. The screenplay reads as a simple detective story that gets more intricate and complicated as you go. The movie improved and expanded it to film noir. After devouring the screenplay I watched Chinatown again, armed with all the knowledge gleaned from reading it. I loved it even more, and I still regard it as one of the best films ever made.

I would also buy all of the Art of Star Wars books as a kid. The original three Star Wars films changed my life, cinema itself, and marketing/merchandising forever. I found everything I could related to these films from action figures to models to comics and books. Each film put out books about the special effects and set design. Then there were Star Wars sketchbooks. These had what appeared to be legitimate blueprints and sketches of all the ships and vehicles to scale. Even if a ship was only glimpsed for 5 seconds in the movie, it had a toy made of it and pages dedicated to showing its design and function. Later, when I went to college, I was an architecture major for a year. I wonder if my obsessions with the Star Wars schematics had anything to do with that choice. I also collected the screenplays. These were often accompanied by color photographs from the films, and black and white storyboards of the onscreen action. Again, this was really the only way for fans to relive the experience of the films since this was before the emergence of the VHS home video market. You couldn’t just go watch your favorite movie whenever you wanted to. You just had to wait for a rare theatrical re-release, or watch an edited TV version if and when it aired on a network.

There were some storyboards in the Empire Strikes Back illustrated screenplay that actually changed my memory of the movie. In the battle on Hoth with the Imperial Walkers there was, at one point, a scene where a snowspeeder pilot becomes wounded and intentionally flies his ship into the window of one of the AT-AT walkers. This kills the pilots, causes the entire head of the walker to explode, and takes down one more walker during that famous battle. I don’t think this scene was ever filmed, but there are storyboards of it in this book. That would’ve had the rebels taking out 3 of the 5 walkers, and been a great addition to that battle. The first walker is destroyed by using tow cables to trip it, and the second walker is destroyed by Luke throwing explosives inside. Because, “That armor’s too strong for blasters.” In any case, since I had read this screenplay and soaked in the storyboards of this snowspeeder suicide attack, I burned it into my memory a little too well. I convinced myself that this scene actually was in the movie. Or honestly, it could have been storyboards in that art book just as well as it could have been on a BBC radio production. I listened to those on the radio as well, and later bought the cassette tapes. Maybe it was in the novelization, or the comic books, or the Story of Empire, or some Starlog Magazine article. But this kamikaze snow speeder takedown of an Imperial Walker was definitely absorbed by me as a kid. It wasn’t until years later when I saw Empire again on VHS that I realized that scene wasn’t actually in the movie. (Or, George Lucas had tinkered with his movies even more and removed the scene.) Imagination paired with obsession can do strange things to a person’s memory.

I could keep writing about this topic, but I may need to take a break and actually watch a movie. Or read a book about a movie. We shall see.

SHOOT (1976)

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“One shot and the world gets smaller.”
   –Marilyn Manson, ‘The Reflecting God”

I was going down the rabbit-hole of 70’s films on YouTube and obscure film lists on Letterboxd when I discovered Shoot. This 1976 gem of paranoia and violence fits right in with so many other beloved classics of that decade. I have no idea how it is that I’ve never seen this movie before. As a kid, I would have read the movie listings in the paper guide and been attracted to it simply by its title. That’s sort of how I would choose films back in those days. Alas, I’d never even heard of this Canadian film until now. It is obscure enough that you can’t find it for purchase anywhere. It’s not available on DVD at all, and VHS tapes of it are probably scarce as well. The only place it can currently be seen is a questionable-quality upload on YouTube. It was based on a book by Douglas Fairbairn.

The tagline sets up the simple story pretty well.
“A thriller that begins where Deliverance left off.”

The cast is led by Cliff Robertson. He won the Academy Award for best actor in 1968’s Charly. He also starred in Three Days of the Condor, Obsession, and Midway. But for me, I will always think of his as Hugh Hefner in the 1980 Bob Fosse film Star 80. Ernest Borgnine is also on the team as the voice of reason and restraint. Casting Borgnine was perfect, as people would remember his as ‘Dutch’ in Sam Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch. He also won the Academy Award for best actor in 1955’s film Marty. And Henry Silva is the hot head of the group. He starred as various bad guys for decades, but I remember him best as the coke-fueled assassin in Sharky’s Machine. These three actors were cast perfectly, a believable collection of men’s men.

A group of 5 men go on a hunting trip and encounter another hunting party. Mistakes are made, and one man is killed in a brief shootout. But then it gets very interesting as the men go about trying to determine what to do next. They debate the implications of killing a man out in the forest and reporting it or waiting to see if the other group does. The paranoia grows. Secrets are kept, investigations mounted, alliances formed, motivations questioned, moral issues debated, and violence planned. There is a post-Vietnam malaise of veterans returned from the war with no outlet for their training or fighting instincts. I was often reminded of First Blood, especially the novel by David Morrell.

I wonder if Michael Cimino saw this film, as it came out two years before his classic, The Deer Hunter. The scenes of 5 friends going on a hunting trip, each of varied levels of skill and dedication, are strikingly similar. I almost expected Cliff Robertson to say, “A deer’s gotta be taken with one shot.” Except in The Deer Hunter they do find and shoot a deer. In Shoot, they never find anything. But when they find another hunting party, they end up killing one of them. A theme of this film seem to be that guns are meant to be fired eventually, and if men cannot find animal prey to shoot at they will shoot at each other. Humans are, after all, the most dangerous game.

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There is a scene in Sam Peckinpah’s western classic Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid that seems to be a direct influence on this movie. In Bloody Sam’s 1973 movie, James Coburn watches a family on a boat float by on the river. The man on the boat is target shooting at empty bottles that his son is tossing in the river. Coburn decides to also fire at the bottle. Earlier in the film he did the same thing when coming up on his friends target shooting at chickens. Coburn’s character (unseen by his friends) started shooting at the chickens to surprise them. Back on the river, the man on the boat becomes scared at this stranger on the shore firing a gun, so he takes a shot at Coburn. His family hides on the boat. Coburn grabs his rifle and prepares to fire back but doesn’t. Both men size each other up and think about what just happened and what could possibly happen. They each hold their rifles and the boat passes down the river without further incident. They watch each other with understanding. This is a very elegiac and poetic scene in a film about changing times. I am happily surprised that a producer didn’t cut this scene.

Three years later, in Shoot, we have a very similar encounter. Our team of 5 hunters who are bored and frustrated at not finding any deer discover another team of 5 hunters across the river. They size each other up. Both groups are wearing green camouflage clothing and orange wool caps. It’s a surreal mirror image. Ernest Borgnine’s character even states, “They look just like us.” Then one of the other men fires on our team and hits a character in the head. Everyone shoots back and a firefight ensues. The original shooter is shot in the forehead and dragged off. Borgnine keeps yelling, “NO! NO!” which reminded me of Warren Oates yelling the same thing during his shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfred Garcia. Random violence broke out for no reason. Did one team think the other team was trespassing on their land? Trying to kill them? Were they guarding a drug lab? Did they just want to kill a stranger? We will never know, and that actually isn’t important. Unexplained misunderstandings and ‘hunting accidents’ happen. Boredom, machismo, brotherhood, and violence bubbling just under everyone’s skin caused this. Vietnam veterans probably suffering from PTSD with no outlet for their rage and training. A national obsession and worship of guns and firepower. Add in themes of tribalism and territoriality and this all could be an allegory for most wars of the last few decades. There is usually no turning back after an initial act of violence and death happens.

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Even though this is decidedly a man’s movie, three women characters are given very interesting counterpoints to the male characters. Cliff Robertson learns of the funeral service for the man who was killed on the riverbank and goes to meet the widow. He poses as an old friend to learn what she knew about the killing, and whether the other men in that group are plotting revenge. Kate Reid just about steals the show as the widow. She reveals that the men have described the incident as a stray bullet causing an accidental killing. The way she asks him “Are you a hunter, sir?”, is both wounded and defiant. Grieving and drunk, she talks about sleeping with a gun under her pillow. She gets in an interesting discussion about 2nd amendment gun rights and her fear of crime and drug users. Typical conservative philosophy. She makes racist comments blaming minorities for crime in general, and babbles about hippies deserving what they get. It’s a fascinating scene, and very well acted.

Another interesting scene is when Cliff Robertson’s wife says to him, “Why are you home early on a Saturday night? Is it that time of the month for your friend?” We immediately know that their marriage is ending or over, and he has a mistress, but the wife still remains there. They are clearly only together for their daughter, and the wife’s misguided hope that it will get better. He implies that one of them could move out and she says, “I prefer it this way.” He may be primarily absent, but at least he is there sometimes.

Then Helen Shaver puts in a stellar performance with her one brief scene. She plays an acquaintance of the main character trying to get a job from Cliff Robertson, and she comes on to him strong. It turns out she doesn’t even want the job, she just wants him. She’s full of flirty comments, promises, and allusions. She tries to seduce him in an office and does a lot with very little. He resists her blatant offers for sexual involvement. I was so impressed with her performance here, it’s such a tour de force. I’d love to know if this scene was scripted this way, or if there was some improvisation. Shoot appears to be her first major studio film, so this was a great debut of a talented new actress.

Ernest Borgnine (Lew) gives a stunning speech late in the film during a planning meeting of the team. Cliff Robertson (Rex) is planning on how to get weapons and additional men to go out and ambush the enemy. It’s a study of the concept of groupthink. Everybody is just going along with the insane plans except Borgnine’s character. He listens to the plans and struggles with it before finally trying one last time to talk them out of it. He continues to resist the group’s trajectory towards more violence, and debates their potential actions eloquently and passionately. His monologue is logical but heartfelt, and very convincing. This scene alone is worth watching the movie for.

Rex: “But if one of those guys fires one shot…just one shot. God help ’em.”
Lew: “No…God better help YOU. Because you WANT it to happen.”

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While arranging to get their veterinarian friend to treat the head wound and debating what to do about the incident, Cliff Robertson says “I do respect Pete’s bleeding head, and Lew’s bleeding heart.” That summarizes the balance perfectly as the main character tries to placate all opinions. Revenge vs. Mercy. I don’t think the film is actually taking a position philosophically. I think militaristic gun-loving people can enjoy the film as well as pacifist liberals. One could find the film celebrating this gun-culture machismo, or one could find the film condemning and criticizing it. There are certainly scenes of men cleaning their guns and valuing firepower above all else. And conversely there are scenes vocalizing and damning the ludicrous actions taken by fearful men. Obvious connections to fascism with one dictatorial leader are present, and I was also reminded of the fascistic leanings of the first Dirty Harry film in 1971. The scenes of violence can be enjoyed as in an action movie, or judged as man’s brutal inhumanity to man. It’s the moral and philosophical questions the film raises that interested me the most. I also thought of similar films like Southern Comfort and Red Dawn, as well as the obvious comparisons to Deliverance and First Blood. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s one you probably haven’t seen and should.

This film follows in the steps of many other great 70’s films of a certain bleak grit. Taxi Driver, released the same year, was the story of a sociopathic Vietnam Vet having trouble fitting into the world and taking on a cause. It ends in an infamous bloodbath. Soldier Blue was a western that builds to a gut-wrenchingly violent climax. Straw Dogs is another uncomfortable Peckinpah film that builds up to the riveting violent conclusion. Deliverance, Death Wish, Dirty Harry, and Rolling Thunder (released after Shoot) all have violent denouements that aren’t particularly happy endings. Even if you win, you lose. Often at the cost of your soul.

Here is the only online version that I could find. I sincerely hope this film gets a DVD/BluRay release soon.