J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, March 30, 2015

That Guy Dick Miller: Walter Paisley Speaks

To hear Dick Miller tell the tale, had the upholstery school offered night classes the world might have been denied some of cinema history’s finest moments. Fortunately, they started bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the early a.m., but the acting school next door was more accommodating. This is the creation legend of cult actor Dick Miller, the man who ate the flowers in Little Shop of Horrors, got run over by a snowplow in Gremlins, sold Schwarzenegger a shotgun in Terminator, and tried to explain the plot of The Terror to Jack Nicholson. You might not know his name, but whenever he pops up a movie, it is a sure sign of awesomeness to follow. The Bronx-born character actor gets his overdue ovation in Elijah Drenner’s That Guy Dick Miller (trailer here), which opens this Friday at Anthology Film Archives, in conjunction with their mini Miller retrospective.

Miller’s first big break came in Roger Corman’s Apache Woman, where he found himself playing both a cowboy and a native character. Thus began a long association that would include classics like Little Shop and the deliciously astute beatnik satire Bucket of Blood. That film would launch his Walter Paisley alter ego, who would periodically re-appear in considerably different incarnations in films helmed by Corman and his protégés. Arguably, Miller is even more beloved by Corman alumnus like James Cameron, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, and particularly Joe Dante, than the dean of indie genre filmmaking himself.

It is pretty clear right from the start, with Miller, what you see is what you get. He is a tough talking industry survivor, but has an appealingly goofy sense of humor and stills enjoys bantering with his wife Lainie. Drenner nicely brings out a sense of their personalities and the dynamics of their still-going-strong relationship in a number of relaxed interview segments.

He also scores revealing sit-downs with Miller’s brothers, Roger and Julie Corman, and a number of their old Corman machine colleagues, including Little Shop co-star Jonathan Haze. However, one person comes out of That Guy not looking so hot. That would be Quentin Tarantino, who cut Miller’s scene from Pulp Fiction (inadvertently inspiring Agnieszka Kurant’s short film The Cutaways, which also screens at AFA with Bucket).

That Guy is just a ton of fun. The clips alone deliver a wildly eccentric nostalgia trip. However, there is something rather inspiring about Miller’s resiliency and his generally positive attitude. This is a film that needed to happen, so hats off to Drenner for fully getting it. He maintains a brisk pace and obviously shares the audience’s affection for the films under discussion. With Lainie Miller and Julie Corman on board as co-executive producers, you can have confidence it will all be done right. Hugely entertaining and even somewhat “feel-good,” That Guy Dick Miller is highly recommended (along with the entire Dick Miller tribute series) when it opens this Friday (4/3) in New York, at Anthology Film Archives.

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