This year Melbourne Festival hosts a very special guest who has directed some of the most iconic films in cinema history – John Landis.
In the 1960s, at just 16, Landis began working in the mail room of 20th Century Fox while juggling acting gigs, which included being in ‘The Stunt Posse’ on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. As if acting out a script of the Hollywood dream, Landis worked his out way of the mailroom to write and direct his first feature at 21, Schlock, which he also starred in… as an ape who plays piano.
While a cinematic prodigy, the road to success wasn’t completely straight. His next film, The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), wasn’t much of a hit but marked the debut of sketch comedy heroes Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker.
But then came National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978, a film largely credited with creating the teen ‘gross out’ flick genre. Having made more than 50 times its production budget, Landis’ film about badly behaved college boys was the second most popular film of 1978 behind Grease.
Then there was The Blues Brothers in 1980, the much-loved musical comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who also featured in Animal House. The offbeat tale of two brothers putting ‘the band back together’ and saving the orphanage they grew up in wasn’t originally hailed by critics, but has since become a cult classic and screens regularly at “interactive” film nights around the world. Famously, when the film was first released, major cinema chain Mann Theatres refused to screen it for fear that it would attract a black audience.
From there Landis’ credits roll on, An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983), Three Amigos (1986), and Coming to America (1988). According to rumour, Michael Jackson was so impressed by Werewolf that he called Landis personally and asked him to direct the music video of Thriller. Landis agreed, and the 13-minute version of the most influential video clip in history will screen at ACMI on 14 Oct, including a DVD signing – celebrating the 30th anniversary of the clip. Landis also went on to direct Jackson’s Black or White film clip.
Landis will be in town for the tribute, introducing many of the screenings as well as hosting Q&A sessions after Into the Night, and ¡Three Amigos!. The tribute also features the Australian premieres of two of Landis’ films, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project and Slasher.
Curated by Richard Moore, former director of MIFF and BIFF.
Melbourne Festival’s A John Landis Tribute screens at ACMI from Saturday 12 – Tuesday 15 October 2013.