Archive for the ‘Film’ Category
Film news from all over
By Gustav Klimt – 1. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. 2. Neue Galerie New York, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153485
I watched the film version of this book, and I should probably read the book one of these days, such a fascinating story.
“The Lady in Gold” is a fascinating work, ambitious, exhaustively researched and profligately detailed. Anne-Marie O’Connor traces the convoluted history of Gustav Klimt’s dazzling gold-leaf portrait of the Jewish society beauty Adele Bloch-Bauer from its commissioning in 1903 to its sale to cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder in 2006. But the book’s title does not do justice to O’Connor’s scope, which includes the Viennese Belle Epoque, the Anschluss, the diaspora of Viennese Jews, the looting of their artwork and legal battles over its restitution, and thorny questions facing the heirs of reclaimed art.
Roughly a third of the book deals with Klimt’s “Austrian Mona Lisa,” its Nazi-era theft and its eventual return to the Bloch-Bauer heirs. The rest provides context and a milieu dense with particulars. The work teems with historical personages who lived in, visited or plundered Vienna during the tumultuous first half of the 20th century. Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Mark Twain, Joseph Goebbels and scores of others, both integral and incidental to the story of Klimt’s golden portrait of Adele, appear in O’Connor’s populous and several-branched narrative.
The film was good, not great. Helen Mirren is always spot-on, but her “kid lawyer” Ryan Reynolds (playing Maria Altmann’s young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg) didn’t quite fit in the role, plus there were superfluous scenes with Katie Holmes pretending to be maternal. Still, worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
The back-story of Austrian Jews suddenly, nearly overnight, becoming part of the Third Reich is illustrative. They lost their homes, their businesses, their prized personal possessions, their lives, their freedoms. Donald Trump, and others in the Republican party, like Ted Cruz, others, want to round up and deport all the poorly documented immigrants if gods forbid, a Republican wins the Oval Office. Trump claims there are 11,000,000 people who don’t have permission to be in the US, and on January 21st, 2017, he is going to find them all and send them somewhere else, outside of the US borders, or maybe in camps like the Japanese-Americans during WW2.
Is 11,000,000 an accurate number? Are there more? Less? Probably more, and not all these folks are dishwashers, roofers and field hands. Some are middle class people, or even wealthy, there are multi-generational families involved, and many have been here for decades. In Trump’s vision, a bunch of gold-booted thugs with golden “T” armbands are going to kick in doors, smash storefront windows, and arrest all the undocumented people, without incident, without protest as Americans cheer and jeer in the streets. Will petty jealousy and unscrupulous neighbors make false claims against personal enemies? Does Trump even know what due process is?
Trump is not a policy person, he is extremely slippery in his positions, when he even understands them, but one theme has been nearly constant: immigrants are the enemy of Trump’s Fourth Reich.
More importantly, would America (and the world) really allow this to happen in the 21st Century?
If you haven’t seen this film recently, do. Especially the Criterion Collection released a few years ago…
Casting David Bowie as a space alien was one of Hollywood’s best decisions since marrying sound and image. Okay, that’s more than a touch hyperbolic, but come on. Bowie, and his post-Ziggy specialization in coming off like an otherworldly being, was exactly what Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth needed. Hallucinatory, heartfelt, and wholly bizarre, Bowie’s 1976 cult film turned 40 this year, and its marvelous mystery seems to still reach not just beyond the stars, but deep within the human condition. The Man Who Fell to Earth endures not only as a truly bizarre sci-fi masterpiece, but as a time stamp for one of Bowie’s most fascinating and alluring creations: The Thin White Duke.
Newton’s the only alien on our planet; perhaps not so coincidentally, so was Bowie. While the film may flounder at points due to ‘70s excess – hefty nudity, hallucinatory cinematography, a general lack of focus that may or may not have been brought on by drugs – it endures as a wild trip into the outer limits of what defines a man. If anything, Newton is a classic story of commerce, a rise and fall experienced by an extraterrestrial with a preternatural world-weariness. Newton lacks affect for much of the film, as he casually gazes at our world through a particularly yahoo American landscape. Commerce and cowboys and loud things abound. Why wouldn’t an alien recoil in quiet contemplation of the surrealism of it all? Bowie himself summarized it best: The film is sad.
(Via Consequence of Sound)
These photos are interesting, but be warned, Wired wants to charge you $52 a year to view them, or else install 15 or so 3rd party advertising related cookies and trackers on your computer. I’ve found if you are quick, you can avoid either of these unsatisfying choices…
FRENCH FILMMAKER ADRIEN Selbert was 7 when the Bosnian War started in 1992, and he’s never forgotten the horrible images he saw each night on TV. His fascination with the war and its impact on the country intensified over time, leading him to join a friend in making the 1,100-mile drive from Paris to Srebrenica in 2005. “It was just 10 years after the war, but in a city like Srebrenica, [it] looked like the conflict had ended only yesterday,” he says.
The war killed 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995 and displaced 2.2 million more, making it Europe’s most devastating conflict since World War II. Even now, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains politically and economically fractured, its people divided by ethnicity and religion.
Selbert explores these themes in Nino’s Place, a documentary film he made in 2008, and Srebrenica, Night to Night, a photo series about Bosnian youth in 2014. He returns to them in The Real Edges, an ongoing series of moody vignettes he made while visiting 10 cities, wandering the streets and talking to locals.
His scenes teem with contrasts. In one, a woman relaxes with a cigarette in Markale square, where dozens of civilians died in two bombings during the siege of Sarajevo. In another, a priest baptizes a child in Pale, a Serbian stronghold during that same brutal siege. Selbert occasionally combines scenes to form diptychs and create a dialog. “I like the cinematic idea, theorized by Jean Luc Godard, that two images put together create a third image,” he says.
(click here to continue reading Haunting Photos of Life 20 Years After the Bosnian War | WIRED.)
The photographer’s website is also a source for these photos, without the ad-blocking annoyance, fwiw…
I forgot to write this up yesterday, but Bill Maher and Michael Moore discussed their new film idea on Overtime With Bill Maher (you’ll have to skip ahead about a minute to hear the beginning of Michael Moore’s response which leads to discussion of the film, or jump ahead to about the 3:30 mark to hear the exact discussion begin)
Bill and his roundtable guests – Michael Moore, Jack Hunter, Katty Kay, Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham, and Jeremy Scahill – will answer viewer questions after this week’s show.
The idea for The Kings of Atheism is simple: Michael Moore will follow around several atheist comedians as they tell religious-themed jokes in the Bible Belt area of the South. Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, Ricky Gervais, Seth MacFarlane, and possibly others. Michael Moore says he is not an atheist, and playfully joked about a vengeful god sending down thunderbolts directed towards them, and not wanting to be there for that.
I’d love to watch this film: make it happen guys!
Ricky Gervais has one of my favorite god jokes, paraphrased thus: “I don’t believe in any gods, if you are Christian or Muslim etc., you are nearly the same, you don’t believe in most of the gods humankind has created either.”
Ricky Gervais tells it better of course
The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.
So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.
(click here to continue reading Ricky Gervais: Why I Don’t Believe in a God – WSJ.)
I’m a lazy film reviewer, but I very much enjoyed seeing Spotlight, and you probably would too.
SPOTLIGHT tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world. Directed by Academy Award-nominee Tom McCarthy, SPOTLIGHT is a tense investigative dramatic-thriller, tracing the steps to one of the biggest cover-ups in modern times.
- Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes
- Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robin
- Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer
- Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian
- Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron
- John Slattery as Ben Bradlee, Jr.
- Billy Crudup as Eric MacLeish
(click here to continue reading Spotlight (2015) – Rotten Tomatoes.)
Spotlight doesn’t resort to typical Hollywood clichés, there are zero car chases, there are no weapons being brandished, there isn’t a heart-pumping scene where a villain is just around the corner about to catch the hero as dramatic music swells, there is not even a heavy-handed monologue from some powerful higher-up at the Boston Globe trying to shut down the whole investigation. The reporters who make up the Spotlight team aren’t presented as larger-than-life super-humans, there are zero scenes about someone coming in drunk and belligerent, zero scenes about love-interests that have nothing to do with the plot, but simply exist to give “depth” to the character. The journalists slowly, methodically practice journalism, a dying art form.
Instead, the film follows what actually happened as an investigative journalism team composed of Roman Catholics discovers how the institutions fail to protect the vulnerable. Cardinal Bernard Law doesn’t even get his comeuppance (in this lifetime, anyway).
Wow. Highly recommended.
I graduated from high school in 1986, so the Breakfast Club will always have a certain resonance for me. Coincidentally, I watched the film a few months ago (for the first time since seeing it in a theater in Austin) – verdict, good film, not great, but watchable.
Make it a double feature with Slacker (filled with people I knew or at least recognized from Austin’s streets), and you have a decent biosketch of a lot of people my age.
Hanging over the film is a dread that no matter how cool or rebellious or thoughtful you may be, we all become our parents. Well, sounds good: Socioeconomically speaking, this generation (according to too many studies to mention) will be the first in 60 years to have smaller incomes, greater student-loan debt and higher unemployment than the previous generation. Said Daniel Siegel, the esteemed clinical psychiatrist and author of “The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are”: “The upside may be an increased quality of life than generations before this one. Science supports that if you don’t reflect on what happened to you as a child, it is highly probable you will re-enact the behaviors of your parents. Under stress, those qualities really come out. Culture may change, but that fundamental reality hasn’t. But it could be this generation is more reflective. The more mindful you are, the more you release yourself from matters of the past, and I think that mindfulness is being encouraged more than back in 1985.”
The critical assessment
“The Breakfast Club” made $51 million on a modest budget of $1 million. Chicago reviews were generous: Roger Ebert (“a surprisingly good ear”) and Gene Siskel (“thoroughly serious”) raised their thumbs. Elsewhere, notice was mixed. Kirk Honeycutt, then film critic for the Los Angeles Daily News (and later the Hollywood Reporter), remembers: “I thought the movie was a little pat, a little too eager to blame parents, then go home.” These days, it’s seen as Hughes’ defining work, an ’80s touchstone with a Rotten Tomatoes approval (consisting of mostly blog reviews) of 91 percent. It is in a way a reminder that nostalgia and reassessment take an outsize role in deciding what becomes a classic. Honeycutt, for instance, has a new book: “John Hughes: A Life in Film.” He told me: “A lot of critics didn’t treat (Hughes) fairly. I think we were too worried about, say, Woody Allen. These kid problems looked overblown. We missed the relevance. Hughes was making a point about how it felt to be a teen, and we missed it with “Breakfast Club.” I failed it too. But then, a good film — you see something new each time. And 30 years later, I’ve changed my mind.”
(click here to continue reading The Breakfast Club 30 years later, how culture has changed – Chicago Tribune.)
An animated GIF created in Photoshop CS6, with photographs from Hipstamatic’s new “burst” option.1
I hope this is a good film, because James Brown was an amazing performer, and a complicated cat…
“I was sitting right there,” says Mick Jagger, pointing at a row of seats in the famous first balcony at New York’s Apollo Theater. He is remembering how, as a young fan back in England, he had worn out the grooves on his copy of James Brown’s 1963 album, “Live at the Apollo.” Then, he says, he watched from the balcony in 1964 as the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business performed his splits and spins and dropped to his knees begging and screaming “Please Please Please.”
Fifty years later, Mr. Jagger is back at the Apollo, speaking in the historic space where “Get On Up: The James Brown Story”, which he co-produced with Brian Grazer, would have its premiere in a couple of days. It hits theaters Aug. 1.
“It was daunting, of course,” Mr. Jagger says of having to follow the future Godfather of Soul in one of his most amazing performances. Keith Richards has said it was a big mistake to even try. Mr. Jagger’s perspective: “At that age you don’t care. You don’t think. You just do it.”
Mr. Boseman worked with choreographer Aakomon Jones to learn Brown’s signature moves, including the one-legged sideways slide step that “we called the good foot,” the actor says.
It also didn’t hurt that one of the film’s producers happened to be among a handful of people on earth who has had as long and storied a performing career as James Brown.
“I would say that Mick Jagger sort of produced the philosophy behind how to approach the performances,” says Mr. Boseman. “He was adamant about the amount of intensity that James Brown brought to a performance and [Mr. Jagger] always tried to match himself. He drove that point home.”
The two also discussed what Mr. Boseman calls Brown’s “good face,” which his audience saw, and the “bad face” that the famously strict to the point of abusive band leader turned on his backing musicians.
Mr. Jagger says “We talked about how there are two people you’re playing really—James Brown the person and there is James Brown the performer. They’re not the same James Brown.”
(click here to continue reading James Brown and the Making of ‘Get On Up’ – WSJ.)
and I happened to run across these James Brown Youtuberies yesterday, so I’m sharing them for your edification. The man could dance…
The film took a while to make…
But a primary reason the project “was pushed off year after year,” Mr. Grazer says, was pinpointed by James Brown himself. Though Brown had given his blessings to Mr. Grazer’s film he remained skeptical, telling the producer: “You’ll never find somebody to play me.”
He was right. And though Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy reportedly were considered for the role, the part had not been cast by 2006 when, following Brown’s death that year, rights to his story were returned to the Brown family estate.
For Mr. Grazer, the film was a labor of love. A self-described James Brown fanatic, he grew up in the San Fernando Valley listening to his music. “When I was in high school, I was in a car club and I just played James Brown over and over and over again on my 8-track,” he says.
“`You wanna know how hardworking I am?”” Mr. Grazer remembers Brown saying. “Then he told me a story about how once he was dancing and he stepped on a nail on stage. The nail went right through his foot, bled through his shoe and he kept on going.”
That fired Mr. Grazer’s determination to make his film.
(click here to continue reading James Brown and the Making of ‘Get On Up’ – WSJ.)
but they want the young’uns to go see it too:
With the film ready to open in theaters, the filmmakers are hoping to repeat the success of Mr. Taylor’s, “The Help,” which grossed close to $170 million domestically on a reported budget of $25 million, slightly less than “Get On Up.”
While test screenings have shown that “Get On Up” currently appeals to “a 40-plus audience,” Mr. Grazer says, “I want kids to see it.” To get them into theaters he has tapped into friends in the hip-hop community whom he met during the production of his 2002 film “8 Mile.”
“Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, ODB from the Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye, those guys worship James Brown, who really is the progenitor of hip-hop. They were all influenced by him and they all feel that some of their funk has come from James Brown. I want kids to see where the music comes from.”
To help get the word out, Mr. Grazer says he hopes to enlist his friends Jay Z and Justin Timberlake to help promote the movie.
“A lot of my friends, and Brian’s friends as well, said it was impossible to make a film about James Brown,” says Mr. Jagger.
(click here to continue reading James Brown and the Making of ‘Get On Up’ – WSJ.)
Like I said, I hope this turns out to be the biopic that The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz deserves.
In case you hadn’t heard…
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas has selected Chicago over Los Angeles and San Francisco as the future home of his collection of art and movie memorabilia, according to a spokeswoman for the museum.
The museum’s board Wednesday is expected to vote on a name change — from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — and destination.
Pending approval by the Chicago Plan Commission, Lucas’ institution would be built on what are now parking lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place and would open in 2018. Architectural renderings will be presented to city officials in early fall, according to a statement from the museum.
(click here to continue reading Chicago wins George Lucas museum – chicagotribune.com.)
Our first question about the proposal has already been answered, will there be lawsuits against this private museum being placed on the lakeshore? Yes:
Still, the museum has drawn opposition from open-space advocates, such as Friends of the Parks.
Among the 14 “basic policies” of the Lakefront Plan of Chicago, adopted by the city council in 1973, is that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.” And the Lakefront Protection Ordinance says that the plan commission’s decisions “shall be made in conformity with” those policies.
“We will do what it takes and that very well may be a lawsuit,” Friends of the Parks President Cassandra Francis said. “We are in coalition-building mode, but we are very optimistic, based on discussions, that we will have a broad group of organizations joining us” in opposing the lakefront location for the museum.
Our second question: are there public funds being used for the George Lucas Megalomania Museum? Apparently, no, at least at first:
Under Emanuel’s plan, the two Chicago Park District-owned parking lots would be leased to the museum for $1, which is similar to arrangements other large cultural institutions have with the Park District.
But unlike other museums, the Lucas museum would not receive taxpayer subsidies to cover a portion of its operations, a top mayoral aide has said.
The parking lots would be moved underground at Lucas’ expense, the city has said.
That’s positive news, and different than how the Chicago Children’s Museum fiasco played out.
I haven’t yet seen the plans, so I still wonder if the proposed museum will shrink the available green space along the lakeshore? If I’m reading the description correctly, the museum will take over 17 acres of asphalt parking, and put a 5 acre museum building and 12 acres of new green space. That sounds ok to me, but then I’m not a Chicago Bears tailgating maniac. Friends of the Park make a good point too: the land may be a parking lot now, but parking lots are easily converted to grassy knolls, much easier than removing a building once it is built.
Cassandra Francis, President of Friends of the Parks says:
Although the proposed site is now used as a parking lot, its future reversion to parkland is possible. Once a building is in place, it is forever precluded from being public open space.
For the record, I haven’t watched a Star Wars film in 25 years or more, but perhaps there will be other items of narrative film history of interest.
For many years I’ve heard many variations of the question answered here by the New York Times Ethicist columnist, Chuck Klosterman; whether moral failings or even alleged moral failings are reason enough to avoid the work of certain offending artists.
I was discussing with a friend whether it is permissible to boycott Woody Allen’s films in the wake of the sexual-abuse allegations. We both thought it would be wrong to further empower someone who may have sexually abused a child. But our legal system is built on the principle that the accused are innocent until proved guilty, and preserving that value is important whether or not you believe the allegations. Is it permissible in this case to boycott, or should we presume innocence? J.K., NEW YORK
When news of Dylan Farrow’s accusation against Allen resurfaced earlier this year, I received many emails that were all different versions of the same question: “Is it acceptable to continue watching (and re-watching) Allen’s films if any part of me believes he may have molested his adopted daughter?” Your query is both similar and different; you’re wondering if it’s O.K. to stop watching his movies, even if he has been convicted of absolutely nothing and insists that he’s innocent.
My answer to both questions is yes.
There are many who find themselves wondering if they can still love “Manhattan” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors” if the allegations against Allen are true. It’s highly unlikely, however, that those same people would wonder if they needed to move out of a house if they discovered the carpenter who built it had been accused of the same offense. This is because of art’s exceptionalism — we view artistic endeavors as different from other works. But it’s this same exceptionalism that allows a person to consume art by people they see (rightly or wrongly) as monstrous: What you know about an artist can inform the experience you have with whatever they create. A film is not just a product that has one utility; it’s a collection of ideas that can be weighed and considered in concert with one another.
Watching a movie is not a tacit endorsement of the person who made it.
(click here to continue reading On Boycotting Woody Allen’s Films – NYTimes.com.)
Can you separate the artist as an individual from their work? I settled this question long ago, for myself, by agreeing to let myself read and enjoy poetry written by Ezra Pound. Ezra Pound seems like he was a virulent anti-semite, a Nazi-sympathizer, and so on, and yet his poetry is intriguing. Roman Polanski admitted having drugged and screwed a 13 year old girl, and yet “Chinatown” is still a great film, as is “Knife in the Water”. John Lennon might have hit Yoko Ono a few times, does that mean I can never listen to “Working Class Hero” again? What about David Bowie’s Third Reich fixation during the time of the recording of some of his best albums? The list goes on and on: artists who were assholes, thugs, sexual deviants, or even worse, Scientologists! Does it matter if Henry Ford was a Nazi-sympathizer? Would you still drive a Ford car? Like Mr. Klosterman says, would you boycott your house if you discovered one of the carpenters who worked on your kitchen did some vile thing ten years ago? Where does it stop?
It’s a variant of the old cliché: Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner, in this case, Hate the Artist, Love the Art. Or not, it’s your own choice, and your choice alone to make.
Not only a quick, shallow review, but also will probably be disjointed since I watched this film on my iPad while on my treadmill, over a period of 3 days. Anyway, how did this film get such good press? Full of gangster clichés, Chicago tropes, and populated by Kevin Costner’s usual Bloomingdale’s store mannequin style of acting. There are an insane amount of continuity, factual and editing problems, enough to start me laughing eventually. Even the famous scene, so beloved by News America’s thuggish CEO, Paul Carlucci, doesn’t get explained – if you didn’t know before hand what was going on, you were not informed. Why does De Niro’s Al Capone suddenly start beating his own guy with a baseball bat? Doesn’t seem to be very emblematic of teamwork to me. Were there a couple pages of script that got cut out?
I watched the entire movie, so it wasn’t horrible, but it boggles my mind that The Untouchables allegedly propelled Kevin Costner to film star status.
My Netflix rating: two stars out of five.
As an aside, has Kevin Costner ever been in a good film, a movie where his acting was the essential ingredient? I can’t say I’ve seen one, but then I haven’t ever sat through either of his big films: The Bodygaurd, nor Waterworld. I did watch about 15 minutes of The Bodyguard once on television, but decided I needed to trim my toenails instead of wasting more time with that dreck. Waterworld might be more fun to watch, albeit not in the way Costner intended. Waterworld was famous for a minute for being an expensive flop, full of closeups of Costner’s face, but empty of plot.
Speaking of Waterworld, some fun gossip collected by IMDb…
- It is rumored that director Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner had a huge squabble over the film, resulting in Reynolds walking off the project and left Costner to finish it. Reynolds was quoted as saying that “Kevin should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and favorite director”.
- The script underwent 36 different drafts which involved six different writers.
- Joss Whedon flew out to the set to do last minute rewrites on the script. He later described it as “seven weeks of hell”.
- The 1,000 ton floating set did not have any restrooms, nor were there any on any of the 30 boats used by the cast and crew. The result was that filming had to halt so those in need could be ferried to a barge anchored near the shore which had several portable toilets on it.
- Widely considered to be one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Although it grossed $255 million from a $175 million production budget, this does not factor in marketing and distribution costs, or the percentage of the gross that theaters keep (which is up to 45% of a film’s box office takings). The film came to be nicknamed “Kevin’s Gate” after Heaven’s Gate (1980) and “Fishtar”, after Ishtar (1987), two previous mega bombs.
Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers in Baby Face
For your next holiday viewing party, a list of ten great films that Barbara Stanwyck shone in…
The qualities that made her great, that made her, as the film critic Nell Minow says, the most eternally modern of Golden Age actresses, were evident from the beginning. Stanwyck believed in being as natural on screen as the Hollywood glamour machine allowed, and it extended to her appearance: as Wilson makes clear, the actress was not vain. She described herself as just “average nice-looking”—no Greta Garbo or Carole Lombard or Hedy Lamar—and felt it was “a good thing” that she could “crack through with honesty.” She excelled at playing women with their own best interests in mind, tough women with hard shells, but she was also gifted at playing on the edge, where anger and defensiveness part to reveal a glinting vulnerability.
Stanwyck was one of Hollywood’s hard-working pros—a trouper who always knew her own lines, and often everybody else’s as well, was always on time, who learned the names of all the crew. She probably wouldn’t have appreciated a lot of psychologizing about her work, but it seems clear that she drew on her own rough upbringing to play many of her finest roles. Born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907, she was four when her pregnant mother was killed by a drunk who pushed her off a streetcar. Her bricklayer father soon ran off to Panama, abandoning the family. Young Ruby was raised by a shifting cast of relatives, and supported herself from the age of fourteen as a switchboard operator, a pattern cutter, and a chorus girl. “I’ve known women who plodded through life,” Wilson quotes her saying, “but the women I knew did their plodding on the pavement, not the soil. I know very little about the simple life. I’m a product of crowded places and jammed-up emotions, where right and wrong weren’t always clearly defined and life wasn’t always sweet, but it was life.” That life, with all its ambiguity, is what you always see in a Stanwyck performance, flickering across her uncommonly intelligent face like light dancing on water.
“Steel-True” has inspired several Stanwyck retrospectives, including one at Film Forum, in New York, playing through December 31st. It inspired me to make a list of my favorite Stanwyck performances, all of them available on DVD. Here they are, in chronological order:
(click here to continue reading Barbara Stanwyck’s Best : The New Yorker.)
Click through the link to read thumbnails about each of the ten.
and have yet to see: The Miracle Women; Ladies They Talk About; and All I Desire.
Of the films I’ve seen, Double Indemnity is my favorite, I’ve seen it multiple times, but all are worth watching methinks. The links go to Netflix, if available. I was unable to find There’s Always Tomorrow, except at Amazon as part of a collection including All I Desire, and contrary to Ms. Talbot’s assertion that all of these are available on DVD, I could not find several films. Perhaps there are other sources.
Baby Face – Directed by Alfred E. Green
Sam McPheeters writes a paean to a favorite film of mine, Repo Man. Repo Man has been out of print recently, but now The Criterion Collection has rescued it, and restored it as well. I’m really tempted to get a copy. For many years, the phrase “Let’s get sushi… and not pay!” has been an oft repeated phrase in my monologues.1 Also, “I don’t want no Commies in my car!… No Christians, either!” in my best Harry Dean Stanton Old West voice…
Repo Man, released in early 1984, was the first feature film by a twenty- nine-year-old British UCLA film school graduate named Alex Cox. Even now, the film’s existence seems implausible. It is an apocalypse tale with no doomsday, a punk movie with no concert, a science fiction story with less than ten seconds of aliens. Most of its now classic music was on the far, far edge of American society in 1984. It mines a world of drugs, crime, and capitalist peril for absurdist yuks (when Cox showed the film to his contacts in the real world of Los Angeles auto repossession, they found it to be a diluted version of their much more terrifying jobs). The project, originally envisioned at one-tenth of its final budget, was picked up by Universal Studios. That backing launched the green director into the unfamiliar universe of teamsters and lawyers and the watchful eyes of a studio that could smoosh the project with one phone call.
Criterion Collection – Repo Man
How a major studio allowed such a vehemently odd movie to exist really is a mystery. Its outlandishness isn’t forced; it’s forceful. This is a film that expands a singular style of humor into an entire worldview, a physics as vast as the Force in Star Wars. But part of the mystery is also that Cox could gather so much talent in one place. Granted full autonomy in his casting, he somehow assembled a flawless ensemble. Emilio Estevez’s Otto is a pitch-perfect mix of blank ambition and obliviousness. Matching this is the world-weary exhaustion—dubbed “the Old West/cadaver look” by a friend of Cox’s—of Harry Dean Stanton’s Bud. Otto is a baby-faced punker initiated into a secretive trade by Bud, who listens to obsolete music, dresses square, and dreams small. Their worldviews collide in the new terrain of early eighties America, an era of subtle but rapid change from the Me Decade to the Greed Decade.
(click here to continue reading Repo Man: A Lattice of Coincidence – From the Current – The Criterion Collection.)
I know I saw the Repo Man film in the theatre, but I don’t know if it was during the first run, or after the soundtrack made a splash. In those old dusty days, before the internet, before cable television, before DVDs and streaming video services, I saw a lot of movies on opening weekend. I do remember it being a mostly empty theatre, but laughing hysterically at the cans of generic food…
Repo Man thrived largely because of its music. The soundtrack not only resurrected the theatrical run, it also stoked interest in the video release. The film had the wonderful serendipity to enter the VHS market during the golden age of video stores. In the mideighties, “cult film” was both an aesthetic and a status facilitated by scarcity. Video connoisseurs of the pre-Internet world foraged through shelves and bins, propelled by word of mouth and employee picks. Even if you managed to catch the infamously edited television version of Repo Man (with “flip you” and “melon farmer” dubbed over saltier insults), you would have had to own a VCR to share the experience with friends. The film bloomed as a phenomenon not just because it had to be sought out but because it delivered on expectations when finally found.
Musically as well, it’s hard to think of another nondocumentary film with the preposterously marvelous timing of Repo Man—Cox had the most vibrant and diverse punk scene in America to work with. And certainly no other film used such good fortune to such novel effect. Consider the cameo by the Circle Jerks. That scene shows one of the mightiest lineups in the first wave of American hardcore—Keith Morris, Greg Hetson, Earl Liberty of Saccharine Trust, and the celebrated drummer Chuck Biscuits—in that incarnation of the band’s only recorded performance, as a drum-machine-backed lounge act.
If you haven’t seen the film in a while, or ever, give it a spin…Footnotes:
- conversations, dialogues, whatever [↩]
John Belushi – source unknown
In the course of writing a new biography of John Belushi, Tanner Colby went page by page through Bob Woodward’s book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi to check facts, and, and found reality much different than what Woodward had written. A fascinating subject, in fact. Woodward’s reputation continues to swirl downward…
What started as a fun project turned out to be a rather fascinating and unique experiment. Over the course of a year, page by page, source by source, I re-reported and rewrote one of Bob Woodward’s books.…
Wired is an infuriating piece of work. There’s a reason Woodward’s critics consistently come off as hysterical ninnies: He doesn’t make Jonah Lehrer–level mistakes. There’s never a smoking gun like an outright falsehood or a brazen ethical breach. And yet, in the final product, a lot of what Woodward writes comes off as being not quite right—some of it to the point where it can feel quite wrong. There’s no question that he frequently ferrets out information that other reporters don’t. But getting the scoop is only part of the equation. Once you have the facts, you have to present those facts in context and in proportion to other facts in order to accurately reflect reality. It’s here that Woodward fails.
Over and over during the course of my reporting I’d hear a story that conflicted with Woodward’s account in Wired. I’d say, “Aha! I’ve got him!” I’d run back to Woodward’s index, look up the offending passage, and realize that, well, no, he’d put down the mechanics of the story more or less as they’d happened. But he’d so mangled the meaning and the context that his version had nothing to do with what I concluded had actually transpired. Take the filming of the famous cafeteria scene from Animal House, which Belushi totally improvised on set with no rehearsal. What you see in the film is the first and last time he ever performed that scene.
Here’s the story as recounted by Belushi’s co-star James Widdoes:
One of the things that was so spectacular to watch during the filming was the incredible connection that [Belushi] and Landis had. During the scene on the cafeteria line, Landis was talking to Belushi all the way through it, and Belushi was just taking it one step further. What started out as Landis saying, “Okay, now grab the sandwich,” became, in John’s hands, taking the sandwich, squeezing and bending it until it popped out of the cellophane, sucking it into his mouth, and then putting half the sandwich back. He would just go a little further each time.
Co-star Tim Matheson remembered that John “did the entire cafeteria line scene in one take. I just stood by the camera, mesmerized.” Other witnesses agree. Every person who recounted that incident to me used it as an example of Belushi’s virtuoso talent and his great relationship with his director. Landis could whisper suggestions to Belushi on the fly, and he’d spin it into comedy gold.
Now here it is as Woodward presents it:
Landis quickly discovered that John could be lazy and undisciplined. They were rehearsing a cafeteria scene, a perfect vehicle to set up Bluto’s insatiable cravings. Landis wanted John to walk down the cafeteria line and load his tray until it was a physical burden. As the camera started, Landis stood to one side shouting: “Take that! Put that in your pocket! Pile that on the tray! Eat that now, right there!” John followed each order, loading his pockets and tray, stuffing his mouth with a plate of Jello in one motion.
First off, Woodward wrongly calls the cafeteria scene a rehearsal, when half the point of the story is that Belushi pulled it off without ever rehearsing it once. Also, there’s actually nothing in the anecdote to indicate laziness or lack of discipline on Belushi’s part, yet Woodward chooses to establish the scene using those words. The implication is that Belushi was so unfocused and unprepared that he couldn’t make it through the scene without the director beside him telling him what to do, which is not what took place. When I interviewed him, Landis disputed that he ever referred to Belushi as lazy or undisciplined. “The greatest crime of that book,” Landis says of Wired, “is that if you read it and you’d just assume that John was a pig and an asshole, and he was anything but. He could be abrupt and unpleasant, but most of the time he was totally charming and people adored him.”
(click here to continue reading Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling: What Woodward’s John Belushi book can tell us about the sequester scandal. – Slate Magazine.)
You should read the rest…
Ok, one more excerpt:
John Belushi was a recreational drug user for roughly one-third of his 33 years, and he was a hard-core addict for the last five or six, from which you can subtract one solid year of sobriety. Yet in Wired, which has 403 pages of narrative text, the total number of pages that make some reference to drugs is something like 295, or nearly 75 percent. Belushi’s drug use is surely a key part of his life—drugs are what ended it, after all—but shouldn’t a writer also be interested in what led his subject to this substance abuse in the first place? If you want to know why someone was a cocaine addict for the last six years of his life, the answer is probably hiding somewhere in the first 27 years. But Woodward chooses to largely ignore that period, and in doing so he again misses the point. In terms of illuminating its subject, Wired is about as useful as a biography of Buddy Holly that only covers time he spent on airplanes.
Of all the people I interviewed, SNL writer and current Sen. Al Franken, referencing his late comedy partner Tom Davis, offered the most apt description of Woodward’s one-sided approach to the drug use in Belushi’s story:
“Tom Davis said the best thing about Wired,” Franken told me. “He said it’s as if someone wrote a book about your college years and called it Puked. And all it was about was who puked, when they puked, what they ate before they puked and what they puked up. No one read Dostoevsky, no one studied math, no one fell in love, and nothing happened but people puking.”
Mary Kaye Schilling of New York Magazine has a quite interesting interview with Steven Soderbergh, who is about to quit making films to paint. I’ve long been an admirer of Soderbergh, probably since his first film came out when I was taking film classes at UT1 I don’t love every film Soderbergh has made, but he often does interesting stuff.
A few excerpts, in case you are too lazy to click the link. For instance:
MKS: You’ve talked in the past about obsessively viewing films for inspiration—like The Battle of Algiers and Z for Traffic. What did you watch for Magic Mike?
SS: Saturday Night Fever was our model. It’s one of those movies people remember differently than what was actually true. Going back, we were startled by how dark it gets. This girl is being raped in the back seat of the car, and Travolta doesn’t really do anything, he just drives around. He does things that you probably wouldn’t want your protagonist doing today.
MKS: But you’ve shown an incredible ability for getting films made, particularly the mid-level, character-driven, superhero-and-vampire-free films that conventional wisdom says don’t get made anymore—from the esoteric sci-fi film Solaris to, yes, even a somber, black-and-white movie about post–World War II Germany. How do you account for that?
SS: On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
SS: Music has become another of the most abused aspects of filmmaking. I’m mystified by the direction scores have taken in the last ten years. It’s wall-to-wall—it’s the movie equivalent of the vuvuzelas from the last World Cup! I don’t understand it at all. For me, it’s ideal when you can get the music to do something that everything else isn’t doing.
MKS: I’ve always appreciated how you don’t use the soundtrack to telegraph emotions; your scores are remarkably subtle. The Informant! was one of the few times you used music conspicuously, but it really worked for that film.
SS: A lot of people had mixed feelings about that score. Look, it was a very specific choice in the sense that—what I said to [composer] Marvin Hamlisch was, this music is not for the audience. This music is for him [Matt Damon’s character], it’s his soundtrack. For the movie, it worked. But that’s not typically what you’re doing with a score. I think that’s why people reacted ambivalently.
I was saddened to hear that the Confederacy of Dunces script is dead, again:
MKS: Are there many films you wanted to make that didn’t happen?
SS: Less than a handful. There are tons of excuses you can make for something not happening. It’s a very imperfect process, getting a movie made. And I’m one of those people who just ignores that stuff. The film doesn’t have to be perfect. The deal doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ll reverse engineer into whatever box we have so that we can do it and do do it—less money, less time, whatever. I’m looking for reasons to say yes. But, sometimes, nothing works.
MKS: Like Confederacy of Dunces. Whatever happened to that?
SS: I ended up walking away. We had this lawsuit over the rights [against Scott Rudin and Paramount pictures in 1998], and we got the project back, and at that point—it was a good lesson to learn, actually, because I realized once we got it back that my enthusiasm had been beaten out of me. Now it was an obligation, as opposed to something that I wanted to do. I don’t know what’s happening with it. I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it.
Ok, one last bit relevant to this blog’s interests:
MKS: That’s a 180-degree turn from fifteen years ago, when you called the film business the silliest in the world.
SS: After making a lot more films, I realized that the movie and TV business is, for all its inefficiencies, one of the best-run big businesses we have. It’s very transparent, financially, and the only business I know of that successfully employs trickle-down economics: When movies and shows make money, the profits go right back into making more movies and shows, because the stock price is all about market share. And these people excel at problem-solving—that’s 99 percent of the job. I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. The very idea that someone from Congress can’t take something from the other side because they’ll be punished by their own party? That’s stupid. If I were running for office, I would be poaching ideas from everywhere. That’s how art works. You steal from everything. I must remember to tweet that I’m in fact not running for office.
(click here to continue reading In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh — Vulture.)Footnotes:
- yes, as we all know by now, I joke I am a film school drop-out, but it is true as well [↩]