B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Film news from all over

In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh

without comments

Passing Strangers
Passing Strangers

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.)

  1. yes, as we all know by now, I joke I am a film school drop-out, but it is true as well []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 28th, 2013 at 7:14 am

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Tom Waits – Hell Broke Luce

without comments

 A surreal yet intriguing music video of the Tom Waits song, Hell Broke Luce, from his 2011 album, Bad as Me.1

Directed and photographed by Matt Mahurin, and only recently released, as far as I can tell…  ((as of right now, only 307 views, despite being linked from TomWaits.com ))

  1. Wikipedia []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 7th, 2012 at 11:44 am

Posted in Film,Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Francis Ford Coppola: Artists Might Not Get Paid In the Future

without comments

DaVinci Wine (or Whine, depending)
DaVinci Wine

Francis Ford Coppola is simply repeating what he has said before, Francis Ford Coppola Sees the Future For Artists, and Francis Ford Coppola Finances His Movie With Wine because it seems like the truth. Mick Jagger and David Bryne concur, btw: Mick Jagger and Internet Piracy and Death of the Music Industry, Rolling Stones Edition

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce? We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

(click here to continue reading Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration :: Articles :: The 99 Percent.)


Written by Seth Anderson

April 4th, 2012 at 9:31 am

Posted in Arts,Business,Film,Music

Tagged with ,

The story behind The Wizard of Oz

without comments

Not Ray Bolger
Not Ray Bolger

The head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, famously had great doubts about The Wizard of Oz.

“Be smart but never show it,” is one of Mayer’s more famous sayings, but the man who built MGM into a powerhouse occasionally found himself tripping over bad instincts (not to mention a lacerating tongue; displeased with the posture of a then 16-year-old Judy Garland, he took to calling her “my little hunchback”). And he was adamant —adamant — about his distaste for “Over the Rainbow.” Here’s Troy’s breakdown of the dispute: “Mayer thought it slowed the movie down. That it was too serious a song — too long a song.”

You can see Mayer’s point. Who starts a movie with a momentum-killing ballad? … Nevertheless, Mayer wanted the ballad gone, and here’s what Troy unearthed during his research: “They kept taking it out and putting it back in, and after the third time they cut it from a test screening (producer) Arthur Freed finally said, ‘What exactly is your problem with this?’ So he listens to all the reasons, and then his response is: ‘”Rainbow” stays, or I go.'”

Bold words. But at the time, Freed was producing yet another Garland musical for Mayer (“Babes in Arms” with Mickey Rooney) that was midway through filming. “Freed realized he had some leverage, and if not for ‘”Rainbow” stays, or I go,’ that song would never have been in the movie.”

“The Wizard of Oz” would go on to win two Academy Awards, including best song for “Over the Rainbow” (Mayer really ate crow on that one, didn’t he?), and yet everything about the film’s gestation suggested disaster. As many as 14 writers were assigned to work on the script, with just as many drafts floating around. (The final version was cobbled together by the film’s lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, who essentially cut-and-pasted bits from each draft.)

Five directors were assigned to the film, although only three actually directed scenes. Richard Thorpe was on the film for barely two weeks before producers, unhappy with his work, switched him out in favor of Victor Fleming, who is the credited director on the picture and was responsible for all the scenes that take place in Oz.

But then Fleming, too, was reassigned to another movie. “He would have finished the picture,” said Troy, “except that Clark Gable, who was a good buddy of Victor Fleming’s, had just started on ‘Gone with the Wind’ and was very uncomfortable being directed by George Cukor, who was known as a women’s director.” Apparently afraid he would contract a case of cooties, “Gable demanded that Fleming be brought in to direct ‘Gone with the Wind,’ so suddenly Victor Fleming was yanked off ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with just a few weeks left to go, which left a vacuum with the Kansas scenes.” The producers brought in King Vidor, who made his name in silent films, to shoot the black-and-white portions that bracket the film.

(click here to continue reading The story behind The Wizard of Oz – chicagotribune.com.)

Dorothy and Toto2
Dorothy and Toto

Coincidentally, we recently watched the film for the first time in years and years, and of course were captivated. The edition of The Wizard of Oz I have has a second disc full of documentary pieces which were mostly fascinating, including a bit of the jitterbugging footage mentioned by Nina Metz.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 4th, 2012 at 9:21 am

Posted in Film

Tagged with

A Sad Look at Crowd-Sourced Film Sites

without comments

9 great movies
9 great movies

Wikipedia isn’t the only crowd-sourced site with problems – IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have inherent problems too, as discussed by Christopher Campbell…

The issue first came to my attention via Michael Parfit, one of the directors of The Whale, a terrific yet under-seen 2011 documentary that I had expected to appeal to a wider audience (albeit for some of the wrong reasons), especially since it was produced by Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds, who also narrates. “IMDb is a very important site for us,” Parfit tells me via email, “perhaps more than for a major studio film. We often work with people in the industry who are only vaguely aware of our film. The first place they go is to IMDb to get more info. But when you go on IMDb or IMDbPro and look up The Whale, the information you get is, to say the least, misleading.”

Some of his complaints have to do with seemingly nit-picky data that most of us don’t think much about but which is actually a big concern for those on the inside. For example, one of The Whale’s distributors is listed as a production company, which would seem like an easy fix. But often such errors aren’t even noticed immediately, and when they are caught they’re still not quickly amended (the film’s “company credits” info remains incorrect).

“Repairs and additions have always taken so long that they’re almost useless when they are finally done,” Parfit says. “When the news of Ryan Reynolds’ involvement in the film came out, and was widely covered, we tried to get his name in the database as the film’s narrator for months — months! — before it appeared. At the time we were seeking investors. What must they have thought when they looked on IMDb and did not see the celebrity name we had told them was part of the film? They would not have thought that the highly-trusted IMDb was wrong.”

(click here to continue reading Are IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes Still Our Best Reference Tools? A Sad Look at Crowd-Sourced Film Sites | Movie News | Movies.com.)


Written by Seth Anderson

February 25th, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Film

Tagged with

Netflix Hates Its Own DVD business

with 2 comments

Netflix Has Lost Its Way

I don’t understand this corporate logic:

Netflix has given up all hope that there’s a future in DVDs.

…On an earnings conference call with analysts Wednesday, Hastings said Netflix now has no plans to spend any marketing dollars on its DVD-by-mail service, which lost 2.76 million subscribers during the last three months of 2011.

“We expect DVD subscribers to decline each quarter forever,” he said.

(click here to continue reading Netflix sees DVD business withering, gives up on video games – latimes.com.)

especially when the DVD rental is the bulk of Netflix’s business, and generates most of its profits:

While the streaming business is growing (adding 220 subscribers domestically in the quarter), and the DVD business sis shrinking (it lost 2.76 million subscribers domestically), it’s margins are much worse than the legacy DVD business. The streaming business has an 11 percent profit margin, compared to a very healthy 52 percent margin for the DVD business.

Out of Netflix’s total $847 million in revenues last quarter, $476 million came from streaming and $370 million came from DVD rentals (the remainder came from international). The streaming business also twice as many subscribers: 21.7 million versus 11.2 million. But the DVD business contributed the vast majority of Netflix’s profit: $194 million versus $52 million.

If you break that down, each streaming subscriber is worth only $2.40 in profit each quarter to Netflix, compared to $17.32 for each DVD subscriber. The old business was very lucrative. The new business kind of sucks. The economics are very different. The DVD business had fixed costs, while Netflix is forced to negotiate streaming licenses on a case by case basis with each media company.

(click here to continue reading Netflix Streaming Margins Are 11 Percent, DVD Margins Are 52 Percent | TechCrunch.)

Maybe Netflix can sell its DVD business to someone who cares about it still. From my perspective as a long time Netflix subscriber (since September, 2001, actually), the streaming option is occasionally useful, but most films I want to watch are not available as a streaming option, nor are their “extras” included. Often my streamed film is fuzzy, pixelated, the sound doesn’t sync, subtitles are unreliable, or unavailable, and so on. Unfortunately, there is no other solution, or I would have dumped Netflix over the summer.

Netflix Throttling

There is also the issue with the DVD throttling practice. I returned two films at the same time; one was received by Netflix the next day, the second took an extra three days, presumedly because it was supposed to go to Bloomington, IL first. If Netflix despises its DVD rental business so much, perhaps they ought not to care enough to throttle anymore. There is no limit to the amount of streamed video one can view, why the rental restriction?

Written by Seth Anderson

January 29th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Business,Film

Tagged with

Talking Heads Chronology

without comments

Talking Heads ChronologyTalking Heads Chronology, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

Excited to watch this.

Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone
Lens: Watts
Flash: Off
Film: DreamCanvas

Chronology pulls together live performances from across Talking Heads’ career. It starts with their earliest days at CBGB and The Kitchen in New York City in the mid-seventies, through their breakthrough years in the late seventies and on to global success in the eighties. They completed their last tour in 1983 although they would continue to make very successful albums throughout the eighties before officially breaking up in 1991. The DVD concludes with their “reunion” performance of “Life During Wartime” on their induction into the Rock `n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002.This deluxe version is packaged in a hardback cover with a 48 page book containing photographs and an unexpurgated Lester Bangs essay written as a review of the “Fear Of Music” album for The Village Voice in 1979 but only ever published in a heavily edited version.

Still one of my favorite bands…

Written by swanksalot

November 29th, 2011 at 11:39 am

Posted in Film,Music,Photography

Sold A Photo for a Yo-Yo Ma Documentary

without comments

Biking to work
Biking to work

Film makers at the Kennedy Center are nearly done with a documentary about cellist and raconteur Yo-Yo Ma to be shown this December at the Kennedy Center Honors, and simultaneously broadcasted on CBS. They contacted me last week to purchase the above photo of a musician biking on Wacker Drive  1 with a cello on his back  to be shown in the film for a second or two…

Part of my payment is to receive a copy of the finished DVD, and a small honorarium. As a non-profit, they couldn’t pay my normal asking price, but we came to an agreement for One Time Use North America Standard TV Broadcast, after I wrote:

Your logic is a bit askew: the big guys like Corvis and Getty have thousands of license requests a week so can afford to have lower costs. I am self-employed, have to pay for health insurance and living expenses. $xxx is the lowest I would consider.

I am truly honored to be involved in a project like this – hope they do use the photo they paid for.  Tell me if you see it!  2

Kennedy center honors
Kennedy center honors

More about the show:

The 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors have announced this year’s honorees and as always, arts A-listers will share the evening with pop culture icons. The Dec. 4 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate singer Barbara Cook, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond and actress Meryl Streep.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be seated with the honorees during the televised ceremony, traditionally a star-laden evening of colorful speeches and performances.

“This year, the Kennedy Center celebrates its 40th anniversary by selecting five extraordinary individuals whose collective artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein.

…”Yo-Yo Ma’s sterling musicianship makes him one of the most versatile and popular classical music performers in the world and his Silk Road Project has inspired students across the world to love and honor music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ masterful improvisation and powerful presence have infused the truly American art form of jazz with passion and energy. The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep’s performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time.”


(click here to continue reading Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Cook tapped for Kennedy Center Honors – latimes.com.)

  1. maybe heading towards the Civic Opera House? []
  2. I uploaded the image, but you never know with films, it could be deleted at the last moment []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 28th, 2011 at 11:47 am

Cuba’s International Brand Havana Club Rum Co-Produces Film

without comments

Papa Dobles
Papa Dobles

One of these days, I’d like to visit Cuba.

As one of Cuba’s very, very few international brands, Pernod Ricard-owned Havana Club rum uses Cuba itself as a marketing tool. Capitalizing on Havana’s lively, sultry cultural scene, the company is co-financing a feature film called “Seven Days in Havana”1 to be screened in cinemas around the world next summer.

The film, created with M&C Saatchi, Paris, is a contemporary portrait of Cuba’s capital city, with a different director for each of the seven days. One director, for instance, is Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro.

There is contractually no product placement in “Seven Days in Havana,” although because the film was shot in Cuba, and Havana Club is one of the few alcoholic drinks brands in the country, the rum features in the finished product.

Daniel Fohr, founder and creative director at M&C Saatchi, Paris, said, “Everyone who goes to Havana is in contact with Havana Club. It is everywhere in Havana — people drink it in every bar and carry it on every street.”

The 100-minute film continues Havana Club’s focus on Cuban culture and creativity. Havana Club, produced at a distillery in San Jose, Cuba, has been promoted since 2006 with an ad campaign using the slogan “El Culto a la Vida” and regularly updates a website featuring contemporary Cuban artists and musicians at havana-cultura.com.

“Seven Days in Havana” is currently in post-production. Although it was filmed by seven different directors, the whole script was written by Cuban crime writer Leonardo Padura.

Wild Bunch International has secured distribution in more than 20 markets, including Japan, France, Italy, Germany and Canada. Havana Club is planning a program of marketing activities around the launch of the film in every country, except the U.S.

(click here to continue reading Cuba’s International Brand Havana Club Rum Co-Produces Film | Global News – Advertising Age.)


  1. 7 días en La Habana []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 8th, 2011 at 6:49 am

Posted in Film,Food and Drink

Tagged with

A Walk Through H

without comments

hotpocket plats
hotpocket plats

A Walk Through H is a film I saw years ago  1, and haven’t seen again, but still remember vividly, at least on an emotional level. A powerful film in other words. See it if you can. Looks like it is available via Netflix, I’ve just added it to my queue.

A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist was the culmination of Peter Greenaway’s 1970s short-form work. It is a 40-minute abstracted journey film, told almost entirely through the use of a series of 92 “maps,” a set of drawings and patterns gathered together in a museum by the mysterious Tulse Luper, a character who has wandered through many of Greenaway’s films. The narrator (Colin Cantlie) drolly describes each map in turn, recounting a journey through “H,” though the meaning of this journey or what “H” stands for is never explained outright. Instead, as Greenaway’s camera pans across the surface of each drawing, following the maze-like paths that lead from one map to the next, the narrator describes how he came to possess each of these maps, and what his journey is like. Greenaway occasionally intercuts images of birds and sunsets, the only figurative images in the film with the exception of the bookend sequences in the museum where all these maps are framed and displayed. Otherwise, the film is “set” entirely in the world of “H,” which is represented only by Tulse Luper’s maps, an elaborate guide through a mystery region, with a mysterious purpose as the goal.

This film is a culmination of Greenaway’s tendency towards lists and repetitions, a motif that would soon be elaborated on even further in the three-hour epic of The Falls. Here, Greenaway’s deadpan wit is comparatively concise, and about as mordantly funny as he’d ever be. The narrator is entirely straight-faced, but his bizarre, offhand descriptions of people and places and incidents — all of it tossed off with a tone that suggests he expects his audience to know exactly who and what he’s talking about — are often hilarious non sequiturs. Some of these characters and ideas would later show up in Greenaway’s feature films, and it’s not surprising: A Walk Through H suggests a thriving, fully populated world beyond its narrowly defined borders, with a great deal of intrigue and activity leading up to the gathering of these maps. The entire journey is driven as well by the propulsive, looping score of Michael Nyman, a chiming, hypnotic piece of music that accelerates to a frenzied crescendo for the breathless conclusion, in which an ornithologist is (possibly?) reincarnated at the journey’s end. This is a strange and unforgettable film, an imaginative mental odyssey, a map leading into the creative jumble of Greenaway’s fertile mind.

(click here to continue reading Only the Cinema: Films I Love #32: A Walk Through H (Peter Greenaway, 1978).)


  1. while a student at University of Texas, basically on a lark, on one of those nights with nothing going on []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 25th, 2011 at 9:14 am

Posted in Film,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

The Year Punk Broke Finally Coming to DVD

without comments

I did not own The Year Punk Broke on VHS, but I did see it, and would like to see the film again.

If you were one of those kids who grew up on alternative rock in the 1990s, there’s a very good chance you owned a VHS copy of 1991: The Year Punk Broke, a documentary about Sonic Youth touring Europe back in the days right before alternative rock became the sort of thing your parents asked you about at the dinner table. Nirvana, Sonic Youth’s openers on that tour, were all over the movie, and it also featured footage of Dinosaur Jr., the Ramones, Babes in Toyland, and Gumball. Now, Slicing Up Eyeballs reoprts that the film is finally coming to DVD.

According to director Dave Markey, Universal Music is planning an extended 20th anniversary edition of the movie later this year. It will include a 42-minute film called “(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale”, which contains bonus performances from Sonic Youth (“Inhuman”, “White Kross”, “Orange Rolls/Angel’s Spit”, and “Eric’s Trip”) and Nirvana (“In Bloom”). Watch clips from “(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale” here. The DVD will also contain footage of a 2003 panel discussion with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and Markey, as well as more performance material and commentary from Markey and Moore.

(click here to continue reading Pitchfork: Sonic Youth/Nirvana Tour Documentary Film 1991: The Year Punk Broke Finally Coming to DVD.)


Written by Seth Anderson

April 19th, 2011 at 8:17 am

Posted in Film,Music

Tagged with

Prime Suspect Remake

without comments

I agree completely with Matt Zoller Seitz:

“Prime Suspect” wasn’t burdened by such pressures. It wasn’t an American-style network TV show; it was a series of movies, or miniseries, or movie-miniseries. (That I’m having trouble just labeling it says a lot.) Created and overseen by Lynda LaPlante, it debuted in 1991 with a 200-minute, two-part drama. The next 200-minute two-parter aired 17 months later, in December 1992. Another aired in December 1993.  The fourth “Prime Suspect” departed from the template, offering three self-contained 100-minute stories that aired three weeks apart. The final three installments returned to the 200-minute, two-part model, airing in 1996, 2003 and 2006. It is hard to imagine any broadcast network indulging that kind of “whatever works” production schedule — and that’s the first warning sign that this project has an excellent chance of being flat-out bad, or else competent but compromised, like ABC’s short-lived American version of the ITV series “Cracker.”

If an Americanized “Prime Suspect” ends up on the NBC grid, it will likely debut at midseason with a six-episode limited run. If it gets picked up, its producers will have to make 22 episodes a year, each running about 42 minutes. The drama will be stuffed into ad-friendly five- to seven-minute chunks like Spam packed in cans. And although there might be some content that’s considered “edgy” by network standards, I doubt we’ll see anything like the opening act of “Prime Suspect 1,” which showed a group of male cops and a male coroner examining the naked, pasty, hideously hacked-up corpse of a female rape-and-murder victim. Far from being gratuitous, the scene was integral to the program’s unflinching attitude toward the vilest human behavior. It looked at savagery through a cop’s eyes. And the sexualized brutality showcased in that first scene connected to the professional and personal struggle of DCI Tennison, a great detective whose male colleagues treated her as, at best, a female interloper, at worst a piece of meat.

An NBC version of “Prime Suspect” can’t match the first 20 minutes of the first British show, or spend 200 minutes (five regular-length American broadcast TV episodes!) on a story as racially and sexually charged as the one that drove “Prime Suspect 2,” or attempt a muckraking urban epic along the lines of “Prime Suspect 3,” which dealt bluntly with prostitution, child pornography and the death of a “rent boy” without seeming exploitative. Nearly 20 years after the debut of “NYPD Blue,” NBC and its broadcast brethren still aren’t tough enough or wise enough to handle that sort of thing. Commercial cable is only slightly better-equipped. There’s violence galore on FX and AMC and other commercial cable channels, but it’s mostly stylized genre violence (action thriller mayhem, sci-fi gore). They’re still oddly shy about sex, shooting around naughty bits when they show the act at all. And they won’t let characters say “fuck”; when John Slattery’s character said it on “Mad Men” — a series aimed squarely at adults — AMC bleeped him. (And since I mentioned “Cracker,” let’s note that on the original British series, Robbie Coltrane’s Fitz was a chain smoker. ABC didn’t want to air a show with a hero who smoked, so on the U.S. remake starring the late Robert Pastorelli, the hero was an ex-smoker who kept a cigarette tucked behind one ear.)

More important, American TV is averse to letting race, class, politics and other touchy elements drive stories because it might make viewers and sponsors skittish. That’s why the American crime show’s favorite bad guy is the serial killer, a mythologically exaggerated monster whose existence lets filmmakers titillate and terrify while declining to engage with society at large.

Jane Tennison never dealt with effete, wisecracking, Hannibal Lecter-type bogeymen. She lived in reality. Over 15 years,”Prime Suspect” dealt frankly with sex, sexism, race, class and the intrusion of politics into police work. It did so subtly, prizing plausibility and never delivering a jolt without reason. And it treated time as an ally instead of an enemy. One of the pleasures of “Prime Suspect” was the opportunity to re-engage with it after a long break and discover that Tennison had risen in rank or settled into a new job or a new relationship. The gaps between installments enhanced the sense that you were seeing excerpts from a life in progress.

You can’t do any of that on NBC. You can’t re-create or even approximate “Prime Suspect” in a commercial broadcast network series that airs 22 episodes a year. The material can’t breathe in the same way. And forget about being unflinching. What passes for unflinching on NBC is “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” an entertaining but mostly absurd procedural that bears about as much qualitative relation to “Prime Suspect” as “Training Day” does to “Serpico.” And don’t even get me started on TNT’s “The Closer,” a fitfully entertaining series that has wrongheadedly been described as an American answer to “Prime Suspect,” presumably because its main character is a strong-willed female detective. (It’s not a subtle psychological drama, it’s a suck-up-to-the-star spectacle about a mercurial Southern belle following her muse and dazzling the nonbelievers. “Prime Suspect” writes in plain script, “The Closer” in big block letters.) Not many American cop shows, broadcast or cable, have engaged with reality as directly as “Prime Suspect” — and the best of those were produced not in Hollywood, but in Baltimore:  “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “The Corner,” and “The Wire.”

(click here to continue reading The problem with American remakes of British shows – Prime Suspect – Salon.com.)

Coincidentally, Netflixed the entire 7 seasons of Prime Suspect recently, and enjoyed them immensely. I doubt very seriously it will translate into American-style television drama. Maybe if it was on HBO, maybe, but certainly not on NBC. The remake may turn out to be ok, but it will not be anything like the Helen Mirren classic, which you should watch if you haven’t. Or re-watch if it has been a while…

Helen Mirren’s Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, the only female DCI on an old boy’s club London homicide squad, is like a phantom lurking around the edges of the action while the men rush through their latest murder case, joshing and winking in the kind of male camaraderie the cop genre has celebrated for decades. When DCI Shefford dies of a sudden heart attack, Tennison demands to take over. Despite her superintendent’s resistance (“Give her this case and she’ll start expecting more.”), she becomes the squad’s first woman to head a murder investigation. Scrutinized at every moment by her superior officers, Tennison is faced with a case that spirals out from a single murder to a serial spree, a second-in-command who undermines her authority and her investigation at every turn, a team resistant to taking orders from a woman, and a private life unraveling due to her professional diligence. Lynda La Plant’s script is a compelling thriller riddled with ambiguity that turns dead ends, blind alleys, and the mundane legwork of real-life cops into fascinating details. Mirren commands the role of Tennison with authority, intelligence, and a touch of overachieving desperation. Superb performances, excellent writing, and understated direction make this BBC miniseries one of the most involving mysteries in years. Look for future British stars Ralph Fiennes and Tom Wilkinson in supporting roles.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Arts,Film,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Netflixed: Roman Polanski- Wanted and Desired

without comments

Didn’t quite know what to expect from this documentary, though I was aware of the broad details of Polanski’s eventful life – Sharon Tate’s husband when she was brutalized by Charlie Manson, surviving concentration camps, and so on. Quite watchable, if a bit disquieting.

This penetrating documentary explores the tumultuous events of director Roman Polanski’s personal life, including the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and the controversial sex scandal that prompted him to flee the United States for France. Highlights include an interview with Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, as well as candid conversations with Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne and actress Mia Farrow.


(click here to Netflix Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)

Polanski’s sexual encounter with a 13 year old is distasteful, whether or not is was consensual; 13 year old girls might be sexually active, but adults should have enough sense to keep their pants on. However, the film makes a pretty strong case for judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

Worth a view.

Roger Ebert:

The tragic story of Roman Polanski, his life, his suffering and his crimes, has been told and retold until it assumes the status of legend. After the loss of his parents in the Holocaust, after raising himself on the streets of Nazi-controlled Poland, after moving to America to acclaim as the director of “Chinatown,” after the murder by the Manson family of his wife and unborn child … what then?

He was arrested and tried for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13- year-old girl, one of several charges including supplying her with drink and drugs. Then he fled the country to avoid a prison sentence and still remains in European exile for that reason. That is what everybody remembers, and it is all here in Marina Zenovich’s surprising documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”

But there is so much more, and the story she builds, brick by brick with eyewitness testimony, is about crimes against the justice system carried out by the judge of Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Rittenband. So corrupt was this man that the documentary finds agreement among the three people (aside from Polanski) most interested in the outcome: the defense attorney, Douglas Dalton; the assistant D.A. who prosecuted the case, Roger Gunson, and Samantha Gailey Geimer, who was the child involved.

Their testimony nails Rittenband as a shameless publicity seeker who was more concerned with his own image than arriving at justice. Who broke his word to attorneys on both sides. Who staged a fake courtroom session in which Gunson and Geimer were to go through the motions of making their arguments before the judge read an opinion he had already prepared. Who tried to stage such a “sham” (Gunson’s term) a second time. Who juggled possible sentences in discussions with outsiders, once calling a Santa Monica reporter, David L. Jonta, into his chambers to ask him, “What the hell should I do with Polanski?” Who discussed the case with the guy at the next urinal at his country club. Who held a press conference while the case was still alive. Who was removed from the case on a motion by both prosecution and defense.

(click here to continue reading Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews.)

Manohla Dargis:

The sharply argued documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” isn’t about the innocence or guilt of its title subject, who after pleading guilty in 1977 to having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a minor flew from Los Angeles to London, never again to return to America. Neither is it about Mr. Polanski’s likability, his tragic past, morals, short stature, brilliant and bad films, the sleaze factor or your personal feelings on whether there’s anything wrong with a 43-year-old man’s having sex with a 13-year-old girl. All these elements come teasingly into view here, but really this is a movie about a very different kind of perversion.

“Wanted and Desired,” which opened on Friday without advance press screenings, was bought by HBO at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its one-week theatrical run will make it eligible for Academy Award consideration, though given that organization’s often pitiful record when it comes to nonfiction film, it seems unlikely that a movie this subtly intelligent would make its short list. That’s especially true because the director, Marina Zenovich, refuses to wag her finger at Mr. Polanski, even when presenting the sordid and grimly pathetic details of his crime, like the Champagne and partial Quaalude he furnished the 13-year-old girl and her repeated nos.

Mr. Polanski’s guilt isn’t in doubt, arguments about the age of consent notwithstanding. In March 1977, he was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and charged with raping the girl at the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson, the star of his film “Chinatown.” (Mr. Nicholson was away.) He was released on $2,500 bail and eventually indicted on six felony charges, including child molestation and sodomy. In August, after agreeing to a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of illegal sex with a 13-year-old girl. Her family’s lawyer, Lawrence Silver, told the judge that his clients were not seeking a prison term for Mr. Polanski, only an admission of wrongdoing and rehabilitation. By Feb. 1, 1978, Mr. Polanski had fled.

As Ms. Zenovich forcefully explains — using talking-head interviews, a wealth of archival material and generous clips from Mr. Polanski’s films, including “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” — he had every reason to run. The story of what happened between the initial charges and his flight has been sketchily told before, including by his victim, Samantha Geimer, who in 2003 wrote a commentary for The Los Angeles Times in which she stated that she believed that he and his most recent film at the time, “The Pianist,” should be honored on their own merits. She added, “Who wouldn’t think about running when facing a 50-year sentence from a judge who was clearly more interested in his own reputation than a fair judgment or even the well-being of the victim?”

“Wanted and Desired” answers Ms. Geimer’s bombshell question with shocks of its own, notably corroborating interviews from Douglas Dalton, Mr. Polanski’s lawyer, and Roger Gunson, the assistant district attorney who led the prosecution. Together these two former opponents pin the blame for Polanski’s flight directly on the presiding judge, Laurence J. Rittenband (who stepped down in 1989 and died in 1994). Aided and abetted by an avalanche of fluidly organized visual material, the lawyers fill in the appalling details of what was effectively a second crime, one largely perpetrated by a celebrity-dazzled judge and the equally gaga news media he courted. This crime left two victims, Mr. Polanski, who was denied a fair trial, and Ms. Geimer, who was denied justice. As she wrote, “Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence.”


(click here to continue reading Movie Review – Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – The Judge, the Director and the Vagaries of Justice – NYTimes.com.)


Written by Seth Anderson

January 31st, 2011 at 10:10 am

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Netflixed: The Soul of a Man

without comments

Took me a moment to get used to Wim Wenders utilizing Chris Thomas King as a stand-in for Blind Willie Johnson, but eventually warmed to the idea of reenactment filmed in black and white stock. The film covers three of my favorite blues musicians: Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James and J.B. Lenoir, and there is some actual historically significant footage later in the movie which is worth renting just to watch this, especially if you are a J.B. Lenoir fan1.

This disc includes the film “Soul of a Man,” in which director Wim Wenders delves into his personal music collection and takes a look at the histories of some of his favorite artists — including Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J.B. Lenoir — as told through music (what else?). Footage of James, Lenoir, John Mayall and inspired covers by contemporary artists such as Eagle-Eye Cherry, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt and Lou Reed are featured.


(click Netflix Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues: A Musical Journey: Disc 2: The Soul of a Man.)

There is apparently a audio CD containing 20 songs from the movie

The DVD would have been better if the full performances were also available as an extra feature: with so many interpretations of these seminal blues songs by well-known artists, it is a shame that most clips only last a verse or less. I would have enjoyed watching the student film recording of J.B. Lenoir in their entirety as well.

Cassandra Wilson’s Vietnam Blues, Lucinda Williams’ Hard Times Killing Floor Blues, and Bonnie Raitt’s Devil Got My Woman were2 quite good, as was a trio consisting of Eagle-Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid, James “Blood” Ulmer performing a version of Down in Mississippi.

On the other hand, a few performances were cringe-worthy, including Beck’s version of I’m So Glad, and Lou Reed’s Look Down the Road. Beck released a pretty good album, One Foot in the Grave, recorded before he got famous that included a good cover of “He’s A Mighty Good Leader”, unfortunately Beck phoned in his performance on The Soul of  A Man, I couldn’t listen to even the portion excerpted.

From the Wim Wenders website:

In “The Soul of A Man,” director Wim Wenders looks at the dramatic tension in the blues between the sacred and the profane by exploring the music and lives of three of his favorite blues artists: Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir. Part history, part personal pilgrimage, the film tells the story of these lives in music through an extended fictional film sequence (recreations of ’20s and ’30s events – shot in silent-film, hand-crank style), rare archival footage, present-day documentary scenes and covers of their songs by contemporary musicians such as Shemekia Copeland, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Garland Jeffreys, Chris Thomas King, Cassandra Wilson, Nick Cave, Los Lobos, Eagle Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid, James “Blood” Ulmer, Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Marc Ribot, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Lucinda Williams and T-Bone Burnett.

Says Wenders: “These songs meant the world to me. I felt there was more truth in them than in any book I had read about America, or in any movie I had ever seen. I’ve tried to describe, more like a poem than in a ‘documentary,’ what moved me so much in their songs and voices.”

The rasping voice of Blind Willie Johnson, who earned his living on street corners and sang the title song, was sent into space on the Voyager in 1977 as part of the CD recording The Sounds of Earth, which had been placed onboard for posterity and/or examination by extra-terrestrial beings.

With the voice of Laurence Fishburne – Morpheus in the Matrix films – narrating, the film recounts the lives and times of the three using both old recordings and archive footage as well as fictional scenes and covers of their songs by contemporary musicians such as Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Beck.

Because there was no archive footage in existence of either Blind Willie Johnson or Skip James, Wenders used actors to play their roles but shot the scenes with an old 1920s black-and-white camera that lends realism, later using digital technology to fit the music to the pictures.

“I had to use old techniques but new technology,” Wenders said at Cannes. “This would have been impossible in the past.”

In the film, Wenders recounts that he first heard the name JB Lenoir when John Mayall in the late 1960s sang The death of JB Lenoir, a song that impacted a generation at the time.

“I wanted to know who this person was,” Wenders said, who crossed oceans to find information on Lenoir.

Music has long been a mother of cinematic invention in Wenders’ career. The title of his debut 1971 Summer In The City was from a hit by Lovin’ Spoonful and The Million Dollar Hotel was inspired by Bono of U2.”

(click here to continue reading The Soul of a Man/ Wim Wenders – The Official Site.)

  1. and you should be, if you aren’t []
  2. predictably []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 30th, 2011 at 11:48 am

Posted in Film,Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Netflixed: Claude Chabrol – The Color of Lies

without comments

I know I claimed I was going to be more diligent about recording what films and books I consume this year, but so far, have failed miserably. I’ve read about a half-dozen books and seen fifteen or more films in 2011, and this is the first one I’m actually posting about. Oh well.

If you’ve seen a Claude Chabrol film before, you sort of know what to expect. Low-key murder mystery, set in the French countryside, lots of lies told by the bourgeois characters, and so forth. Not one of his master works, but enjoyable enough to sit through.

A painter by trade, Rene (Jacques Gamblin) adds to his paltry salary by giving art lessons to children in his neighborhood. But when one of them turns up dead, Rene finds himself accused of a horrible crime. His wife (Sandrine Bonnaire) stands by him, but even she betrays him in a moment of weakness with a vacationing celebrity (Antoine de Caunes). Claude Chabrol directs this new wave thriller that draws the whodunit out to the very end.


(click to Netflix Claude Chabrol: The Color of Lies.)

French title: Au coeur du mensonge

From the Village voice, a more film-critic-esque description of Chabrol’s style:

In his surest Simenonian mode, Chabrol balances the hidden, the exposed, and the philosophical with little fuss, and the characters are all drawn with a scalpel— including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s masterfully idiosyncratic portrait of a meek-voiced yet fearlessly confrontational police inspector. (De Caunes’s self-pumped litterateur is a triumphant piece of social satire.) Co-written with longtime Chabrol collaborator Odile Barski, the movie is a deft genre étude and provincial interrogation of a kind Chabrol has made his own.

(click here to continue reading Crime Scene Investigations From an Aging New Waver – Page 1 – Screens – New York – Village Voice.)


Written by Seth Anderson

January 30th, 2011 at 11:19 am

Posted in Film

Tagged with ,