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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Robert Duvall: "Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that"

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• Roger Ebert / August 25, 1983

They honored Robert Duvall the other night at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto, dedicating their annual Tribute to an actor's actor who is only now entering into stardom after two decades of great character performances.

Duvall was accompanied onstage by Gene Siskel and me, on a guided tour of clips from a lot of his best movies, and when we got to one of his key scenes in "The Godfather" (1971), you could have heard a pin drop.

The scene was the famous one where Duvall, as Tom Hagen, Don Corleone's trusted family lawyer, goes to Hollywood to persuade a studio boss to give Johnny Fontane, the mob-connected singer, a starring role in a movie. "Godfather" fans will recall that the sequence ends with the boss refusing Hagen's request, and waking up the next morning in the same bed with the severed head of his beloved racehorse.

Anyway, when the scene was over, Duvall got to talking about the film's director, Francis Coppola.

"It's not widely known that when Coppola made 'The Godfather,' the studio had a substitute director standing by at all times," Duvall said. "One false move and Francis would have been replaced. That was incredible pressure for him to work under. It's a great picture, but under the circumstances it's a miracle he even finished it. As for Francis himself, he's like a kid with an all-day sucker. He wants his Hollywood studio, and a vineyard in Northern California, and an apartment in Paris. He's a great director, but he loves all his toys."

All this could be checked out, at first hand, because Coppola himself was a surprise guest, lurking in the back of the theater. Wearing a Panama hat, he marched down the aisle, took a seat on the stage and shared his notions of acting, directing, Duvall and "The Godfather."

"That was a strange scene to show," Coppola said, "because in the long shot it isn't even Bobby. We shot Bobby's scenes on the East Coast, and for the West Coast exteriors we used a double."

"You can tell," Duvall said, "because he doesn't have my bow-legs."

Coppola and Duvall began remembering moments from "The Godfather," especially an early rehearsal dinner.

"I assembled the whole cast for a dinner at Pearl's restaurant in New York," Coppola said. "There they all were -- Brando eating everything in sight, and Pacino looking tragic, and Duvall doing his Brando imitations every time Marlon turned his back. It was like the Corleone family having dinner. It was that night I knew the picture would work."

After two more clips from "Godfather, Part Two," we viewed perhaps the most famous single scene Coppola or Duvall has ever been involved with: The beach landing in "Apocalypse Now" that begins with a flight of helicopters playing Richard Wagner over loudspeakers, and ends with Duvall's famous line: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It seems like . . . victory!"

"One take," Coppola said. "We did that scene in one take, the first take."

That made it all the more extraordinary, because the scene is not only an exercise in logistics, but a demonstration of physical courage. While jets thunder overhead, helicopters make close passes and shells go off within yards of Duvall, he remains totally unaffected. He doesn't even twitch an eyelash at the special effects explosions, and marches around on the sand talking obsessively about the great surfing beach he has just occupied.

"There wasn't any time to think," Duvall said. "I heard over the intercom that we only had the use of the jets for 20 minutes. One fly-by and that was it. I just got completely into the character, and if he wouldn't flinch, I wouldn't flinch."

As Duvall reviewed his career from "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1963) to "Tender Mercies" (1983), his acting approach was clearly revealed: He believes in giving himself over to the character. He talked about spending time with homicide cops before making "The Detective" (1968), and hanging out with good ol' boys from Texas to find his character, a country singer, for "Tender Mercies."

"Not to brag, but I got calls from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson telling me I had the character just right," he said.

Robert Duvall has long been known as an accomplished actor, but the range of his acting career was dramatized by the three-hour program. The scenes ranged from "True Grit" (he faced John Wayne in that great shoot-out in the mountain meadow) to "The Chase" (Duvall and Brando) to George Lucas' "THX 1138" (Duvall as a puzzled automaton) to Robert Altman's "MASH" (Duvall's love scene with Hot Lips) to "True Confessions" (Duvall as a cop, Robert DeNiro as his brother, a priest) and "The Great Santini" (Duvall as a military pilot who demands perfection from his family).

Two things stood out as the scenes marched past; Duvall never plays the same character twice, and he makes other actors look good. He brings a quality to his listening, his reactions, that charges a scene even when he's not talking.

One of the movies shown at Toronto was unfamiliar. It was "Tomorrow," a 1972 adaptation of a William Faulkner short story. The movie was never widely released, but Duvall says his performance in it, as a poor dirt farmer that loves and loses a woman and her child, is the one he likes best. "It's got the most of me in it," he said.

And what, at mid-career, what has he learned about acting? "Give yourself completely to the moment."

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Jeff Bridges: The Starman within

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• Roger Ebert / December 16th, 1984

When director John Carpenter saw the script of "Starman" for the first time, it looked to him like a special-effects movie, and he thought that was the wrong idea. He was more interested in remaking "It Happened One Night," with an extraterrestrial man in the Claudette Colbert role.

"The screenplay described the special effects in minute detail, but they seemed to be afraid of the story," Carpenter said. "I saw it as the story of two people on the road, learning to deal with each other. They had Starman flying around like Superman. And they were utterly obsessed with how he looked. There was all this emphasis on the big transformation scene, where he turns from an alien into the clone of a human being. But how he looks while he transforms is just hardware; it has nothing to do with the story."

By the time Carpenter came aboard about a year ago, "Starman" had been in various stages of production for four years. According to Hollywood folklore, this was the movie Columbia decided to make instead of "E. T.," which went to Universal instead: Some hapless executive had decided "E. T." was only a children's picture, while "Starman," which opened here Friday, was sort of the same story for adults.

The executive might have been right about the second part of that theory. "Starman" is one of those rare science-fiction movies with genuine emotional content. By the end of the film, when a woman from Earth and a creature from space look into each other's eyes and smile, there is something of the same warmth and heart that "E. T." projected.

There is, however, one very basic difference between the two movies. The challenge in "E. T." was to make an alien seem human. The challenge in "Starman" is to make a human seem alien. When we first see the alien, it is a glowing ball of pure energy, floating out of a wrecked spacecraft somewhere in Wisconsin, and drifting into the living room of a young widow's home. The creature sees a photograph of the widow's late husband, does a quick three-dimensional scan, analyzes a lock of hair for genetic information, and generates itself into a human clone - a dead-ringer for the dead man.

In this form, which it will retain for the rest of the movie, the starman reminds the woman so sharply of her husband that she is at first terrified, then hostile, and only gradually accepting. That process of emotional accommodation could easily have seemed ridiculous, but not in "Starman," where Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges manage to create one of the year's warmest love stories in the unlikely setting of an s-f movie. (That's especially ironic for Allen, whose previous movie, the dreary "Until September," was supposed to be a genuine human romance, and failed abysmally despite Paris as a backdrop.)

"Jeff Bridges and I did a lot of talking about how the starman should look and move and behave," Carpenter said. "He looks like a human but, intelligent as he is, he's had no experience in living inside this human life form. He walks and talks strangely. His head movements are birdlike. We never wanted him to become completely human - and even at the end of the film, after he's had some practice at being a human, there's still something a little strange about him. Jeff took some real chances in playing the role. There was always the question of whether he was going too far or not far enough. A lot of actors would have been afraid of looking ridiculous, but sometimes, after we'd shot a scene, Jeff would offer to do it again, just a little more strangely."

After the starman lands in Wisconsin (his craft was shot down by the Air Force), he enlists the widow to drive him to Arizona, where he has a rendezvous with his mother ship at the Great Meteor Crater. It's at this point that movie buffs will begin to recognize aspects not only of "It Happened One Night," but also of "They Live by Night," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands" and the whole genre of road movies.

The formula remains pretty constant: Man and woman hit the road, pursued by authorities of an uncomprehending, hostile society. At first, they are suspicious of each other, but trust gradually builds into love. The moment of truth arrives in a final confrontation between the refugees and society. There are even some more-or-less obligatory scenes, including the stop at a roadside diner. (Bridges, ordering alien food in a strange land, turns this scene into a quiet extraterrestrial homage to Jack Nicholson's classic chicken-salad scene in "Five Easy Pieces.")

"The story here is a whole lot more important than the science fiction," Carpenter said. "We reduced the s-f down to almost a magical fairy tale." That would continue a tendency in his work that you could see last Christmas in "Christine," the whimsical, terrifying movie about a used car with a mind of its own.

Carpenter has worked within the thriller and supernatural genres for most of his career, but he often seems to be testing their boundaries. After his early "Assault on Precinct 13," a superior police movie shot on a midget budget, his first big hit was the classic thriller "Halloween" (1978), in which an escaped killer turned into an indestructible engine of violence. Then he made such slick thrillers as "The Fog," "Escape from New York," "The Thing" and "Christine." In all of those films, special effects had at least equal importance with character; "Starman" clearly contains Carpenter's most three-dimensional people, even if one of them is from another world. Although there's a tendency to think of the movie as a fairly small one by Carpenter's standards - after all, it's basically about two people in a car, and this is the man who used special effects to make Manhattan into a prison city of the future - Carpenter told me it was a giant logistical job.

"We had 150 people moving across the country in trucks and vans," he said. "The low point was shooting only at night for six weeks. We used 16 helicopters for the scene at the Great Meteor Crater. We used nine simultaneous camera setups for some of the explosions. We had 70 or 80 extras in some of the scenes. This picture probably could have been done on a low budget, shooting around L.A., but the story is about how Starman falls in love as much with Earth as he does with her. We wanted to show the whole sweep of the countryside. Towns, fields, rain, sunrises - a planet seen by eyes that have never seen it before."

If that was the case, then the character played by Karen Allen is a woman seen by eyes that had never seen one before. Carpenter said he saw Allen through fresh eyes himself: "From 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' I got a very definite impression that she was strong, self-willed, with a sort of cute sexuality, I was unprepared for the effect she had when I saw her in person. She is beautiful. I softened her hair from the way she looked in 'Raiders.' I gave her a curl, a permanent, to frame those beautiful eyes, and she's gorgeous in this movie."

That left the tricky problem of casting the starman. "If you used a Hollywood star, a Stallone or a Richard Gere, the audience would have hooted," Carpenter said. "Jeff Bridges is able to disappear into his roles. He's elusive. He looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. And he's not afraid to make a complete fool of himself, which is a special kind of courage for an actor."

Carpenter himself, for that matter, looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. He was wearing a VistaVision sweatshirt, slacks and a pair of sneakers, and he looked more like a scruffy film student than a Hollywood director. He recently became a father for the first time; he and his wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, have a 7-month-old son named John Cody, who was born in the middle of a tornado in Tennessee during the filming of "Starman."

"When I was going to film school," he said, "what I wanted to be was a commercial filmmaker in Hollywood - that's where I feel I can tell stories. I knew in my heart I could do anything. Musicals, gangster movies, Westerns, love stories. Having grown up on the movies, the only question was: Would they offer me those kinds of projects?"

"Starman" is Carpenter's first love story, of sorts, unless you include the rosy early days of the love affair with Christine the car. Now he's working on a project named "Chickenhawk," about helicopter pilots in Vietnam, drawing from his own experience as a licensed helicopter pilot.

That led inevitably to my next question, about the charges facing director John Landis in connection with the helicopter crash that killed three people during the shooting of "Twilight Zone." Carpenter said he didn't want to comment, apart from observing that a pilot is the unquestioned captain of his ship, with the absolute right to refuse orders he believes are unsafe. "A lot of laymen think it's safe for a helicopter to hover at low altitudes," he said. "It isn't."

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So anyway, Charles Bukowski, Errol Morris and Roger Ebert walk into this bar...

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Click to enlarge this comic strip by Nathan Gelgud. Here is a link to Roger Ebert visits the set of "Barfly." A photo of us that day in the bar at Remembering Bukowski. Thanks to Wael Khairy, my Far-Flung Correspondent in Egypt, for forwarding this.

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"Man in a Blizzard," by Jamie Stuart

This film deserves to win the Academy Award for best live-action short subject. (1) Because of its wonderful quality. (2) Because of its role as homage. It is directly inspired by Dziga Vertov's 1929 silent classic "Man With a Movie Camera." (3) Because it represents an almost unbelievable technical proficiency. It was filmed during the New York blizzard of Dec. 26, and Jamie Stuart e-mailed it to me with this time stamp: December 27, 2010 4:18:18 PM CST.

You can tell from the cinematography he knew exactly what he was doing and how to do it. He held the Vertov film in memory. Stuart must already been thinking of how he would do the edit and sound. Any professional will tell you the talent exhibited here is extraordinary.

I wrote Jamie Stuart asking how in the name of heaven he made that film. He e-mailed in return:

"The simple answer as to how it was done so quickly: practice.

"Most of the work I've done for the past half dozen years has been improvised online press-related shorts, which by nature requires a fast turnaround. Before that, I used to storyboard all my work -- so I had a strong sense of film language. The trick is to step into situations, often without a plan, and try to make it look like it was all planned. For instance, when I first started doing work for Filmmaker Magazine, I had just done my NYFF44 series, and Scott Macaulay asked if he could see the scripts I used for the episodes; I had to tell him there weren't any.

"Technically, for "Idiot with a Tripod," I shot with my Canon 7D and edited it with Final Cut Pro. Early on, I was able to vary things a little more -- I used macro diopters for the close-ups during the day shots, my portable slider for the dolly shots and also, a 75-300 zoom for the rooftop shots. I was more limited at night because of the weather conditions, so I stuck with my 24mm, 50mm and 85mm -- all of which are manual Nikon lenses. Which meant that in the middle of that maelstrom I was changing lenses, wiping off the lenses and manually focusing/adjusting each shot.

"The funny thing is, for the first part of the shoot I felt early uninspired and almost stopped. But I kept going. And it ultimately turned out really nice.

I wrote him back: "What was the passage of time, start to finish? What did you eat, when did you sleep? How cold did he get?

He responded:

"I started shooting around 1pm for about 30 minutes outside. Went out for another 15 minutes around 3pm. Meanwhile, I intermittently grabbed shots through my apartment window. (Lunch occurred around 2:30. Dinner was around 7:30. Can't remember what I ate. Maybe pasta.) Then, the main nighttime shoot began at 9pm and lasted until about 10:30.

"I wasn't that cold -- I was bundled, had a hat, gloves and scarf. The one stupid thing I did was to forget my snow boots and wore my Adidas, which, along with my pants, were soaked by the time I got in.

"Because the 7D shoots H.264, which is a web format and not meant for editing, I made selects from the footage and converted the selects into ProRes 422. I started it that night, but it takes a while to do. Went to bed my normal time around 1:30 am. Got up my normal time around 10am. Finished converting the footage. Then, I edited until I finished around 5pm. (I took a regular lunch break at around 2:30 -- chicken noodle and Saltines.)

"The final shot, where the camera pulls back from the window, was done around 1pm.

"I uploaded the video just after 5pm, after I finished burning a Quicktime, and sent the link around. "

Update January 3, 2011: This just in from ITV in London:

New York Blizzard - ITV Daybreak VT from dantv on Vimeo.

Here is Jamie Stuart's web site, The Mutiny Company.

Here is the complete 1929 film. It is reviewed in my Great Movies Collection. This is NYFF48, Jamie Stuart's impression of the 48th New York Film Festival. NYFF48 from The Mutiny Company on Vimeo.

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Bronson: Coming of age in Scoop Town

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By Roger Ebert

I met Charles Bronson in New York City, where he was working once again with Michael Winner Winner, who also directed him in "Chato's Land," "The Stone Killer," and "The Mechanic." The new movie was "Death Wish," about a middle-aged New York architect who is repelled by violence until his own daughter is raped and his wife murdered. Then the architect becomes an instrument of vengeance. He goes out into the streets posing as an easy mark, and when muggers attack, he kills them.

"Death Wish" was being shot in New York in late, bitterly cold February night, and for openers I observed that the character seemed to have the same philosophy that's been present in all of Bronson's work with Winner: He is a killer (licensed or not) with great sense of self, pride in his work, and few words.

Bronson had nothing to say about that "I never talk about the philosophy of a picture," he said. "Winner is an intelligent man, and I like him. But I don't ever talk to him about the philosophy of a picture. It has never come up. And I wouldn't talk about it to you. I don't expound. I don't like to over talk a thing."

We are in the dining room of a Riverside Drive apartment that is supposed to be the architect's home in the movie. Bronson is drinking one of the two or three dozen cups of coffee he will have during the day and, having rejected philosophy, seems content to remain quiet.

Could it be, I say, that it's harder to play a role if you talk it out beforehand?

"I'm not talking in terms of playing a role," Bronson said. "I'm talking in terms of conversation. It has nothing to do with a role at all. It's just that I don't like to talk very much."

He lit a cigarette, kept it in his mouth, exhaled through his nose, and squinted his eyes against the smoke. Another silence fell. All conversation with Bronson has a tendency to stop. His natural state of conversation is silence.

Why?

"Because I'm entertained more by my own thoughts than by the thoughts of others. I don't mind answering questions. But in an exchange of conversation, I wind up being a pair of ears."

On the set, I learned, he doesn't pal around. He stays apart. Occasionally he will talk with Winner, or with a friend like his makeup man, Phil Rhodes. Rarely to anyone else. Arthur Ornitz, the cinematographer, says. "He's remote. He's a professional, he's here all the time, well prepared. But he sits over in a corner and never talks to anybody. Usually I'll kid around with a guy, have a few drinks. I think there's a little timidity there. He's a coal miner."

Later in the day, Bronson is sitting alone again. I don't know whether to approach him; he seems absorbed by his own thoughts, but after a time he yields. "you can talk to me now. I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't want to talk. I'd be somewhere else."

I was wondering about that.

"I had a very bad experience on the plane in from California yesterday. There was a man on the plane, sitting across from me, and they were showing an old Greer Garson movie. He said, Hey, why aren't you in that? The picture was made before I even became an actor. I said, Why aren't you? I think I made him understand how stupid his question was.

"When I'm in public, I even try to hide. I keep as quiet as possible so that I'm not noticed. Not that I hide behind doorways or anything ridiculous like that, but I hide by not making waves. I also try to make myself seem as unapproachable as possible."

More silence. Phil Rhodes, the make-up man, is leafing through a copy of Cosmopolitan. Suddenly he whoops and holds up a centerfold of Jim Brown.

"Will you look at this," he says.

"Would you ever do anything like that, Charlie?"

"Are you kidding?" Bronson said. "What a bunch of crap. Look at that. Old Jim. People are so hung up on sex."

And, inexplicably, that sets Bronson talking "I've been trying to make it with girls for as long as I can remember," he says. "I remember my first time. I was five and a half years old, and she was six. This was in 1928 or 1929. It happened at about the worst time in my life. We had been thrown out of our house . . ."

The house was in Ehrenfeld, known as Scooptown, and it was a company house owned by the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Company. When the miners went out on strike, they were evicted from their homes, and the Buchinsky family went to live in the basement of a house occupied by another miner and his eight children. "This would have been the summer before I started school," Bronson says. "I remember my father had shaved us all bald to avoid lice. Times were poor. I wore hand-me-downs. And because the kids just older than me in the family were girls, sometimes I had to wear my sisters' hand-me-downs. I remember going to school in a dress. And my socks, when I got home sometimes I'd have to take them off and give them to my brother to wear into the mines.

"But, anyway, this was a Fourth of July picnic, and there was this girl, six years old. I gave her some strawberry pop. I gave her the pop because I didn't want it; I had taken up chewing tobacco and I liked that better. I didn't start smoking until I was nine. But I gave her the pop, and then we . . . hell, I never lost my virginity. I never had any virginity."

He remembers Ehrenfeld well, and has written a screenplay with his wife Jill Ireland about life in the mining towns. He worked in the mines from 1939 to 1943, and getting drafted, he says, was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him: "I was well fed, I was well dressed for the first time in my life, and I was able to improve my English. In Ehrenfeld, we were all jammed together. All the fathers were foreign-born. Welsh, Irish, Polish, Sicilian. I was Lithuanian and Russian. We were so jammed together we picked up each other's accents. And we spoke some broken English. When I got into the service, people used to think I was from a foreign country."

Five boys in his family were drafted into the Army. An older brother, the one who took him into the mines for the first time, was part of the European invasion. "He was a Ranger, and he won a medal," Bronson said. "He was under fire constantly. And he said he'd rather do that than go into the mines again."

Bronson would not talk about his hometown screenplay, called $1.98, except to say it was fundamentally a love story with a mining town as the environment, but the next afternoon he met with two VISTA workers to discuss possible locations in Appalachia for the film. The towns he had scouted, he told them, looked too good. There were streets, there were lawns where things grew . . .

"I remember the old company towns. There was no neon, except for the company store. Nothing was green. The water was full of sulphur. There was nothing to put a hose to. There were unpaved streets covered with rock and slag. You had the rock dumps always exploding. They were always on fire, down inside, and if it rained for a long enough time, the water would seep down to the fires and turn to steam and the dump would explode."

The VISTA volunteers asked if Bronson's movie would deal with black lung disease.

"No, it's a love story. But it will be . . . beneficial to the miners, I hope. Right now it isn't a finished script. There are too many empty, dull places. And it's naive. But it will be accurate about mining. You had a feeling about mining. It was piecework; you didn't get paid by the hour, you got paid by the ton, and you felt you were the hardest-working people in the world.

"When I worked, the rate was a dollar a ton. You spent one whole day preparing so you could spend the next day getting it out. The miners felt bound together; they knew how much they could get out, how much they could do. And they worked. With the new machines, it's easier. Not more pleasant, but easier. But in those days, that was pure work. It wasn't a man on a dock with a forklift or any of that bullshit. It was pure work."

After the war Bronson went back home, but not to the mines. The veterans were given three months, he recalled, to decide if they wanted their old jobs back. Bronson did not. He picked onions in upstate New York, and then got his card in the bakers union. He worked on an all-night shift at a bakery in Philadelphia and took art classes in the evenings. He decided he knew more about drawing than the instructor did. He dropped the classes and quit his job (he still holds cards in both the miners and bakers unions), and went to New York City with the notion that he might try acting. Why acting?

"It seemed like an easy way to make money. A friend took me to a play, and I thought I might as well try it myself. I had nothing to lose. I hung around New York and did a little stock-company stuff I wasn't really sure at that time if l even wanted to be an actor. I got no encouragement. I was living in my own mind, generating my own adrenaline. Nobody took any notice of me. I was in plays I don't even remember. Nobody remembers. I was in something by Moliere - I don't even know what it was called.

"I have no interest in the stage anymore. From an audience point of view, it's old-fashioned. The position I've been in for the last eight years, I have to think that way. I can't think of theater acting for one segment of the population in just one city. That's an inefficient way of reaching people."

After New York, he tried the Coast. Spent some time at the Pasadena Playhouse. Got his first movie role in You're in the Navy Now because he could belch on cue, a skill picked up during Ehrenfeld days. He worked for years as the heavy, the Indian, the Russian spy. He had two TV series, "Man with a Camera" and "Meet McGraw." And he was getting nowhere fast, he decided, so he went to work in Europe, where they didn't typecast so much and he had some chance of playing a lead or getting the girl.

His first great European success was in "Farewell, Friends," opposite Alain Delon. That made him a lead, and then movies like "The Dirty Dozen" and "Rider on the Rain" made him a star. Although he worked for years in Europe, he refused to live there; he always maintained his home in America. He met Jill Ireland on a set in Germany in 1968, three years after her separation from David McCallum and a year after her divorce. And now, he says, "I don't have any friends, and I don't want any friends. My children are my friends." And in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, he is said to be the top box-office draw. "One of the ironies," he observed, "is that I made my breakthrough in movies shot in Europe that the Japanese thought were American movies and that the Americans thought were foreign."

That night in New York, the "Death Wish" company gathered to shoot a scene outside a grocery store on upper Broadway. Bronson said that, since he was here anyway, he would do some shopping. He began with a box of cookies. An old man, a New York crazy, was berating a box of Hershey bars because it wouldn't open. "What the hell's going on here? "he shouted at the box. Bronson opened it for him. The man hardly noticed.

While the location was being prepared, Michael Winner drank coffee across the street and talked about his enigmatic star.

"It's unnecessary for him to go into any big thing about what he does or how he does it," Winner said, "because he has this quality that the motion-picture camera seems to respond to. He has a great strength on the screen, even when he's standing still or in a completely passive role. There is a depth, a mystery - there is always the sense that something will happen.

I mentioned a scene in "The Stone Killer" in which Bronson has a gunman trapped behind a door. The gunman fires through the door, and Bronson, with astonishingly casual agility, leaps to the top of a table to get out of the line of fire.

"Yes," said Winner. "His body projects the impression that it's coiled up inside. That he's ready for action and capable of it. You know, Bronson is, as a human being, like that. That's not to say he goes about killing people. I'm sure that he doesn't"

A pause. "That's not to say he hasn't, in his day. Now he seems to have gotten a reputation for blowing up and hitting people on pictures. In my experience, he's not like that. He's a very controlled and reasonable person." Pause. "But there is a great fury lurking below."

The next afternoon, Bronson taped an interview for exhibitors with some people from the publicity department at Paramount. Bronson described the character he plays in "Death Wish:" "He's an average guy, an average New Yorker. In wartime, he would be a conscientious objector. His whole approach to life is gentle, and he has raised his daughter that way. Now he has second thoughts, and he becomes a killer."

Did you prepare for this character in any special way?

"No, because to play him I draw upon my own feelings. I do believe I could perform this way myself."

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Nick & Nora's hangover cure

Kartina Richardson is a Far-Flung Correspondent for RogerEbert.com. She blogs at Mirror.org and tweets at @thismoithismoi. She treasures her tattoo of Jean Cocteau.

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Revenge on "Revenge of the Sith"

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I was pretty much sure I didn't have it with me to endure another review of this one. Mr. Plinkett demonstrates to me that I was mistaken. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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The night Hank Williams came to town

Hank Williams Dr. (09/17/1923 - 01/01/1953) is buried next to his wife, Audrey, in the Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery County Alabama.

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