In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_large_2j2jeurpvhqksybohmpsq01jil5

Listen Up Philip

The terrific cast all delves into the material full-bore, which contributes to its peculiar resonance. Perry may hate everyone and everything, but in making a…

Thumb_10687421_10152289281917007_4858446204490388004_o

Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"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…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Cast and Crew

* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

2315 Words On "Lifeforce." Yes. "Lifeforce."

Primary_lifeforce-500pix

Released in the summer of 1985 to critical scorn and near-total commercial indifference, the sci-fi/horror hybrid "Lifeforce" has spent most of the following 28 years languishing in obscurity. If it was remembered at all, it was either because of its massive financial failure--which helped doom the futures of both its producing company and its director--or because of its status as one of the all-time favorite films of Mr. Skin, that beloved repository of on-screen nudity.

Continue reading →

Opening Shots: They Live By Night

Primary_tlbn1-thumb-510x381-35141

Nicholas Ray's directorial debut, "They Live By Night" (1949), begins like a trailer and then slams us right into the opening titles of the feature. An attractive young couple (Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell) are nestling in close-up by the flickering light of a fireplace. They smile, they kiss, and then something off-screen (and unheard on the soundtrack, though signaled by an jarring shift in the musical score) causes them to react with fear and alarm.

"They Live By Night" is a prototypical young-couple-on-the-run movie ("You Only Live Once," "Gun Crazy," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands"), and this tabloid-style opening sets it up breathlessly. The shot seems to exist out of time -- perhaps an idealized moment they once shared, or would never have. The man who would later direct "Rebel Without a Cause" establishes them as innocents and outsiders, star-crossed lovers who "were never properly introduced to the world we live in..." Dissolve to an aerial shot of a truck barreling through a dusty wasteland.

We soon discover that, at the point the title appears, the boy and the girl have yet to meet. So, the whole film could be seen as a flashback -- a noir convention that emphasizes the forces of fate, since the ending of "their story" (even if we don't know what it is) has already been determined from the opening shot. Or perhaps it's a flash-forward to a memory they'll cling to for the rest of their lives. Or an imprint of their fugitive state of mind...

Continue reading →

Maria Schneider comes to America

Primary__20_20_20_20_20_20_20_20_204288957913_e4995824f8_o-thumb-350x222-31198

Roger Ebert / September 14, 1975

LOS ANGELES--It was, said the critic Pauline Kael, perhaps the most important artistic event since the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rites of Spring." She was referring to the 1973 premiere of "Last Tango in Paris," a film by Bernardo Bertolucci which dealt in explicit detail with a brief affair between a middle-aged man and a girl barely out of her teens. The man was Marlon Brando, long acknowledged as the finest screen actor of his generation. The girl was Maria Schneider, a 20-year-old with an innocent face, a woman's body and an electrifying presence.

Most of the film involved just two actors, and Schneider held her own with Brando in a stunning confrontation with sex and death. It was an astonishing performance. Maria Schneider quickly became the favorite "bad girl" of the movie press. She gave shocking interviews, she walked off a movie set and had herself committed to an asylum with the woman she described as her lover, she seemed to be surrounded by scandal. And then she made a film with another of Europe's top directors, Michelangelo Antonioni, and another major star, Jack Nicholson. The film was "The Passenger," and this time her screen image was altogether different: She was quiet, intelligent, even sweet.

Then Schneider dropped from view. She moved to America; signed with Paul Kohner (the legendary agent who represents Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann and many other Europeans), turned down several big film offers, and moved into a house in the Hollywood hills. This interview, conducted in Kohner's office, is her first in the United States. She wore faded denims, smoked frequently, looked thinner and more intriguing than in "Tango," and seemed ready to revise her European image.

Q. Why California?

A. The main thing was the space. It was getting hard to breathe in Europe - it's too compact, too compressed. I lived in France about three years, traveling around a lot, and then I tried London, and about six months ago I settled on here.

Q. Americans have a thing about Southern California . . .

A. So do I. It's hard to talk to the people here. They're very shallow. All they talk about is their look, their hair and their screwing. But I love to act, and here is the place to come for the movies. Q. Paul Kohner said you were reading a screenplay based on "The Story of an African Farm."

A. Yes. It's a wonderful story. It's about a girl growing up in South Africa a century ago, and finding herself, and learning how to rely on herself. The story's so good, I want to make the film. I've had offers for a lot more money, but this project is by a director who's young and ready and wrote the screenplay himself. He'll care more than someone who was just paid to direct a story . . . and it's a good role for a woman. In most movies these days, women are just decoration. I'll never be that.

Q. So far you've been in two movies with two top directors, Bertolucci and Antonioni . . .

A. Six movies. Nobody knows, but I did six movies before "Last Tango in Paris." I don't think any of them ever played here. One was directed by Roger Vadim, after he made "Pretty Maids All in a Row." And I did some theater, and a couple of underground French movies. I walked out on one of them when I wasn't paid. I fought with the director, went back to Paris, and met Bertolucci. He offered me the role in "Tango."

Dominique Sanda was going to do it, but she got pregnant.

Q. And you got a sort of immortality, because the movie's already a landmark.

A. So much of that was because of Brando. He was wonderful to work with, for an actor like myself who was still beginning. He had just finished "The Godfather," and now this was also part of his comeback, and you'd think he'd want the advantage in all of the scenes. Actors always try to look their best. But he gave me the advantage, the material to work with. And he was brilliant when we improvised . . . the bathroom scene was improvised.

Q. And Bertolucci?

A. He's a great director, but . . . well, I was 20 when I did "Tango." Bertolucci made me wear very heavy black makeup under my eyes. Makeup on a girl who's too young gives her the wrong character, gives her a funny look. I argued with him, but with no luck. I don't know who he thought I was supposed to be. Marlon was such a good force on the picture. We were working like dogs with an Italian crew, filming in Paris, overtime and all that, and two crew members came down with stomach ulcers. And Marlon was the one - not Bertolucci, who goes on about being a member of the Italian Communist party - but Marlon was the one who brought sandwiches and wine for the crew and worried about them.

Q. After the film was released you were suddenly famous - or infamous - all over the world.

A. And Marlon told me about that, too. He was the first to tell me about the bad parts of fame. How the press can seize on everything and make it as sensational as they can. And there the European press is worse than the American. I think they'll print anything.

Q. There were some amazing quotes attributed to you.

A. I think I said a lot of them. After "Tango" came out, I amused myself at interviews by saying scandalous things, thinking they were funny. I talked about going out with men, women, I sounded promiscuous, I took it all as a joke. I see now it wasn't funny . . .

Q. And then you went to Antonioni . . .

A. For "The Passenger." It's an interesting thing about that film. It did better in America than it did in Europe. And Antonioni is supposed to be a star in Europe. I'm glad the Americans could watch something slower and more thoughtful for a change, instead of all the violence and crime. Still, I think Michelangelo has a problem with his English. He doesn't speak it very well, and I think some of the dialog in "The Passenger," which was supposed to sound real, sounded falsely poetic. Like when Jack Nicholson says, "What the hell are you doing here with me?" And I say, "Which me?" You see how wrong that sounds? And in another scene he says, "I met you before - you were reading" And I say, "That must have been me." Terrible!

Q. Are you looking at scripts from American directors now?

A. I'm looking at all kinds of scripts. Most of them are no good. Hardly any of them have interesting female roles.

Q. Paul Kohner was thinking out loud about the idea of a movie of Hemingway's "Across the River and into the Trees," which would be directed by John Huston and might star Robert Mitchum as the old colonel and you as the young contessa . . .

A. And be shot in Venice. I'd love to work in Venice. I lived there for a while. The light and the silence and all around the sound of the footsteps. You know, I saw Mitchum just last night in "Farewell, My Lovely." It stayed in my mind all night. I loved Jack Nicholson playing the detective in "Chinatown," but I much preferred this detective by Mitchum. What do you think of the . . . the chemistry if Mitchum and I were to be together?

Q. Dynamite.

A. (Laughs) And yet, you know, I always act with these men like Brando and Nicholson, who are much older than me. I wouldn't be with a man that age in my own life. And I think there'd be a problem in filming in Venice, too.

Q. The canals?

A. No, the insurance. You know, I have a problem in Italy since my last film with the companies that insure a film. I signed myself into an asylum for a friend of mine. They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty.

Q. That was in all the papers here.

A. And all the papers everywhere. But they never printed that I finished the movie.

Q. You did? I got the impression it was closed down. A. Oh, yes, I finished it. It was called "The Baby Sitter," it's a thriller by Rene Clement, who did "Forbidden Games." It's a good thriller, well made, nothing poetic about it. They took away two-thirds of my salary to keep the insurance people happy. The producer was Carlo Ponti. He'll come out ahead any way he can. When Clement wanted me for the movie, he wanted me to play the role that was negative. There were two girls in the movie, and one was perverse and destroyed, and of course that was the one he wanted me for. But Antonioni showed him "The Passenger," and then I got the other role. He only knew me from "Tango." God knows what people think I really look like and act like!

Q. After "The Baby Sitter," did you split for Hollywood?

A. More or less. I was supposed to make a movie in Paris with Jean-Luc Godard. You know, he works in eight millimeter now. He gave a brilliant press conference about it in Cannes. He explained to me that the actor would put up $40,000, and he would put up $40,000, and then we would make the movie together. I would have, too, but I didn't have $40,000. And I still don't.

Q. But "Tango" made millions and millions . . .

A. Ha! You know what I was paid? Five thousand dollars! That's all. I didn't even get a percentage of all those profits. Jack Nicholson told me that after "Easy Rider" made so much money, they gave him something more in addition to the little he made in the first place. But no Italian producer would ever do that. I'm glad I've got Paul as my agent. He'll look after things like that. I'm no good with money. Working on my own, I constantly got ripped off. I just can't handle money.

Q. How'd you meet Kohner?

A. I walked in off the street. I'd heard he was the top agent. My doctor was in the building next door. I came out from his office, saw Paul's sign, and introduced myself at the switchboard. "Who are you?" they asked. I said I was an actress who wanted him to represent me. They asked what credits I had - they thought l was a nut off the street. I said I'd worked with Bertolucci and Antonioni. They didn't believe me. Finally one person in the office did recognize me. I look a little different now, I'm thinner, I'm 23, I wasn't wearing makeup.

Q. Kohner seems sort of paternal toward you, protective.

A. Well, I don't need too much protection. I live a simple life. And Paul tells me, let's wait for the right role. People get lazy doing whatever is given to them. I'd rather wait and go broke than be forced to do a bad movie for money. Paul has Charles Bronson and Ingmar Bergman among his clients. He says, we can go big, like Bronson, or small, like Bergman. I'd rather go small.

Q. And in the meantime you're keeping life uncomplicated?

A. That's right. I don't own anything. Well, I own a pickup truck. I don't have any maids or answering services or any of those things. I spend my money on food and travel and cameras. I live in Laurel Canyon with some friends, including some writers. None of my friends are actors or directors or Hollywood types.

I'm not interested in that crowd. And I'll just hold out and look for a decent role for a woman. "The Story of an African Farm" looks about the best.

Q. What else is around?

A. Paramount wants me to do "Black Sunday," which is about terrorists, and I play a Palestinian guerrilla. That's their idea of a woman's role. But things are changing. Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual, they have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman's role can be, or what the potentials are.

Q. Did you say most of your generation?

A. Most of my friends, anyway. Or maybe it's just California. The theme from "Last Tango in Paris:" Theme From Last Tango In Paris (1972) by seasonwitch

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;

Continue reading →

Bronson: Coming of age in Scoop Town

Primary_evade-1975-03-g-thumb-400x451-24125

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."

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;

Amazon.com Widgets

Continue reading →

#39 December 1, 2010

Leslie Nielsen (February 11, 1926 - November 28, 2010) Marie writes: If ever an actor embodied what it means to "be" Canadian, it was Leslie Nielsen... and the pair of fart machines he always used to carry around; one built by himself using plans sent by a friend and another called the "Farter" - a commercial device complete with remote control. For with each perfectly timed "pfft" he invited everyone to laugh with him and see the humour in life. And it's for that laughter he is now best remembered.The much-beloved actor died in his sleep with his wife Barbaree at his side, this past Sunday at the age of 84 in a Florida hospital due to complications from pneumonia. Nielsen has stars on both Hollywood's and Canada's Walk of Fame and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002. Remembering Leslie Nielsen...and what's that strange noise? - Montreal GazetteLeslie Nielsen: a career in clips, Guardian UKLeslie Nielsen, RIP. "And don't call me Shirley" - Roger Ebert

Continue reading →

#23 August 11, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Time passes twice now, first as real time, then as remembrance of things past, as I search my memory for my memoir. As my eyes lift up from my keyboard, they stare sightlessly straight ahead and old faces and places pass in review. So I take a photo of where I'm looking, in order to record what I see. When the picture was taken, Gene and I were in the Brown Derby at Disney World while taping an Oscar special; I'd like to say I have no idea of who came up with the idea for that composition, but I do, and it was yours faithfully, the Poobah.

(click to enlarge and read book spines; smile.)

Continue reading →

The gathering Dark Age

Apparently unconnected items appeared within two days of each other in the Los Angeles Times, and together confirmed my fear that American movie-going is entering into a Dark Age. The first was in a blog by Patrick Goldstein, who said: "Film critics are in the same boat as evening news anchors -- their core audience is people 50 and over, and getting older by the day. You could hire Jessica Alba to read the evening news -- or review 'G.I. Joe' for that matter -- and younger audiences still wouldn't care." The other was in a report by John Horn that despite "The Hurt Locker's" impressive box office success, "younger moviegoers are not flocking to the film, which could limit its ticket sales."

The obvious implication is, younger moviegoers don't care about reviews and have missed the news that "The Hurt Locker" is the best American film of the summer. There is a more disturbing implication: word of mouth is not helping the film in that younger demographic. It has been Hollywood gospel for decades that advertising and marketing can help a film to open strongly, but moviegoers talking with each other are crucial to its continuing success. That has been Summit Entertainment's game plan for "The Hurt Locker," which opened in a few theaters and has steadily increased its cities, becoming a real success without ever "winning" a weekend or benefiting from an overkill marketing campaign.

Continue reading →

Irving! Brang 'em on!

My friend Billy Baxter passed away in his sleep, early on the morning of Friday, Jan. 20, 2012. He was 86. His son Jack wrote me:

"He didn't suffer. I was with him when he was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Wednesday. He died in his sleep early this morning. His wake is Monday, January 23, at Barrett Funeral Home, 424 West 51st Street, from 2-5 and 7-9. His funeral mass is Tuesday at 10am at St. Paul the Apostle, 405 W 59th St, New York, 10019. He is being cremated."

Continue reading →

Opening Shots: 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"

An empty landscape, an endless, desolate (and TechniScope-horizontal) landscape...

... suddenly replaced by another enormous sun-baked landscape, and the long shot is instantaneously transformed into a close-up of...

... a human face, staring into the camera -- and, by extension, into the distance off-camera. It's a variation on the signature Leone shot, and for him these faces (Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach -- and in other movies Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Woody Strode...) were landscapes, and landmarks, as characteristic of his stylistic world as the buttes of Monument Valley were for John Ford. -- JE

We've had several excellent appreciations of how the opening shot of Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" works, each with its own unique angle, if you will. Here are a few -- beginning with Roger Ebert's 2003 Great Movies review:

A vast empty Western landscape. The camera pans across it. Then the shot slides onto a sunburned, desperate face. The long shot has become a closeup without a cut, revealing that the landscape was not empty but occupied by a desperado very close to us. In these opening frames, Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The rule is that the ability to see is limited by the sides of the frame. At important moments in the film, what the camera cannot see, the characters cannot see, and that gives Leone the freedom to surprise us with entrances that cannot be explained by the practical geography of his shots. There is a moment, for example, when men do not notice a vast encampment of the Union Army until they stumble upon it. And a moment in a cemetery when a man materializes out of thin air even though he should have been visible for a mile. And the way men walk down a street in full view and nobody is able to shoot them, maybe because they are not in the same frame with them. Leone cares not at all about the practical or the plausible, and builds his great film on the rubbish of Western movie clichés, using style to elevate dreck into art. When the movie opened in America in late 1967, not long after its predecessors "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964) and "For a Few Dollars More" (1965), audiences knew they liked it, but did they know why?

Continue reading →

Samuel Z. Arkoff: In Memorium

Primary_eb20010918people110619996ar

Samuel Z. Arkoff, who in some ways invented modern Hollywood, died Sunday of natural causes in a Burbank hospital. The co-founder of American-International Pictures and the godfather of the beach party and teenage werewolf movies was 83.

Continue reading →

Remembering Lew Grade

Lew Grade, a titan of the British entertainment industry, died Sunday in London at age 91. For many years, he was a colorful fixture at the Cannes Film Festival, where after the box office failure of his film "Raise the Titanic!" he held a press conference to announce, "It would have been less costly to lower the ocean."

Continue reading →

Movie Answer Man (03/09/1998)

Q. I saw "Titanic" a second time to be sure I heard correctly. During the scene where the crew is trying to avoid the iceberg, they shout, "Hard to starboard!" Since they were frantically trying to turn the ship to port, I didn't understand the command. The scene clearly shows the ship veering left, and all of the damage was subsequently done to the starboard side. If someone told me "hard to starboard," I would turn the ship to the right. Maybe we have just discovered the real reason the ship hit the iceberg that night ("Oops! I meant 'port!'"). (Denise Leder, Las Vegas).

Continue reading →

Movie Answer Man (04/30/1995)

Q. Does it strike you that some movie sound effects are overdone? I've noticed in recent years that when a movie couple gets passionate, their kisses sound like they're sucking a peach. If I kissed my wife that sloppily, she'd wipe off her face and send me to the guest room for the night. And what about movie punches? Movies have been overdoing fight sound effects for years. My most vivid memory of "Rocky III" was of Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T beginning their fight with punches that would kill the average person. Do you feel that sound effects are as cliched as some of the other areas you cover in your Little Glossary? (Steven Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.)

Continue reading →

Quentin Tarantino, a 'Pulp' Hero

So thank God for tape recorders, because in the old pen-and-paper days, this would be the act of a desperate man, trying to keep up with Quentin Tarantino, who talks like he's being paid by the word and starts every sentence in the middle of the previous one.

Continue reading →

Play Scoobie-Doobie-Doo for Me

Primary_eb19761226people612260301ar

BIG SUR, CA -- The Dirty Harry style, Clint Eastwood was explaining, is simplicity itself: "You start with this ultimate fantasy character, this guy who's always fighting the establishment, who isn't interested in the intricacies of society, who tells his boss to go to hell. You equip him with a .44 magnum, pointing out that it's the most powerful handgun in the world. You make him a cop and send him out into the streets. And you whittle down his dialog." Eastwood, as unlike this description as possible, was sipping herb tea on a veranda overlooking the Pacific. The dry December sunlight spilled down and the hills of Big Sur rose behind him, and his dialog wasn't whittled down at all. Among other things, Eastwood talks a lot more than the characters he plays, perhaps because he has more to say.

Continue reading →

Interview with Paul Mazursky

In 1954, a young New York actor named Paul Mazursky hung up his beret, combed his hair into a ducktail and went to a casting call for a movie named "The Blackboard Jungle." He got the job. He left behind a bohemian existence in Greenwich Village and set out for Hollywood and an acting career that somehow never quite got off the ground.

Continue reading →

Interview with Maria Schneider

It was, said critic Pauline Kael, perhaps the most important artistic event since the first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rites of Spring." She was referring to the 1973 premiere of "Last Tango in Paris," a film by Bernardo Bertolucci which dealt in explicit detail with a brief affair between a middle-aged man and a girl barely out of her teens. The man was Marlon Brando, long acknowledged as the finest screen actor of his generation. The girl was Maria Schneider, a 20-year-old with an innocent face, a woman's body and an electrifying presence.

Continue reading →

John Huston: "It's as bad to be ahead of your time as behind it."

Primary_eb19750827people508270301ar

HOLLYWOOD - John Huston has come up for the day from Puerto Vallarta, the sleepy little Mexican beach town he converted into a tourist industry by filming "Night of the Iguana" there. He plans to speak with his agent and his business manager; a major Huston film is scheduled for Christmas release, and there are the Huston finances to be scrutinized and new projects to be considered. At 69, he is tall and courtly and exudes a personal charisma that I've rarely felt before; there seem to be special rewards in being John Huston.

Continue reading →