The kind of movie that lingers on in your head, just like the best fairy tales do.
An interview with the legendary Sam Schacht about the art of Method Acting.
Organizing files for the launch of our new website, I came upon this. I grow old...I grow old...I shall wear the bottoms of my ski pants rolled.
January 25th, 1981
The 3rd Annual U.S. Film and Video Festival
Park City, Utah - Up here in the mountains above the Great Salt Lake, everybody seemed to have a definition earlier this month of what an independent filmmaker was. It was just that nobody seemed to agree.
An "independent" was someone who worked outside the Hollywood studio system, obviously - except that such established actors as David Carradine and Ralph Waite thought of themselves as independents. An "independent feature" was one made on a low budget, obviously - but there was a large space between the $70,000 budget of "The Haunting of M" and the $700,000 budget of "Heartland". An independent film had a unique personal vision, surely - except that films such as "Gal Young Un" were visualizations of classic short stories, and films such as "Impostors" looked like no reality anyone had ever seen before.
Maybe... someone suggested late in the afternoon during one of the long, rambling informal seminars around the fireplace... maybe an independent film is one that tells a story that the filmmaker believes has to be told, no matter what. No matter whether it's "commercial," no matter whether Hollywood will finance it, no matter whether anyone will ever want to pay to see it, it has to be told.
That was accepted as a provisional definition, during last week's 3rd Annual U.S. Film and Video Festival, which was born in Salt Lake City and moved this year to the ski resort of Park City, not far from Robert Redford's Sundance complex. This was the first film festival devoted solely to independent American features, and everybody here knew what an independent film was not: It was not a multimillion-dollar production, it probably had no major stars in it, it was not intended to flatter the lowest common denominator in its audiences.
Independent features have been around for a long time, but they probably never have been as numerous, as visible and as good as they are right now. They had their birth between the late 1930s and the early 1960s in the avant-garde films of such pioneers as Maya Daren, Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clark ("The Connection"), Jonas Mekas, and the young John Cassavetes who made "Shadows". They have become more common in the last 5 or 10 years for a couple of reasons: idealistically, because film is the language of the new generation, and realistically, because the country is crawling with would-be filmmakers, the universities are turning them out by the hundreds, and there is little opportunity for them to work in overcrowded Hollywood.
Most of the people who graduate from college with degrees in cinema probably never make an independent film. Many of the people who do direct their own features may never have studied film. You don't get to be a filmmaker by earning a degree. You make it happen for yourself, and in Park City, the countless stories of how independent films were financed and made began to add up into a litany of doing the impossible.
I was on the jury for the festival, which meant that during the week I judged eleven recent American independent features, some of them for the second and a few for the third time. I also saw several independent films that were outside of the competition. What I came away with, after the week, was a genuine sense of challenge and exhilaration. I'd just finished plowing through the commercial Hollywood movies of 1980¬ - the dreariest year in recent history for big movies. I'd survived the routine of the year-end "Best 10" lists, with all of their re¬minders of how few good films there had been all year long.
But now, in the darkness of a cozy little three-screen theater in Park City's only shopping center, I was remembering how much fun the movies could be, and how easily they could open me up to new experiences and insights. There hadn't been a week since the Cannes film Festival of... no, not 1980, but 1979... when I'd seen so many interesting movies. Here are some memories:
The first prize in the festival was shared by two features. Richard Pearce's "Heartland" and Victor Nunez's "Gal Young Un". I'd heard of the Nunez film before; it won an award at the 1979 Chicago International Film Festival, but I'd missed seeing it there, and also at Cannes and Toronto in 1980, I finally caught up with it in Utah, and was enchanted. It's a pointed human lesson based on a short story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, about a rich spinster in the Florida of the Prohibition era, who is wooed and won by a sharpster who's after her money and her labor. He immediately sets up an illegal still on her property, puts her to work running it, delivers the moonshine in a snappy roadster and brings about his own downfall by mortally offending the woman's pride. The film is told with a droll sense of humor and a real empathy for the feelings of its heroine, who has a grave and sometimes funny dignity.
"Heartland" is one of the most ambitious independent features ever made. Produced by a group named Wilderness Women Productions in Missoula, Montana, it's the story of a widow and her daughter who leave Kansas City and take the long rail journey West to where the woman will sign on as the cook and housekeeper for a widowed rancher. This sounds like it's a setup for a romantic melodrama, but it's not: "Heartland" is uncompromising in its portrait of frontier life. It is brutally realistic, and when the man and woman finally do get married and form a partnership, it is not a happy ending as much as a pact against nature. And yet the film is filled with a wonderful life, mostly because of the performance of Conchata Ferrell as the woman. (Rip Torn plays the rancher, a man of great silences.)
There were two documentaries among the eleven entries, and they were both given Special Jury Prizes. One was familiar to me: "The War at Home", the documentary about the anti-Vietnam War protest movement in Madison, Wisconsin, which was compiled from the news film archives of Madison TV stations. It has played here commercially at the Sandburg, and I've written about it before.
The other was new: Jon Else's remarkable "The Day Before Trinity", which tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer's project to develop an atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico. One of the reasons this movie was so powerful was that I thought knew the story already. I'd read about it, seen newsreels... It was part of history.
But Else located new footage taken at Los Alamos, and he also located a dozen or so veterans of the bomb project and lis¬tened to their memories. The resulting film is overwhelming, and saddening. We realize that the Bomb, that awful engine of destruction, was created by scientists in a wonderful intellectual summer camp, where all the research was subsidized and there was a heady wartime sense of adventure. Some of the memories are chilling: As scientists bet on how big the first explosion will be, Enrico Fermi takes side bets that Arizona will be vaporized. Through it all comes the story of Oppenheimer, a genius doomed by McCarthyism but also by his own curious loss of mission after Los Alamos.
The festival's second prize went to a film that already is something of a commercial hit in Los Angeles and New York: John Sayles' "The Return of the Secaucus Seven", a funny melodrama about a group of friends who were young political activists in the late 1960s and hold a reunion 10 years after the end of that idealistic decade. The movie's structure is predict¬able, and it's a little confused in the opening scenes, but it does open out into a remarkable story of how we are changed by our times, how we are imprisoned by our memories, and how our destinies are sometimes almost visible in our beginnings.
Those were the prizewinners. There were other films that I also admired, among them Anna Thomas' "The Haunting of M", a superbly atmo¬spheric Scottish ghost story; Ralph Waite's 'On the Nickel", starring Waite (the father on TV's "The Waltons") as a skid row alcoholic and drifter; Mark Rappoport's "Imposters", another witty and mannered exercise in style and social observation by the director of "Scenic Route"; Fred Keller's "Tuck Everlasting", a charming whimsy based on Natalie Babbit's novel about a girl who meets a family that can live forever; Andrew Davis' "Stoney Island", which was shot here in Chicago and tells the story of a white kid who gets involved in a black blues band, and Rick King's "Off the Wall", the most old-fashioned of the films in that it sets itself in the countercul¬ture of six or seven years ago and shows the sometimes comic, sometimes satirical American odyssey of a dropout and outlaw.
There were many other films at Park City shown out of the official competition but reflecting the spirit of independent filmmaking. David Carradine's "Americana" was about a Vietnam vet who tries to repair a merry-go-round on the outskirts of a Kansas town. Diane Orr's "The Plan" was a fascinating documentary about a Mormon mother of five children under the age of 6 and how she tries to cope. Connie Field's "The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter", was a sparkling documentary about women forced into the job market by World War II.
And the list continued with larger-budget Hollywood studio pictures that also qualified, in one way or another, as independent in spirit. My favorite was Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard", which begins with the story of how a gas-station owner named Melvin Dummar allegedly was named in a Howard Hughes will and continues with Dummar's own astonishing private search for the American dream. "Melvin and Howard" is scheduled for a Feb. 13 Chicago opening.
All of these films descended in a cascade at Park City. It was possible to see four good and challenging films in a day, after a year in which many months did not contain that many. It also was possible to reflect that many of these films may never find large audiences, because they exist outside the traditional distribution system, that cozy arrangement between the studios and the big exhibition chains. I imagine that a few of the Park City favorites will play commercially in Chicago: "Secaucus Seven" is a hit in L.A. and probably will surface here in an art house, and "Heartland", correctly handled and promoted, could develop large and ferociously loyal audiences - it's that kind of movie.
Many of the other independent features at Park City and wherever else they're found, will find their audiences not in commercial theaters but in film festivals, on campuses, in revival theaters, in new repertory at places such as the Film Center and Facets, and, eventually, on public television or on cable networks (Home Box Office and CBS Cable were both represented at the festival).
It's too bad that many of them seem closed out of the ordinary patterns of movie distribution, especially when so much genuine garbage is in the theaters. But audiences who seek them out will be rewarded. And maybe moviegoers who don't care about independent films and their makers are like music lovers who don't understand jazz. Remember what Louis Armstrong said about them? "There are somf indee folks that... if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."
There were two film festivals there in 1981. The 3rd Park City Film and Video Festival was held in January. Redford admired the first three, however nascent, took over sponsorship, and renamed it after his ski resort. "I am an independent," he said in his openin speech. At the time he was a superstar, and people scoffed. As events proved, Sundance reinvented the world of indie film, and Redford became the single most influential person in the independant world. If the First Generation was symbolized by Cassavetes, Redford was the poster oboy for the secong.
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.
A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.
by Edward Copeland
"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is Part 2 of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here.
"Unethical? Jesus, Larry. Don't start pulling at that thread; our whole world will unravel." -- Artie (Rip Torn)
by Edward Copeland
Unravel those threads did -- and often -- in the world of fictional late night talk show host Larry Sanders. On "The Larry Sanders Show," the brilliant and groundbreaking HBO comedy that paid attention to the men and women behind the curtain of Sanders' fictional show, the ethics of showbiz were hilariously skewered.
August 15 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the first part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history.
by Edward Copeland
Over the course of my lifetime, I've watched a lot of movies -- an old computer contained a program with an editable database of titles and allowed for the addition of new films. Back when I used that PC, my total hovered in the thousands. "The Larry Sanders Show" produced a mere 89 episodes in its six season run from 1992-1998 that began 20 years ago tonight on HBO. "I know it sounds cliché but -- honest to God -- it seems like it was just about a week ago. It's so odd that it's 20 years," Jeffrey Tambor said in a telephone interview.
Despite the vast disparity between the quantity of films I've viewed and "Larry Sanders" episodes, when I recently took part in The House Next Door's "If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot" series, I found it far easier to prune those pictures down to my ten favorites than I did when I applied the same task to "Larry Sanders" episodes. (Picking a clip or two from each show proved even more difficult as inevitably I'd want to include the entire half-hour.) Three or four episodes I knew had to be on the list, but then it got tough. I considered making a list of the best episode for each character such as the best Brian episode ("Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation"), the best Beverly ("Would You Do Me a Favor?"), the best Phil ("Headwriter"), etc. With all the priceless episodes centering on Hank and Artie, I imagined those two characters conceivably filling all ten spots alone.
A series that broke as much ground as "The Larry Sanders Show" deserves a grander tribute to mark the two decades since its birth than just a recounting of a handful of episodes -- and I had that intention. Unfortunately, my physical limitations and time constraints thwarted my ambitions. Rest assured though, that salute shall be forthcoming (MESSAGE TO BOB ODENKIRK: YOU STILL CAN TAKE PART NOW). As with any list, I'm certain my fellow "Larry Sanders" fans shall express outrage at my omissions (I already hear the shouts of "Where is the one with Carol Burnett and the spiders?" "No 'Hank's Sex Tape!' Hey now!"). Believe me, I'm as livid as you are and may join in the comments to give myself the thorough tongue-lashing I so richly deserve for these unforgivable exclusions. First, though, I'm going to fix myself a Salty Dog, using Artie's recipe of course. I want to be able to grab those olives, not fish for them. So, for good or ill, I submit my selections for my ten favorite episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show." Since bestowing ranks only leads to more trouble, I present these ten in chronological order:
Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...
"Norman Mailer: The American" is available on Amazon Instant video. It is also available on DVD. Criterion has announced a two-disc Eclipse Series DVD set of Norman Mailer-directed features for release August 28, 2012: "Maidstone" (1970), "Wild 90" (1967) and "Beyond the Law" (1968).
Watching "Norman Mailer: The American," I was struck by the similarities between Mailer and Charles Foster Kane. And it's not just that director Joseph Mantegna (not the actor) at one point employs the title card for "Citizen Kane's" faux newsreel "News on the March" to setup some archival footage. Or the fact that "American" was originally the proposed title for Orson Welles' masterpiece.
Both films grapple with taking the full measure of a man who had significant influences on his times (Kane is fictional, but he was legendarily based in part on newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst). As Mailer's life unfolds in all its glory, controversy and infamy, dialogue from "Kane" ran like a crawl through my brain. "Few private lives were more public... and he himself was always news." And: "Here's a man who was as loved and hated and talked about as any man in our time." But finally: "It's not enough to tell us what the man did, you've got to tell us who he was."
The Grand Poobah shared the following recently and which struck me as just the thing to put in here - for it amounts to someone inventing a moving still akin to those seen on the front page of Harry Potter's famous newspaper."You know how people sometimes say that jazz is the only truly American art form? Animated GIFs are like the jazz of the internet: they could only exist, and be created and appreciated, online. That said, PopTart Cat is not exactly on par with Thelonious Monk. But photographer Jamie Beck and motion graphics artist Kevin Burg may have finally found a way to elevate the animated GIF to a level approaching fine art, with their "cinemagraphs" -- elegant, subtly animated creations that are "something more than a photo but less than a video." - fastcodesignAnd sadly, they won't work in here; Movable Type doesn't like animated gifs. It's easily solved however, just visit Far Better Than 3-D: Animated GIFs That Savor A Passing Moment to see an assortment in play!
Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian. And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.
A new critical thinking meme: This web site features a grating parody of the "Leave Britney alone!" video at the top of the page, and proceeds to explain its purpose:
This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumor that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. We don't claim to know the truth -- only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 should be discussed. So we're going to do our part to try and help get to the bottom of this.
Why won't Glenn Beck deny these allegations? We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 - in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won't he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?
Latest Contrarian Week News:
In his New York Observer year-end wrap-up (and ten-best list), Andrew Sarris attempts to steal the thunder of one of his New York "alternative weekly" rivals.
Sarris writes: Fortunately, modern technology makes it almost impossible for a good movie to get “lost” because of end-of-the-year mental exhaustion. So, with the proviso that I still have a great deal of catching up to do, here are my considered choices for the various 10-best categories, and one of my patented 10-worst lists under the provocative heading of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t.” I am not at all deterred in dishing out my annual supply of negativity by the correspondent who informed me last year that he preferred all the films on my 10-worst list to all the films on my 10-best list. I have long ago become resigned to my fate as a reviled revisionist ever since my first column in The Village Voice in 1960 hailed Alfred Hitchcock as a major artist for "Psycho," and inspired more hate mail than any Voice column had received up to that time. That clinched my job at the ever-contrarian Voice, and I have simply gone on from there.So, how contrarian is the "reviled revisionist" 46 years later? Let's see:
"The Departed" as best film of the year. (Only in New York!)
"Blood Diamond" as #5.
Best Supporting Actresses: 1) Jennifer Connelly, "Blood Diamond" 2) Gong Li, "Miami Vice" 3) Maggie Gyllenhaal, "World Trade Center"
And then there's this: Other striking male performances were provided by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Anderson in The Departed; Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber and Toby Jones in The Painted Veil; Wim Willaert in When the Sea Rises; Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths in Venus; Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Inside Man; Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura in Letters from Iwo Jima; Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine; Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist; Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman and Ty Simpkins in Little Children; Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer and Dylan Walsh in The Lake House; Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena and Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center; Tim Blake Nelson, Pat Corley, Jeffrey Donovan, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in Come Early Morning; Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson; Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Danny Huston in Marie Antoinette; Matt Damon, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Ivanir and Joe Pesci in The Good Shepherd; Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones and Ben Foster in X-Men: The Last Stand; Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Tobias Menzies in Casino Royale; Ebru Ceylan and Mehmet Eryilmaz in Climates; Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins in Hollywoodland; Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Hinton Battle in Dreamgirls; Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Trevor Fehrman, Kevin Smith and Jason Lee in Clerks II; Justin Kirk and Jamie Harrold in Flannel Pajamas; Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada; Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hulce in Stranger Than Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Sam Jones III and Brian Presley in Home of the Brave; Harris Yulin, Ty Burrell and Boris McGiver in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore and Nick Swardson in Art School Confidential; Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin in Running with Scissors; Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Ciarán Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar and John Ortiz in Miami Vice; Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Tim McMullan in The Queen; Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Anthony Mackie, Marlon Sherman and Clarke Peters in Freedomland; Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Raul Esparza in Find Me Guilty; Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin; Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, Tony Yalda, Sam Golzari and Willem Dafoe in American Dreamz; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly; Adam Beach, Ryan A. Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, Jon Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Robert Patrick in Flags of Our Fathers; Chow Yun-Fat in Curse of the Golden Flower; Sergi López, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo and Federico Luppi in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal.Take that, A----- W----!
Read Roger Ebert's 1968 interview with Ossie Davis.
PARK CITY, Utah--I saw 27 films at Sundance this year, but of course I missed all the screenings of Ira Sachs' "Forty Shades of Blue," which won the Grand Jury Prize for best dramatic feature. I had a chance to catch up, though; the festival showed it again Saturday night after the awards were (finally) over, and I found myself impressed, but more by the performances than by the story or direction. Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know" remains, for me, the best film of the festival.
TELLURIDE, Colo. -- After years of controversy, one of the most persistent questions in the world of film has finally been settled: Yes, Annette Bening's face was used as the model for the torch-bearing woman on the logo that opens every Columbia Picture.
Before the Imax movie started the other night at the Museum of Science and Industry, they turned on the lights behind the screen, and you could see right through it to 72 speakers that were staring back at you like the eyes of a science-fiction monster. Then the movie began, flooding the eyes with images.
LOS ANGELES This is a very small anecdote, but maybe it will lead somewhere. I went to interview Albert Brooks out at his office at Warner Bros. We were going to talk about "Defending Your Life," his new comedy about a man who discovers the afterlife is a place named Judgment City, and you go on trial there. We had a good talk.
Do Mary Steenburgen and Dudley Moore have romantic chemistry in the new movie "Romantic Comedy"? I think they do. Other people think they don't. On the very same day that I was writing about their wonderful chemistry, other critics were writing about how chemistry was lacking between the two of them.
Park City, Utah - Up here in the mountains above the Great Salt Lake, everybody seemed to have a definition earlier this month of what an independent filmmaker was. It was just that nobody seemed to agree.