John McNaughton talks about the making of his underrated 1993 film, Mad Dog and Glory, on the occasion of a special edition Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber.
With FilmStruck gone and no real alternative filling the void at present, Amazon is in a prime position to grab up fans of classic movies.
Brian Doan wonders if Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film," showing over 15 weeks on TCM this fall, deserves all the praise it has received.
Camille Paglia is known for being both brilliant and wacky (possibly wacko) -- often at the same time, which is probably when she's at her most inspired. A founding contributor at Salon.com (and co-star of "It's Pat: The Movie"), Paglia spoke on the phone to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman yesterday after the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, and offered up an extraordinary tribute. I just wanted to share some of it with you. Lauerman begins by quoting something Paglia wrote about Taylor in Penthouse in 1992:
"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm." Paglia takes it from there:
Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill. [...]
Elizabeth Taylor, who was a great actress and a greater star, has died at age 79. Of few deaths can it be said that they end an era, but hers does. No other actress commanded more attention for longer, for her work, her beauty, her private life, and a series of health problems that brought her near death more than once.
By Roger Ebert
Susannah York, the British actress who could plunge deep into drama and then skip playfully in comedies, died Saturday of bone marrow cancer. She was 72.
Raised in Scotland, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, she was 20 when she made her first important film, the classic "Tunes of Glory" with Alec Guinness.
She was to become an icon of 1960s British films in such titles as "Kaleidoscope," "A Man for All Seasons," "The Killing of Sister George," "Oh! What a Lovely War" and "The Battle of Britain." She memorably played a patient in John Huston's "Freud" (1962), starring Montgomery Clift. But it was as a newlywed struggling to win a marathon dance prize in the American film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" (1969) that she won an Academy Award nomination.
In 1972 she won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival as a schizophrenic housewife in Robert Altman's "Images." Altman fulminated for the rest of his life that York and the film never received the respect they deserved.
York starred in films as recently as 2009, and did a great deal of London stage work and television. One success was Piers Haggard's "A Summer Story" (1988), adapted from the John Galsworthy story. Petite and lively all her life, her hair often in a pixie cut, she was a popular guest on British chat and game shows.
Married in 1960 to the actor Michael Wells, she had two children, Sasha and the actor Orlando Woods, before their divorce in 1973. She and her children had close-by homes near Clapham Common in South London, and Orlando told the Guardian: "She loved nothing more than cooking a good Sunday roast and sitting around a fire of a winter's evening. In some senses, she was quite a home girl. Both Sasha and I feel incredibly lucky to have her as a mother."
In private life she was a political activist, active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She is survived by her children and two grandchildren.
Tom Jones (1964) Directed by Tony Richardson.
Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.
2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.
I think QT is wrong about Paul Dano (who is, to repurpose his Anderson-Tarantino comparison, Montgomery Clift to Daniel Day Lewis's Marlon Brando), but this makes me want to see "There Will Be Blood" again, willing to reconsider it afresh. Dano's character Eli Sunday is supposed to play the smaller, weaker, younger, inferior charismatic performer to the bombastic Daniel Plainview -- but both characters are born salesmen in different fields (religion, business), comparably calculating, bitter, egomaniacal and insane. Day Lewis got all the attention (and the Oscar), but he owes half of it to Dano, without whom his performance could not be what it is.
View image Imprinted on/in your head...
In Steve Erickson's novel "Zeroville," a young man with a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun" imprinted on his shaved head arrives in Hollywood in the summer of 1969. Raised a strict Calvinist (not coincidentally like Paul Schrader, writer of "Taxi Driver"), his hunger for, and obsession with, movies has a religious fervor to it.
He develops protective feelings for a young girl in the Hollywood fast-lane (echoes of Travis Bickle and Iris). He takes her to the Fine Arts for a revival of "A Place in the Sun." The audience laughs at some of the "dated" moments, and the girl (Isadora, who goes by Zazi -- as in "... dans le métro" by Louis Malle, 1960?) thinks it's silly. He is devastated. But one night she watches the movie, alone, on TV. It is a revelation to her. "The thing is, that movie last night is a completely different movie when you watch it by yourself. Why is that? Movies are supposed to be watched with other people, aren't they? Isn't that part of the point of movies -- you know, one of those social ritual things, with everyone watching? It never occurred to me a movie might be that different when you don't watch it with anyone else. And that movie... [...]
"That's a movie you see alone and it gets into you. I've been up all night. I said it was silly when we saw it together, but that was way off. There's nothing silly about that movie. Twisted and deeply f---ked up, yeah... but silly, no. Too twisted not to be private, you know?
"I mean, five hundred or a thousand people or however many it is in a theater -- what are they going to do with a movie like that? There's too much common sense floating around the room, and what you have to do with a movie like that is give up your common sense, which is easier to do when it's just you alone. It just seems... radical, any movie that, like demands your privacy, because it's, you know... a movie like that makes common sense completely beside the point, and you're one on one with it, in the living room by yourself rather than the theater with all those people, and watching it is like being naked and you can't be naked like that with strangers, you can't even stand the idea of it, and you know that after you're finished with it, much more with a movie like that than any stupid horror flick, some deep dark shit is going to be waiting at the bottom of the stairs... so I just couldn't sleep. That movie's like a ghost. Watch it and you become the thing or person that it haunts. Last night, the movie became mine and no one else's."
View image Todd on Bob: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), as one incarnation -- a name-dropping bluesman in 1959 (with tales of Blind Willie McTell and Gorgeous George) who seems to think he's still in the Great Depression. Others include Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), Jack Rawlins/Pastor John (Christian Bale) and "Billy" McCarty (Richard Gere).
"I was born a poor black child..." -- Steve Martin, "The Jerk"
"God, I'm glad I'm not me." -- Bob Dylan, on reading an article about himself in 1965 (quoted in the press kit for Todd Haynes' movie, originally titled "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan")
Folk-turned-electric singer/songwriter Jude Quinn (looking for all the world like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and played by Cate Blanchett) is riding in a big black limousine when, unaccountably, Allen Ginsburg (David Cross) appears on a golf cart in the rear window, smiling and waving with his frizzy hair blowin' in the wind. Ginsburg pulls up alongside the limo, Quinn rolls down the window, and they travel along parallel trajectories (past a cemetary) while having a brief exchange about an interview Ginsburg had done with a reporter in which the Beat poet was asked about Quinn's musical motives as if all Voices of Their Generation were pretty much one and the same. "They asked you that?!?" Quinn laughs.
View image Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) in "I'm Not There" in "Don't Look Back" in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in black and white.
That's a little taste of what it's like to watch Haynes' "I'm Not There," which is not only a kaleidoscopic view of events in the life, music and myth of Bob Dylan, but a critical deconstruction and synthesis of Dylan's various media representations -- from D.A. Pennebaker's legendary "Don't Look Back" to Dylan's own "Reynaldo and Clara" to Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan." In some ways, it's the natural companion to "Don't Look Back" (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted "Reynaldo and Clara" to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted "Velvet Goldmine" to be. It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" and "Petulia," Godard's "Masculin-Feminin," Fellini's "8 1/2" and others, too) -- and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings -- and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie.
View image Christian Bale (this guy can do anything) as Jack Rawlins.
The earlier film was about the glam era, freely mixing bits and pieces of fact and lore from the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Ferry and others (don't forget Oscar Wilde, who is deposited on earth by a UFO), and that's the kind of thing Haynes is up to here -- mostly with Dylan, but also with "real" and fictional characters around him. Some are identified by their familiar names (like John, Paul, George, and Ringo), some are thinly disguised (or undisguised) stand-ins. And this time he has the music rights, too. Just about the only thing missing is Donovan.
View image Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger).
Do you have to know about, or have lived through, the life and legend of Dylan to "get" this film? I don't know. I don't think so, but you'll certainly understand it on more levels if you've seen the Pennebaker, Dylan & Sam Shepard, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Godard, Lester, Fellini, et al. movies mentioned above. And if you know at least some of the music, and something about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and the war in Vietnam and the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest and Joan Baez (and "Diamonds and Rust") and Sara and Swinging London and the Beats and Albert Goldman and The Hawks (and The Band) and The Basement Tapes and the Rolling Thunder Revue and "Tarantula" and Columbia Records and the motorcycle accident and the "electric" debut at the Newport Folk Festival and the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert in 1966 ("Judas!" "I don't believe you...") which actually took place at Manchester's Free Trade Hall (just another part of the legend) and Elvis Presley movies and James Dean movies Marlon Brando movies and Montgomery Clift movies... and so on.
View image Jude Quinn (Almighty).
I was a senior in high school when "Blood on the Tracks" came out and utterly changed my life (not the first time Dylan would do that for me), so although most of '60s Dylan predated my awareness of his actual records (we sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in my fourth grade homeroom, with Miss Kwinsland on ukelele, but I didn't know it was a Dylan song; we sang Woody Guthrie tunes, too), I absorbed a lot of this stuff simply by being a young American with an interest in politics and art and pop culture. But do you have to be familiar with all of this in order to appreciate "I'm Not There"? I don't think so. (But consider this: Bruce Greenwood plays Quinn's BBC interviewer/adversary, Mr. Jones, and Pat Garrett.)
A Dylanophile friend was asked if he was in "Dylan heaven" after the film. He thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah. I guess I am." I don't know about that. But I'm at least knockin' on heaven's door.
That's all I'll say for now, because I'm salivating over the prospect of seeing and writing about this movie in more detail later....
Oh, just one other thing. I've talked to five or six people who, unprovoked, described exactly the same response to different moments in the movie. But they all involved having the experience of consciously thinking: "I am in love with Cate Blanchett."
Herewith, a belated salute, on the occasion of the sailing of the revamped "Poseidon," to the late, great Shelley Winters. At a party of movie geeks on a rainy Seattle night -- the evening of her death (January 14, 2006) -- I hoisted a scotch in her memory and toasted some of her greatest moments -- which, as it turned out, seemed to revolve around death and water. Not only was she a terrific actress (in comedy and drama), but she is responsible for some of the most memorable liquid exits in movie history. Consider:
1924: Born April 3, in Omaha, Neb., of Dutch-Irish descent, the youngest of three children of a salesman and an amateur actress. 1938: Enrolls in Libertyville High School as a freshman. 1944: Makes his Broadway debut as the teenage son in the hit "I Remember Mama." 1946: Is named Broadway's most promising actor after he plays a World War II veteran in "Truckline Cafe." 1947: Creates his landmark portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway. 1950: Makes his film debut in Fred Zinnemann's "The Men," as a paralyzed war veteran. 1952: Receives his first Oscar nomination for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). 1955: After losing three consecutive Oscar bids ("Julius Caesar" and "Viva Zapata!"), finally wins for "On the Waterfront" (1954). 1961: Makes his directorial debut on "One-Eyed Jacks," widely regarded as a disaster at the time. 1963: Participates in civil rights march in Washington, D.C., with Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin and other luminaries. 1966: Buys a private island off the Pacific coast and lives there off and on for the next three decades. 1972: Is forced to audition for the role of Don Corleone in "The Godfather" because of his diminished reputation in Hollywood. It would become his defining performance. 1973: Rejects the best actor Oscar for "The Godfather" (1972) to protest the treatment of Native Americans and sends Sacheen Littlefeather to the ceremony to make a speech on his behalf.
In his introduction to "Who the Devil Made It," a rich collection of his interviews with 16 great Hollywood directors, Peter Bogdanovich remembers Orson Welles saying, "You told me about all these old directors whom people in Hollywood say are 'over the hill,' and it made me so sick, I couldn't sleep."
Here is perhaps the finest young actor in American movies, and he says he's decided to say the hell with it, and walk away from acting, and direct films for a living. Did the gossip machine destroy Sean Penn, or is this just a phase he's going through?
Francois Truffaut once said that it was impossible to pay attention to a film shot in the house where you were born because you'd always be noticing that they wallpapered the bedroom. I knew I was in for the same sort of problem in the opening scene of "The Hot Spot" (opening Friday in Chicago). Dennis Hopper's new thriller was made in 1990 but its psychic center is 1957, and Don Johnson, who plays a mysterious stranger from out of town, roars onto the screen in a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk.