Thoughts on a few films and a larger conversation with the director Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn about the state of cinema.
“A Quiet Place” is John Krasinski’s breakthrough as a triple-threat entertainer, but it’s been a long time coming.
"American Masters: Inventing David Geffen" premieres Tuesday, Nov. 20th at 8:00pm on PBS. (Check local listings.) It can also be viewed, where available, via PBS On Demand.
by Jeff Shannon
It was my good fortune to be working at Microsoft when the big announcement was made in March of 1995: Microsoft was entering into a joint venture with DreamWorks SKG, the new film studio and entertainment company founded the previous year by mega-moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (the "SKG" in the company's original moniker). At the time, Microsoft dominated the booming business of multimedia publishing, and the group I was working in, nicknamed "MMPUB," was producing a dazzling variety of CD-ROM games and reference guides. As an independent contractor I was the assistant editor of Cinemania, a content-rich, interactive movie encyclopedia (later enhanced with a website presence) that was an elegant and in some ways superior precursor to the Internet Movie Database.
Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)
"Johnny Carson: The King of Late Night" (120 minutes) premieres on PBS' "American Masters" at 9:00pm Monday, May 14th (check local listings). The film will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 17th.
As I reflect on my life, I grow increasingly grateful for having witnessed the greatest half-century in the history of the United States. Consider just a few of the crucial events that have shaped us during the past 50 years: The civil rights movements for African-Americans, women and the disabled; the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK; the war in Vietnam and its domestic fallout; landing on the moon and exploring the outer reaches of the universe; the global trauma of AIDS and seemingly perpetual threats of war and terrorism; and, perhaps most important, the emergence and meteoric rise of the digital age, exemplified by the Internet and social media with the power to literally change history through an exponential expansion of human connectedness.
If you've witnessed these decades through the multicolored lenses of popular culture, the rewards have been astonishing. Consider the careers we've seen in that time: Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Springsteen, Madonna, The Clash, U2, Nirvana... Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey... Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Werner Herzog... We could all make our own long lists and we'd all arrive at the same conclusion: The past half-century has been nothing short of phenomenal.
And one way or another, it all comes down to "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
"Pearl Jam Twenty" is available On Demand (check your satellite or cable listings) and premieres on the PBS series "American Masters" at 9 p. m. (ET/PT), Oct. 21. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 25. For additional viewing, the grunge documentary "Hype!" is available on Netflix (DVD only).
by Jeff Shannon
Here in Seattle, we think of Cameron Crowe as an honorary native. When he married Nancy Wilson in 1986, he married into local rock royalty: Nancy and her sister, Ann, are the pioneering queens of rock in Heart, the phenomenally successful and still-touring Seattle-based band that is presently nominated for induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. It wasn't long before Crowe became a kind of de facto ambassador of Seattle-based rock.
At the time, the rest of the world still knew Crowe as the rock-journalist wunderkind who started writing for Rolling Stone at age 15 (an experience Crowe would later dramatize in "Almost Famous") and the author-turned-screenwriter of Amy Heckerling's 1982 high-school classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." You could reasonably speculate that the seeds of the Crowe/Wilson romance were planted in "Fast Times": Nancy Wilson makes a cameo appearance in the film as "Beautiful Girl in Car," catching Judge Reinhold's character in yet another moment of humiliating embarrassment. One can imagine Crowe thinking "I'm gonna marry that girl." When he actually did, countless male Heart fans turned green with envy.
(By sheer happenstance, I made a friendly connection with Crowe three years before we actually met. Shortly after the newlywed Crowe moved to the Eastside Seattle suburb of Woodinville, he and Nancy placed a mobile home on their rural property to accommodate visits from Wilson's mother. At the time, my father was running a mortgage business specializing in mobile/land sales in Snohomish County, and he closed their deal. When my dad informed Crowe that I was a Seattle film critic and an admirer of his, Crowe sent me a signed copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High to my dad's office. It was a completely unsolicited gesture of kindness, and a pleasant precursor to later encounters.)
Marie writes: my brother Paul recently sent me an email sharing news of something really cool at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. For those who don't remember - as I'm sure I've mentioned it in the Newsletter before, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was original built 1889 and constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks. 450 feet (137m) long and 230 feet (70m) high, today's bridge is made of reinforced steel safely anchored in 13 tons of concrete on either side of the canyon (click images to enlarge.)
From the Grand Poobah: After much planning with festival director Nate Kohn, here is the schedule for Ebertfest 2011, which Ebert Club members are of course the first to learn about. This schedule is tentative; several guests may be added.Wednesday April 275:00 pm Reception at University President's House (VIP passholders only)7:00 pm METROPOLIS Restored, with the Alloy Orchestra.-----------------Thursday April 289:00 am For Ebert Club members: Meet & Greet coffee and pastries, hosted by Chaz and Roger Ebert at the Illini Union.10:30 am Panel Discussion 1 (Nate Kohn moderates festival guests), Illini Union1:00 pm UMBERTO D, by Vittorio De Sica.3:30 pm MY DOG TULIP, with directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger in person.8:00 pm TINY FURNITURE (98 min). In person: Kyle Martin, producer; David Call, actor; Alex Karposky, actor.------------------Friday April 299:00 am Panel Discussion 2, (Eric Pierson, moderator), Illini Union10:30 am Panel Discussion 3 (Far Flung Correspondents, Omer Mozaffer, moderator), Illini Union1:00 pm "45365," with directors Turner Ross and Bill Ross in person4:00 pm ME AND ORSON WELLES, with director Richard Linklater in person8:30 pm ONLY YOU, with director Norman Jewison in person-----------------Saturday April 3011:00 am A SMALL ACT. In person: Patti Lee, producer; Jennifer Arnold, director; Hilde Back.2:00 pm World Premiere: LIFE, ABOVE ALL. In person: Oliver Stoltz, producer; Khomotso Manyaka, actor; Michael Barker, distributor.6:30pm LEAVES OF GRASS. In person: Tim Blake Nelson.9:30pm I AM LOVE. In person: Tilda Swinton.---------------Sunday May 1Noon: LOUDER THAN A BOMB. In person: Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs, directors; Kevin Coval, artistic director and founder; five poets will perform.For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit EBERFEST 2011Metropolis Restored (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang
Bruce Eaton, in his 331/3 book on Big Star's "Radio City" (2009):
Beyond talent, there's the often dismissed importance of experience -- in music and life. Does an artist have something interesting to say and the ability to say it in a unique and interesting way? The answer is usually "not really." One of the chief reasons that rock and roll from the 1960s and early 1970s still looms large is that its creators had deep reserves of experience to draw upon when the time finally came to go to the well in the recording studio. Take The Beatles or The Stones, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Each knew hundreds upon hundreds of cover tunes -- a disparaged concept today but vital to learning how music works -- and had played endless gigs trying to sell them to indifferent, if not downright hostile, audience. That experience takes patience but it eventually can get you to a point where you can write songs of your own that become a meaningful and permanent part of other peoples' lives.
Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."
Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."
As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...
View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...
So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.
But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...
View image No one here gets out alive.
At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."
ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:
1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)
The Pale Man knows how to do The Contrarian. He sits motionless until an external stimulus prompts him into motion.
There's a brand new dance That's easy to do It's called the Contrarian And it's all about you!
Strike a hipster pose And admire your reflection Just be sure you're facing In an opposite direction!
(apologies to Rufus Thomas)
Is Armond White too easy a target? Does any other movie critic have a blog devoted to "parsing the confounding film criticism" he produces? (See the hilariously titled Armond Dangerous.)
At the risk of sounding contrarian, I want to suggest that White (published on the web via the weekly New York Press) is by no means the worst movie reviewer in the United States. He just pretends to be the baddest.
The all-too-common White review is a reactionary tirade that owes a lot to the angry shtick of aging hipster comedians like Dennis Leary and Dennis Miller back in the 1990s ("hipster" being White's favorite term of disapprobation). White can also be funny, but I wish he thought so, too -- and that his humor arose from his observations about movies rather than his hysterical indignation.
In this sense, White doesn't necessarily practice film criticism, although what he writes is almost always based on his real or imagined characterization of what other critics have already written. The movie itself sometimes gets lost in White's internal monologue as he rages against some chimerical critical consensus.
In the Bizarro World, Armond White is Jeffrey Lyons. He's the negative campaigner's blurbmeister. Just substitute disses for superlatives and you'll find a similar (anti-)promotional blurb mentality at work. This is the most elementary form of so-called "criticism" -- purely heirarchical rather than analytical or exploratory. It's not even "This is why I prefer this to that"; it's just "This is better than that because I choose to say so."
There is none so blind as he who will not see. It's true. Ray Stevens sang it in the hit single "Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)." I have no idea why I just mentioned that.
MSN Movies has published its main movie contributors' lists of the year's best films (and, yeah, we cheated freely -- our lists don't all contain ten titles). Here you'll find lists from me and (in alphabetical order) some other names you may recognize: Sean Axmaker, Gregory Ellwood, David Fear, Richard T. Jameson, MSN Movies chieftan Dave McCoy, Kim Morgan and Kathleen Murphy. As is my custom, I don't make what I see as artificial and qualitatively meaningless distinctions between categories (documentary, "foreign language") because, the way I see it, a feature film is a feature film, and a doc or a movie from somewhere else in the world is every bit as much a product of conscious and unconscious artistic decision-making, skill, planning, determination and luck as any other kind of picture with a running time of around an hour or more. (That, arguably, is a meaningless distinction, too. Heck, "Simon of the Desert" and "Wavelength" are only 45 minutes long, "Sherlock, Jr." is 44, " and "Un Chien Andalou" is only sweet 16!)
I'm cooking up a different sort of list I want to do for Scanners and RogerEbert.com, but if you want to see my faves (as of my deadline last week -- and nothing I've seen since then would change my rankings), use the link above and/or check after the jump. Please see my post about listmaking in general, below... and please, as always, feel free to post your own lists and responses in the comments section!