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Tony Randall


Down with Love (2003)
Foolin' Around (1980)

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The slick and the raw

View image Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is no city slickster. Still, he thinks knowing how to use a camera might possibly be a good thing when it comes to making a movie.

Two sentences in the New York Times story announcing the line-up for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival jumped out at me as symptomatic of a fashionable but misguided attitude toward the art and craft of filmmaking today: And some of the more striking, original documentaries were quite unpolished, [Sundance festival director Geoffrey] Gilmore said. “You’d get a sense they’d never touched a camera before.”Now, I am all for striking, original films -- including unpolished ones. Among my favorite documentaries of recent years are Chris Wilcha's "The Target Shoots First" and Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation" -- both films made with small consumer video cameras by people recording their own experiences over long periods of time. Neither man considered himself a "filmmaker" when he started shooting, but both discovered what they needed to express while making these films. I could not be more enthusiastic about the means of production finally being within the reach of the proletariat (people like me).

But, as I've been wondering for some time now: What is behind this popular and patently false critical suspicion that a "well-crafted" movie is automatically phony or inauthentic, while a film that is "unpolished" is considered genuine -- automatically real or truthful? This is especially troubling to me when the people expressing this attitude fail to convey a recognition of the distinctions between artistry and production values -- or between validity and lack of skill.

Likewise, I've never understood why a so-called "independent film" (a term that usually refers to the source[s] of the production financing, if that) should be appreciated or evaluated any differently than a studio-bankrolled film (which may well be a negative pick-up distributed by a major or one of its "dependent" arms). It's unbelievably hard to get a film made either way, and just because you have studio financing doesn't mean you won't be fighting for money or time or resources (and, probably, creative control as well). It definitely means that more of your budget will go to overhead costs. Studios also force you to deal with development execs who may consume a lot of your time and energy trying to put their unwelcome fingerprints on the movie (just to justify their salaries). But even if you get your movie made more or less the way you want to with your indie financiers, there's no guarantee that your indie distributor (if you get one) won't demand cuts or changes that don't necessarily make the film any better or more marketable.

I've seen plenty of big-budget Hollywood films made by professionals who evidently knew little or nothing about what they were doing. It's like they'd never touched a camera (or an editing table or a mixing board) or even encountered an actor before. And it's not pretty. It isn't any good, either, but there it is. I've also seen low-budget films, shot on video or 16 mm, that exhibit an affinity for cinema, for communicating through images and sound, that no budget or payroll could ever buy. And I've seen way, way too many indie movies that have no reason to exist except as somebody's lottery ticket for a Hollywood deal. They're as empty as any studio product, just more dishonest about their commercial ambitions.

Festivals & Awards

'Baby' stages late-round Oscar rally

HOLLYWOOD - "Million Dollar Baby" scored a late-round rally Sunday night at the 77th annual Academy Awards as Clint Eastwood's movie about a determined female boxer won for best picture and took Oscars for actress (Hilary Swank), supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and director (Eastwood).


Interview with Alan Arkin

The way it happened that he came to Chicago, Alan Arkin said, was that after he quit singing with the Tarriers he fooled around in New York for awhile, a few acting jobs and a few office jobs that mostly fell through because he couldn't stand working in an office, and then he went out to St. Louis to work with an improvisational group.