The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Black, more than anyone else, should have been the one to wind up The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Too bad he doesn't…
Anath White, an Illinois native, was a committed "movie goer" in her early teens. By college, the International Film Series at the University of Colorado turned her on to film. Following a back-to-nature stint in the mountains above Boulder (no running water, plumbing nor electricity, no neighbors for miles), she moved to Denver and gave 10 years to radio. Five were at public station KCFR-FM, when it was still "free form." As a deejay, local host for "Morning Edition," and producer of dozens of arts/film-related segments, including for NPR, she was awarded a national Grant for Women in Public Broadcasting. She segued into (pre-Limbaugh) talk when she began producing shows for Alan Berg, the top talk host at the venerable 50,000 watt KOA-AM. Nine months later, Berg was murdered in a political assassination by a neo-Nazi cadre. Fast forward 5 years. When Oliver Stone directed Talk Radio, a script which combined a play by Eric Bogosian with elements of the Alan Berg story, White was Stone's technical advisor on the Dallas shoot, and had a cameo in the film. This experience gave her the gumption to relocate to Los Angeles. Since 1990, after holding distribution and special projects coordinating positions at the AFI, she's done everything from script coverage for The Sundance Institute to researcher/creative consultant on numerous Showtime films, to associate producing/coordinating British TV shoots in the U.S. and associate producing three documentaries.
News that the incomparable journalist Mike Wallace has died brought back a story. In a life filled with remarkable and dramatic events, it is perhaps among the most memorable but little told. It happened in Iran in 1981.
In early 1979, the Iranian Revolution burst upon the world, forcing out the widely-hated, long-serving despot, Shah Reza Pahlavi, and bringing the exiled Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. Anger at America, whose policies had supported the Shah and interfered in Iran's politics for decades, was widespread, as thousands of Iranians demonstrated daily in the streets, and Khomeini denounced "the Great Satan." That November, revolutionary students stormed the American Embassy in search of C.I.A. files, taking the 52 staffers present hostage. It was a siege that would last a seemingly infinite 444 days, becoming an American sensation on the nightly news (ABC's "Nightline" was created to cover "the Iran hostage crisis"), and profoundly influencing the outcome of the 1980 Presidential election.
It's a sunny, unseasonable 80 degrees as the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicks in, but all I want is to be indoors. When you peer at a schedule listing nearly 200 films jammed into 10 days, and you just can't wait, you know you're an addict. This is my third SBIFF so I recognize the signs.
Suddenly each January, there's an extra bustle in this appealing, laid-back town. Downtown on lower State Street, trucks appear bearing vivid banners, soon to be festooned overhead. Special lights and rigging go up at 2 central venues - the precisely restored, historic Lobero and Arlington Theatres. Locals watch to see whether Festival Director Roger Durling changes his hair: one year it was spikey, another year purple. This time it's rather like Heathcliff - longer, romantic.
Awards season again. Last year, as you may recall, a many months pregnant Natalie Portman received the Oscar for Best Actress for "Black Swan." Her lithesome acceptance speech, without notes, thanked many colleagues she knew had helped her stand there. As both a lifelong moviegoer and a worker on films, my spirit lifted at these words: "There are people on films that no one ever talks about, that are your heart and soul every day, including Joe Reidy, our incredible A.D..." Along with so many others, I was thrilled by her sentiment -- and especially pleased for Joe Reidy.
He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.
Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.
The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.
Call it a bloodbath. Not literally, of course, but it sure felt like one.
It was a Friday afternoon in late spring 1993 at The American Film Institute. The Class of 1992, which had pretty much killed itself making short films ("cycle projects") since starting the program in September, was waiting for a list. Dreading it, too. Because everybody'd known all year that of 168 "Fellows," as AFI calls them --- only 40 (or just 8 across 5 disciplines - directing, producing, cinematography, editing, production design) would be invited back, making that coveted Second Year cut for the opportunity to produce a second year film.
A top secret selection committee debated late into the day. Even I, then Special Projects Coordinator and right hand to the Dean of Studies, didn't know who was meeting. There was tension everywhere, clinging like the humidity of a Midwestern summer, as the committee decided, and the Fellows waited.
A foggy morning on the last day of the festival. One more week of movie-going, as Egypt totters and my native Midwest suffers another snowstorm, has caused both guilt and gratitude. But before I describe what I've been experiencing in balmy Santa Barbara, an upfront mea culpa, as earlier I mangled the name of a delightful film and want to correct it here. "Good for Nothing" comes from New Zealand, a spaghetti western with a bit of "Unforgiven" tossed in. Well acted and very scenic, the story centers on an Eastwood-like lone cowboy, who says little, thinks guns are meant for killing and women for --- When he kidnaps a young English traveler, rather than dominating her as he evidently intends, she gains control, ultimately humanizing the guy and helping him unfold his hidden heart. A man at the festival suggested that, "as a woman," I wouldn't like this film at all - but he was wrong.
"The church of baseball." That's a term from Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon's vivid character in "Bull Durham," that film of men, women and baseball, written and directed by Santa Barbara native Ron Shelton. I'm lifting the phrase here, adapting it for films and film festivals.Call it the church of cinema. That's been my experience and my "church" since age 18, a kid in college. I'd escape the campus upheaval, both political (this was the anti-war era) and personal (the sexual revolution hitting big time), and my search for identity, with a respite every Wednesday afternoon; with a couple dozen others, I became a weekly acolyte at screenings of the International Film Series at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There I discovered Belmondo, Bertolucci, "The Battle of Algiers." My world blew open and I never looked back.
Roger Ebert writes: Alan Berg was a Denver talk-radio host who was murdered on June 18, 1984. He was a goofy-looking bird, with a thin face and a bristly white beard that hid the ravages of teenage acne. He wore reading glasses perched far down on his nose, and he dressed in unlikely combinations of checks and stripes and garments that looked left over from the 1950s. When the members of a lunatic right-wing group gunned him down in the driveway of his home, they could not have mistaken him for anybody else.
I was on Berg's radio show three or four times. I listened to him as I drove down from Boulder to Denver. He was chewing out some hapless housewife whose brain was a reservoir of prejudices against anyone who was the slightest bit different from her. Berg was telling her that no one in his right mind would want to be anything like her at all.