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Hamptons Film Festival Q&A with Chaz Ebert and Alec Baldwin on "Life Itself"

Hamptons Life Itself Screening

On June 21, 2014, “Life Itself” opened the Hamptons International Film Festival's 6th annual SummerDocs series at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. publisher Chaz Ebert and editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz were guests at the event and participated in a post-screening Q&A with Alec Baldwin and Hamptons Film Festival artistic director David Nugent. A transcript follows.

Alec Baldwin: [To Chaz] It’s tough for you every time you watch that movie, huh?

Chaz Ebert: Every single time.  And as I sit here—first of all thank you for inviting me; I’m so glad that you are showing it here, and I have some friends in the audience who were actually at our wedding, and they live here in East Hampton, and I’m glad that they got to see it—but it is weird to sit here. I can’t lie to you. It’s weird to sit here and talk about the movie. I didn’t realize that until … I don’t know. It gets me every single time I see it. And sometimes I can’t even watch it. I just go out while they show the movie and I’ll come back for Q&A. 

The reason that I do like to talk about it is because I thank you for honoring him and his legacy, and the things that he brought to film criticism, and his joy of life. He was just so—he was a joyous man. He was full of joy. The day he passed away I had actually gone to the hospital to take him home because he was getting better. We didn’t know he was leaving that day. Anyway, you...this is a Q&A. [Laughter]

AB: You keep going baby, you keep going! It’s working! 

You met him–how long did you know him before you got married?  You met, obviously, in the twelve step program], because you say [so in the film]–and you knew him how long?

CE: We were together for 24 years and married for 21 years.

AB: So just 3 years and you got married.  You were together for 24 years.  And one thing, because we’ve got a bunch of questions from Matt as well, who’s a critic, and we’re going to look at his bio in a moment, but Chaz, I wanted to ask: a lot changed during his career.  You looked at his footage.  This is actually a question…a lot changed when you look at this footage.  You see how dated this is.  You see these guys did this and they put–I’m stupefied at this–but they put print critics out of business, and then, I think we know the obvious answer but I want to hear Matt talk about who put them out of business.  They were put out of business.  This show ended, not just because of their health, but other people who did the show, Roeper and so forth…what is criticism now and why don’t we have those shows now?

CE: Before you say that, I just have to say one thing.  They didn’t put print critics out of business.  They actually expanded the market.  They created a cottage industry of film criticism.  Film criticism didn’t exist like it did before Siskel and Ebert.  He was syndicated in over 200 newspapers, so it wasn’t him putting print critics out of business.

AB: He elevated it?

CE: He expanded it.  And also, the show would have continued to go on but because of his illness, that’s why the show stopped.

AB: The illness really was the biggest impact.

CE: Yes.

AB: [To Matt Zoller Seitz] What do you think about that?

Matt Zoller Seitz: Well I agree with that.  In fact, I’ve talked about Siskel & Ebert, all the different incarnations—[to audience] as you know, it had many different names—when they left public television and went into syndication, first they changed the name three or four different times, I think. And every time they changed the name of the show, the venue of the show, there would be more people who were going to [take their slots and] be Siskel & Ebert.  There were duos all over the country: national people, regional people, local people.  None of them had the impact of Siskel & Ebert. 

So I personally feel like it was a singularity, and I think it was the chemistry of those particular two guys. And it wasn’t that they – neither of them were, at the beginning at least, polished television personalities. But it was the energy and the authenticity that they had together, and the unusual nature of that energy, that made it popular.  And that and the fact that—as more than one person said, including [Martin] Scorsese, in the film—what they both did was, they made it possible for someone to “read” a movie, to understand a movie, even if they didn’t go to film school, or didn’t know a lot about film history.  They de-mystified criticism, and democratized it, which is kind of an amazing thing.  And I don’t think any of the shows that came after did that.

AB: [To Chaz] What was his consumption?  You give us an honest insight into this, you’re his wife.  What was his consumption of other entertainment and media?  Was he a TV person?  Did he watch TV?  Was he a purist about films?  Did he only like cinema in the movies?  Did he watch TV at home?  Films at home?  What did he think about the way people consume films now?

CE: Well, yeah, we watched – we had a little theatre in our house that we watched films on.  He really loved films.  He didn’t watch much television except for, we liked talking-head political shows, and shows like Charlie Rose.  We also went to [the] theater a lot.  He liked theatre, and we liked the opera.  Our first date was at the Lyric Opera.  I think we saw "Tosca."  So that’s what we did.  And he read.  He was a prodigious reader and so he was always reading when he wasn’t writing.  And sometimes I wondered, “how many Rogers were there?” because he did so much of everything.  He really did grab life with both hands. 

AB: No "Sopranos," no "Wire"…

CE: Let me see…

MZS: You can just say "30 Rock"!

AB: No mention of "30 Rock," or "Jeopardy!" [Laughter]

CE: Oh, oh, yeah!  "30 Rock," of course! [Laughter] Yes!

AB: Come on! [Laughter] No "Wheel Of Fortune"?  Any guilty pleasures there, no?  No, he wasn’t a TV watcher. 

CE: He did watch some television.

AB: You were out most nights.

CE: "Saturday Night Live," I guess.  I don’t know. [Laughter]

AB: OK, OK.  David, go ahead.

David Nugent: No, I was curious too about some of the stuff he watched. But, how many times have you seen the film now, Chaz?  It must be ten times or so at this point?

CE: No, no, I have not watched it that many times.  I’ve gone around and talked about it, but like I said, I know within the first five minutes of watching whether I can sit through it or not.  Sometimes I hear the beginning music and it’s so sad I just turn around and leave the theatre. 

One day though, I did have an experience where I was watching it and all of the humor came through.  Things with him and Gene Siskel, and I’m so sorry someone [in the film] called his earlier girlfriends “psychos” and “gold diggers,” because I knew some of them, and they were not. [Laughter] 

But tonight I wanted to watch it, because I was sitting with friends, and just because I miss him.  So I wanted to see him on the screen. 

AB: Matt, you’re the TV critic for New York Magazine currently, correct?

MZS: Yes.

AB: And how long have you been doing that?

MZS: I’ve been doing that for about two-and-a-half years, but I’ve been a film critic…I’ve been doing criticism in some form or another for about 25 years, and for much of that time I’ve been a TV critic and a film critic simultaneously for different venues.

AB: And you were a finalist, we also have to mention, Roger won the Pulitzer Prize and you were a finalist for the Pulitzer.

MZS: I was, twenty years ago.

AB: And for you was it something that you jump pretty comfortably back and forth between TV and film?  Or do you prefer one or the other?

MZS: No.  It’s funny because I remember when I was writing, I was a TV critic for the Star-Ledger for eleven years, the paper that Tony Soprano picked up at the end of his driveway.  And it was a very exciting paper to be writing about television at when "The Sopranos" came on, and I was a film critic for The New York Press during that same period.  And I remember at that particular time, this was kind of the last gasp of cinema snobbery, and a lot of my colleagues would kind of chide me a little bit because I was a TV critic: “Oh, go off and write about your shows, your stories.” As if I was my grandma or something. 

And I’m happy to see that now the conversation has shifted a little bit, [to] where we’re treating TV as an evolving art form. And I like to tell people that I think cinema had a 50-year head start on TV, and I think TV is at approximately the point that movies were at in the late '60s and early '70s, which is a pretty great place to be. 

And what is [television] going to become eventually?  I don’t know. But this discussion of “is TV the new movies?” or “is TV better than movies?”—I don’t think it is, but I think it’s in the same way that my ten-year-old son can’t beat me at basketball, you know?  It’s a matter of evolution.

CE: Oh, and you reminded me of something: Roger was actually one of the first critics to start reviewing from cable, from TV things, and people said, “Well why don’t you just write about the movies?” and he said, “No, it’s really all the same.  It’s storytelling.”

MZS: They reviewed "Hill Street Blues" when it premiered.  And they reviewed "Twin Peaks."  They would occasionally review TV shows.  I remember Gene Siskel complaining that "Hill Street Blues" was not that big a deal because they were just stealing from Robert Altman. [Laughter]

AB: Now Matt, we talked backstage a little bit about how Steve James, who made this film, made the documentary "Hoop Dreams," twenty years before this movie was made. So you were talking about this kind of karmic circle where it comes back around—where now "Hoop Dreams," a film Ebert helped make successful, he was someone that shined a light on these less-well-known films that had weaker marketing budgets or so forth, drew people’s attention to Errol Morris, who you saw on screen, really helped launch the careers of some of these people by shining that light on them…and you were saying how from your experience as a critic and all that, you say in your own words, you yourself feel the same desire, that your job is to cast that light.

MZS: I do.  I think that’s important, and it’s something I write about quite a bit.  There’s a tendency I think, especially if you are a critic and that’s your job, to treat it as a job, and to sometimes make the kind of decisions you would make if you were just thinking about it as a job.  What I mean is that you want the prestige of writing about "big" films, which usually means the studio films, or the independent films that won an award at a major festival, or a documentary that’s up for an Oscar, or something like that.  I don’t see a lot of critics out there in major positions who are spelunking, getting down on their hands and knees and digging around in the mud and finding the obscure movies, the gems. 

That’s something that Roger and Gene did.  You mention "Hoop Dreams": I first learned about "Hoop Dreams" the same place a lot of other Americans did, which was watching Siskel & Ebert’s show.  They reviewed it at the top of their broadcast; it was the first film.  They always put the “Wow!” film in that first spot, and it was "Hoop Dreams" the week they were opening [the film] at Sundance.  There were like 400 people who could see "Hoop Dreams" [at that point].  They made a statement with that.  They decided to make that movie. And they made that movie. 

They did with "Gates of Heaven," which they saw here.  I wrote a paper on "Gates of Heaven" in college, the Errol Morris documentary about pet cemeteries.  My professor assigned it to everybody in this film class, and I did not rebel against [the assignment] because I watched Siskel and Ebert, and I knew they’d reviewed it three times and thought it was one of the great films of the [‘70s].  And there were a lot of examples of that kind of thing. 

I guess what I’m getting at is that is the tail wags the dog entirely too much in criticism.  There’re too many decisions made on what to cover based on what we think people want to hear about, and what we think they expect to hear about.  That’s why there are 25 stories a day about the new "Star Wars" movie, and there’re ten stories a day about the new superhero movie and all of that, and “Here’s pictures of Godzilla.”

I love those movies, but there’s more to cinema than that.  And we have to go out and find it and show it to people.

AB: Someone once told me that thirty years ago, if you walked into a major studio and said, “I’ve got a great idea, and we’re going to risk a lot of money on this, but we’re going to do a movie, in fact, if it goes well, we’re going to do a series of movies, four or five movies, based on Spider-Man.”  And in that gag you’d see the body of that person go [falling noise] and thrown out the door of the studio and go crashing into the parking lot. 

Now the opposite is true.  Now you walk into the office and if you pitch anything that isn’t Spider-Man, you go [falling noise] and they give you the boot out of the building, and you get hurled cartoon-style out.

MZS: Well I was going to say, I’m writing this book about the films of Oliver Stone that’s going to be out next year, and Oliver, who you’ve worked with, is at a very interesting place.  He’s kind of in the grand old man phase of his career where he’s been traveling around the world getting lifetime achievement awards, but at the same time, he’s trying to get [new] films made, and he was telling me, very frankly, that it’s harder than it’s ever been for a guy like him to get made the kind of films that he makes.  Spike Lee and Oliver Stone were both at Ebertfest, and Spike Lee was there for the 25th anniversary of "Do the Right Thing," Oliver was there for the 25th anniversary of "Born on the Fourth of July," two great American films, released by the same major studio, Universal.  Neither of those movies, I think, would get made at that comparable budget level now.  And he said that he and Spike Lee—I wish I’d been a fly on the wall—[have commiserated] over this, saying, “There’s no place for guys like us anymore in this economy.” I call it the superhero-based economy.

CE: One of the reasons, when Roger passed away I became the publisher of and the CEO of our companies, the Ebert Company, Ebert Digital…when he knew he was ill he said, “Keep these things going, but only if you really want to.”  And I had been, we had been, in business together for over twenty years, in addition to being married to each other. And one of the things that I made a vow to do with is to continue to [cover] not only blockbuster movies, but it’s important to me to have the foreign films, to have documentary films—I think docs are some of the most exciting cinema around—[and] to have independent films, and a diversity of films. 

So what we did is, we used to highlight about six or seven movies a week, and I actually expanded that to thirteen movies a week, which is actually a lot to write about, and I don’t know anyone else who’s writing that often, that many movies, but that’s because I want to give my writers a chance to find gems and to highlight them the way that Roger used to do. 

And I think Matt is doing a very good job with  He’s my editor-in-chief.

MZS: And I should say that when I and the managing editor said, “We should cover everything that is opening in national release,” and that meant doubling the number of reviews that we had budgeted, Chaz said “yes” because we thought it was important and she didn’t hesitate.

CE: Oh well…

AB: What do you think is driving, I mean other than the superhero thing which of course, doesn’t count for all the films that are made, what do you think is driving the…I have my notes in my phone here…what do you think is driving films that the studios make?  I remember a period when the studios wanted stars to tentpole films, if you will, that were not superhero films, and it wasn’t as bad as this. 

I mean, I made this joke maybe on the same stage of this program before, but I remember a period of time when you’d have meetings with the studio and they’d say, “We’re going to do the story of Thomas Jefferson, and we’ve got to get somebody perfect to play Sally Hemings, his black mistress.  Who do you think we should get?”  And the studio would say, “We’re going to get Sandra Bullock to play Sally Hemings.  She’d be great in that, she’d just nail it.  I know what you’re thinking, but it doesn’t really matter, we’re going to work all that out.”  Just the idea of the superimposition, or the insistence of stars to play these roles, whether they were right for these roles or not.

MZS: There’s that great scene in "The Player." [Imitating Dean Stockwell] “Brooooooce Willis!”

AB: And that’s kind of died down now.  A lot of people who had careers with their names attached to a film wouldn’t guarantee things, but they were great leverage in terms of that investment.  That seems to be dissolving as well.  Would you agree?

MZS: Yes, I do.

AB: Who makes money and who doesn’t is kind of completely amorphous now.

MZS: Well I think that the transformation of movies into product has reached a kind of endgame, and there’re a lot of reasons for that. But I think the fact that movies are shot on video instead of film now gives the studios a bit more control over it.  The fact that I just found out –

AB: How so?

MZS: Well for one thing, you can’t keep a secret what you’re shooting.  It used to be that before the days of the video tap, you shot it, hoped it turned out well, and looked at the dailies the next day to see what happened.  And studios, particularly for the tentpole films like superhero movies and big blockbusters, they’re insisting on everything being covered with multiple [video] cameras, so if they don’t like the way the director is directing it, they can recut it in a different way.  And also, the movies are being distributed as downloads, like, they’re not physically shipping the prints anymore, and that makes it easier to control what theatres get the film, keep track of the tickets that are being sold and everything else. It’s kind of a digital data stream. And I think that the devaluing of stars is a huge part of that. 

We used to make fun of the idea that stars drove everything, and I think that was true at a certain point. But it’s not true anymore, and I think the studios breathed a huge sigh of relief.  We make fun of the idea that, “Oh, we’ll cast Bruce Willis in everything, we’ll cast Julia Roberts in everything.”  That was the joke in the movie "The Player."  But if you look at the movies that Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts have been associated with throughout a lot of their career, there was a certain level of quality control there.  And I think that when you cut the actors out as power players, which is what’s happening now, the studios have more control.  It’s almost a process of making the director less powerful, the star less powerful, everybody less powerful…

AB: The studio is the filmmaker. 

MZS: The studio is the filmmaker now!

AB: The studio is the filmmaker now.

MZS: And the Marvel films…I wrote a piece complaining about how all these superhero movies, that all action in these films looks the same, and I want to go to the concession stands during the action scenes, which, if you’d said to me as a kid, “Someday you will go to the concession stand during the action scene,” I’d have said you were crazy. 

But that’s what’s happening, and I was told by a number of people who work on these movies that the studio has the action scenes written out and designed [in advance], and the director has almost nothing to do with them.

AB: You raise an interesting point—and I don’t want to beat this to death, and I’m going to take a couple of questions because it’s late—but you raise a very interesting point, which is true, which is the quality control that was maintained, or part-and-parcel of the star over the system, isn’t true of all stars in the system but most of them, I think, are pretty conscientious people.  Julia Roberts made a lot of good films and is a wonderful actress.  And what I found is that when those people went to work, they wanted good people with them to make the film, on every level. 

Even I remember one time I had this very strange experience—and I don’t want to be self-referential—but I remember I did a film and they said, “You’re going to go do this crime drama down in New Orleans in the middle of the summer, and you’re going to be running through the streets of New Orleans with a gun in your hand, and we’re going to get a local dolly grip.”  I knew a guy who was the number one dolly grip in Los Angeles, Michael O’Brien, and he was the guy.  Oddly enough, his wife was in wardrobe when I worked in the business and I worked with Mike before.  And I went to the producer and said, “Who’s your dolly grip?  Are you going to bring an LA dolly grip to New Orleans?  We have to fly him out and put him up in a hotel per diem,” and they said, “No, no, no.”  I said, “You’re doing an action film in the middle of July in New Orleans and we’re going to be running with guns in our hands and jumping on streetcars and all this crap and you’re not going to bring in a real, top-notch dolly grip?” and they said “No.”  So I said, “I ain’t doing the movie.  I’m going home.”  And they flew him down there, put him in a hotel, and made him the dolly grip.  This is a guy who knew how to push this dolly.  He was a big, tough, NFL-looking guy. 

And that happens in makeup, that happens in editing. I mean, not all actors walk onto the set and have this precious attitude about these things, like, “I want all the beige M&Ms taken out of the M&M container,” like this crap you hear about The Eagles on tour or something, you know?  It’s none of that.  They come in and they go, “Who’s the editor?  Who’s the costumer?  Who’s the lighting?  Who’s the [director of photography]?”  Beyond hair and makeup, because most stars bring their own hair and makeup.  And now…all actors know that the studio wanted to get rid of stars, because stars break up with their boyfriends, and go to rehab, and have their period and won’t come out of their trailer! [Laughter] 

And you can get anybody!  You can get Julianna Roberts, or Pedro Clooney, or somebody who can cost one-tenth what they cost!

MZS: I really wish Pedro Clooney was a real person! [Laughter]

AB: He’s going to be now!  [To his wife Hilaria, in the audience] That’s our name under the hotel, honey, Pedro Clooney!  We stay at hotels under "Pedro Clooney"! 

[To Nugent] Did you have a question?

DN: No, I was just going to say, I think since it’s moved away from the star system, it really seems to be what they call IP, intellectual property, that everyone’s fighting over.  You can make "The Fault in Our Stars" or "50 Shades of Grey" with us in the leads, and people are still going to buy tickets because everyone has read those books and wants to see [them], or "The Lego Movie" or whatever.

MZS: There’s five or ten books in a series, and you can expand it even further by breaking up the books into two movies, which has been done with a lot of these films.

DN: I think these days it’s intellectual property, and the race for that, more than it is for the Pedro Clooneys.

AB: What did you learn, because I could go on and on but we got a late start…what did you learn, if you can say, and I’m assuming there was something about movies, and watching movies, from your husband?  What did he impart to you on that?  Did he teach you how to watch a movie or were you a big movie buff before?

CE: No, I was a big movie buff before Roger.  That’s one of the reasons that we got along so well.  But I did learn…what I actually learned about him in reading his reviews is how important empathy was, and that you don’t watch a movie, if you’re going to give two hours of your life to a movie, it has to be about something.  The storytelling is important, but also it’s important to have a little empathy, to learn what it feels like to be a person of another gender, of another race, of another age, of another physical ability, and that sometimes it’s not just about entertainment. 

AB: What’s the worst thing you ever wrote about someone in a review?  You don’t have to name names.  What’s the worst?  I’ll tell you the worst thing ever said about me in a review!

MZS: I hope I didn’t write it!

AB: Well I’ll say it, you tell me if you wrote it! [Laughter] I think somebody once wrote something like, “What I really would hope after watching this movie, was that Mr. Baldwin’s character would jump out the window of a building, and that the character would land on Mr. Baldwin.” [Laughter]

CE: [To MZS]  Did you write that?

MZS: I didn’t write that!

AB: That the character would kill the actor who portrayed him, and they’d both die at the same time!

MZS: The fact that you were “Mr. Baldwin” on second reference tells me it was The New York Times. [Laughter]

AB: It might be! 

MZS: I would say probably the worst thing I ever wrote about a film or a filmmaker was the movie "Irreversible," which—I know a lot of people love that movie, but I hated it. And I think the last line of my review was, “I hope that someday I meet this filmmaker so I can punch him in the face, because turnabout is fair play.”  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.  The movie is basically beating you on the head for two hours. 

AB: Fantastic. 

[To audience] Anything?  We have mikes out there.  Anybody have any questions?  We’re going to take a couple of questions.  Yes, let’s get a mike down here.

Q1: Chaz, I was curious.  There was a Leonard Cohen song that was your song. [Ed: this is a reference to Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” which plays during an intense scene in “Life Itself.”] Was there a film that you and Roger had some sort of special connection with that was your film?

AB: Is it "Irreversible"? [Laughter]

CE: No, it’s not "Irreversible."

AB: I hope not.

CE: There’s a Henry Jaglom film that I can’t remember the name of when he goes to…

DN: "Summer in the Hamptons"?  No?  He did make the movie "Summer in the Hamptons."

CE: I can’t remember the name of it.  And there’s also a movie by Paul Cox called "Innocence" that we love.  It’s a couple in their 20s who fall in love but their parents don’t want them to get married, and when they’re in their 60s or 70s they get together again. 

AB: Another couple questions over here?  Anyone?  Anyone?  You just want to get this over with so you can go to Chita Nuova?

Q2: If you both enjoyed the same type of music and film, it showed he really had an appreciation of music and that was a big joy in his life, it seemed.

CE: We both have eclectic taste in music.  We both liked all kinds of music: opera, soul, R&B, rap, classical music.  Before he would go into the hospital he would download about 1000 songs in his iPod and just play them.  He had music all around, and I knew that when he was leaving, he would really appreciate going out to Dave Brubeck. 

MZS: You know, I was struck by…this is the fifth time I’ve seen this movie, fourth time with an audience, and each time I’m more struck by the music. Not just the way the film uses music, but the way that Roger used music in his life. There was a line in there that he was almost like the director of the film of his life, and there are times when I think, like, “Yeah, he’s even got a soundtrack.”  It’s incredible. 

And to me, the peak of the whole movie is that Steely Dan moment [Ed: Roger blasts Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years” during an invasive medical procedure.]  That captures the spirit of the guy in the last few months of his life, who was still writing this amazing prose and doing sixteen different things.  

And in fact, every time I see this movie—and I’ve said this to a lot of people—I feel like I’m going to have to watch this movie once a month for the rest of my life. Because whenever I reach a trough—like not a crest, but a trough, emotionally—like, whenever I think “I can’t do everything I’m doing,” I look at this [movie] and I go: “Hey, yeah, you can.” 

CE: You know actually, I feel the same way. 

Even though we lived in the house together, and we saw each other every day, it wasn’t until the first time I saw a clip from this movie that I realized how sick he was.  And you may think, “Well why not?”

But he was just—Every day he didn’t really let things get him down, and he would just keep going, and I knew it was difficult for him, but I always thought he was brave. And he’d say, “Don’t say that, what choice do I have?” And I’d say, “Some people give up.  You do a lot of things that some other people wouldn’t do.” 

But [until] I saw the clip in the hospital, I never really thought of him as sick. 

AB: Anyone?  We’ll take this gentleman here than we’ll finish and I have one last comment.

Q3: Yeah, what made him laugh, or who was his favorite comedian?  What really brought out that laughter that really all of us bubble up with eventually?

AB: Who’d did he think was funny?  That’s so binary, you know?

CE: He liked George Carlin.  He liked…he probably liked a lot of political humor.

AB: Did he watch Colbert and "Daily Show," that kind of thing?

CE: Oh yeah, he did.  He actually thought you were funny on your Monsieur Capretze I think, on "SNL."

AB: He did?  Oh thank God.  We wrote that with him in mind!  [Laughter] Now before we go, our next screening is when, monsieur?

DN: July 25th, Keep On Keepin’ On, it’s a 7:30 screening.

AB: We’re going to do July 25th, and tell us about the film.

DN: Sure.  It’s about Clark Terry, the legendary trumpet player.  It’s produced by Quincy Jones, it’s about Clark Terry having been mentored when he was a young man, and how he’s mentoring a young piano player.  It’s incredibly moving.  It won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, and it’s fantastic.  I think people are going to love it.

AB: Before we go, I want to ask Matt, and anybody on the panel here wants to say something, to make a recommendation.  Everyone here, a lot of people here are real cinephiles, we love film. 

We’re going to show four documentaries here this summer, like we do every summer.  This is our sixth year of summer docs, I’m excited to say, and we’re showing some great films. [Applause

I’m wondering if there’s a film you saw recently, Matt, that you could recommend.  What’s a film you loved? 

MZS: Well, there are three movies off the top of my head that I can recommend.  One of them is, strangely enough, considering how I bashed these kinds of movies, "Godzilla."  [Laughter] I’m serious.  I’ve seen this movie three times now.

AB: You’re here to recommend "Godzilla"?  [Laughter]

MZS: I was, yeah!  [To audience]  Don’t lie, some of you have seen it already!

AB: Now why did you like "Godzilla"?  Because everyone in my world is fifty-fifty on "Godzilla."

MZS: Well, it reminded me of being ten years old and seeing "Close Encounters" for the first time.  It’s an experience movie. And that’s a phrase when I talk to Chaz about movies on the film, and reviews I’ve written and things, she’ll sometimes say, “That was an experience,” about a movie that she liked, which is something Roger used as well. 

There’s another one called "Under the Skin," it’s a sci-fi film with Scarlett Johansson, by the director of the movie "Birth." 

AB: What’s his name again, the guy who did "Birth"?

MZS: Jonathan Glazer.

AB: Right, I loved "Birth."

MZS: And also "Sexy Beast."  He directed that too.

AB: He did "Sexy Beast" with Ben [Kingsley]?  The same guy that did…"Birth"?

MZS: Yes! 

DN: "Birth" screened at the Hampton Film Festival ten years ago.

MZS: There you go.  And I just saw this little movie called "Coherence," a little sci-fi film that looks like it was made for about eight dollars.  It’s all done, it’s all a matter of implication, and it reminded me of a '50s "Twilight Zone" [episode].

AB: Do these have distribution?  Are they coming out?

MZS: Well "Coherence" just opened, actually, and it reminded me of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”  If you’re of a certain generation, you’ll know what episode I’m talking about.  Really creepy!

CE: I would recommend a movie called "Belle," if you haven’t seen it, based on a true story of a daughter of a slave and an admiral in England, whose case helped…enact some of the legislation that ended slavery in England.  It’s a beautiful costume piece but it also has some depth.  It’s beautiful.  And another one that’s not in the movies now, you may have to look for it on, I don’t know, Netflix or somewhere, but "Le Week-End."

MZS: That’s a good one.

AB: What’s that about?

CE: It’s about a British couple who’ve been married for about thirty years, and on their thirtieth wedding anniversary, they’re going to Paris to celebrate their marriage, but the wife really wants a divorce, and they run into Jeff Goldblum in Paris, which becomes so eccentric, and it’s a very entertaining movie.

MZS: I love Jeff Goldblum.  You say “They run into Jeff Goldblum” and immediately half the people are like, “I’m sold.”


AB: David Nugent, have you got one or two?

DN: "Boyhood" is coming out in a couple of weeks, by Rick Linklater, the director of "Dazed and Confused," "Bernie," "Before Midnight" and all of those movies.  It’s a movie he’d been making for twelve years now, that chronicles a young boy who’s growing up, and he started filming him when I think he was about five, and at the end of the movie he’s seventeen and they went back every summer and filmed for a couple of weeks in the summer, and you see this boy grow up on camera.  It stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and it’s an absolutely magical movie.  That comes out, I think, in a couple of weeks.

MZS: Oh, and can I put in a word for a movie that played at Ebertfest this year?  A movie called "Museum Hours," by Jem Cohen, which is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, and it reminded me of a movie that Roger loved and loved and wouldn’t stop talking about, "My Dinner With Andre."  It feels like "My Dinner With Andre" in a museum. 

DN: What about you Alec?

AB: My recommendation?  I went to Spain with my wife last year and shot the fifth installment of the Torente comedy series in Spain.  I’m one of the stars of "Torente Cinco," in which Santiago Sugura plays the racist, sexist, police officer in Spain, and I am his nemesis!  It’s like an "Oceans 11" parody.  It’s going to be one of the greatest comedies of all time! [Laughter] "Torente Cinco" coming to Europe this fall!  OK, thanks for coming, thank you! 

(Hamptons Films Festival photos credited to Eugene Gologursky, except photo of Alec Baldwin and Chaz Ebert credited to Harley Hall.)
Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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