Saturday, July 15, 2006

Last update was July 12; since then, quite a few things have happened. I guess the Asian-American Film Festival started without me, which is fine. I hope that it's going well, but it was too much trouble to even bother trying to find out the schedule. (Actually, last night, i went to the website - http://www.aaiff.org - and there were glitches, like trying to get to the information on specific titles, and then clicking and coming to one of those this-page-cannot-be-displayed items... i just gave up, which was wrong, but what can i do?) On Thursday, went to the wrap-up session for the IFP Market; a few shorts did come in late, and Wendy Sax and i had a discussion on merits and on what she should do. Is there room for 12 shorts? We were told that the limit was 10, but can this be stretched?

Friday was the second AAARI lecture. This time, it went smoothly, but the guy from the first week wasn't there. I had wanted to give him the information on Wong Kar-Wai's "My Blueberry Nights". Oh, well....

On Thursday, Payal and i had an interesting discussion about the options for Asian-American filmmakers. Payal (before working for the IFP) worked for Mira Nair, and she described Mira's attempt to balance a career in the American film industry with "independent" work, specifically work that is based in Indian culture.

I'm still trying to finish the article which was prompted by the responses that i got when i tried to make the case (or, rather, when i regurgitated Andrew Sarris's case) for Joan Fontaine's career over Olivia de Havilland's on the IMDB message board, and i got pelted with all these defenses of de Havilland. The idea of "artistic quality" (in which, just as five examples, "The Women", "Rebecca", "Suspicion", "Jane Eyre" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman" rate far above "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "Gone With the Wind", "To Each His Own", "The Snake Pit" and "The Heiress") no longer seems to matter. People no longer judge in terms of "quality", they judge in terms of longevity and popularity and all this other crap. Of course, it reminds me of the time Larry and i ran into David Schiff (who is now teaching music and sometimes writes for the Atlantic Monthly) after he was coming from "The Godfather Part II" (a movie i still refuse to acknowledge as of any merit whatsoever... but in 1972, i wasn't alone! Stanley Kauffmann, Andrew Sarris, Molly Haskell all gave it negative reviews, and David Thomson wrote a long pan in Sight & Sound), and he declared that Barbra Streisand was the most important movie star of the 1960s! And i had to guffaw (that's right, guffaw, as in laugh with utter contempt) and declare that Anna Karina was the most important star of the 1960s. My reasoning: if Jean-Luc Godard was the most important director of the 1960s, then it stood to reason that his star/wife/muse Anna Karina would be the most important star of the 1960s. (Just as in the case of Joan-vs.-Olivia, it's a stack-up of credits: on Anna Karina's side, you have "Le Petit Soldat", "A Woman Is a Woman", "My Life to Live", "Band of Outsiders", "Alphaville" and "Pierrot le Fou" and "Made in USA", and aside from Godard, you have Rivette's "La Religieuse" and Visconti's "The Stranger", and on Streisand's side, you have "Funny Girl", "Hello Dolly", "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever", "What's Up Doc?"; there's no contest. Not even if you were one of those people who hated Godard in the 1960s, and loved Antonioni... like Peter Cowie or Stanley Kauffmann... because if you replace Karina with Monica Vitti, who would be the second most important star of the 1960s, you have "L'Avventura", "La Notte", L'Eclisse" and "Red Desert", again, no contest.) But my point is that i've never been interested in performers simply in and of themselves, they have to show that they have the sensibility and the drive and the interest to try to appear in the best work possible. And not simply star vehicles. That's another way of saying that, much as i adore her, Jane Fonda will never be as important artistically as her father, because her father worked so closely with several auteurs, specifically John Ford (in some of Ford's very best movies), Fritz Lang, Preston Sturges... but Henry Fonda's case is instructive, because as a star gets older, they also become more conscious of their status and their image, and when Fonda and Ford worked on "Mister Rogers" in the mid-1950s, Fonda (who was one of the producers) felt that Ford was throwing the film more to Cagney and Jack Lemmon, emphasizing the boisterous, rough-house comedy aspects of the material (which actually fit into Ford's aesthetic, cf. the Victor McLaglen character in "Fort Apache" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", most of "The Long Gray Line", all the way to "Donovan's Reef"), and they wound up having a fistfight. (Ford, of course, was thrown off the film, and Mervyn LeRoy was brought in.) It ended their friendship as well. (When Ford wanted to represent the "liberal" man or the "educated" man later on, he brought in Fonda's best friend, James Stewart, for "Two Rode Together" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".)

It's one of those things... i think a lot of people look at things from a very narrow perspective. It's like in so many commentaries i've seen about "Breakfast at Tiffany's", there's always the question, "What were they thinking?", about Blake Edwards and Mickey Rooney with the Mr. Yunioshi character. You'd think these people had never seen "The Pink Panther" or "A Shot in the Dark": that's what they were thinking. Blake Edwards and Mickey Rooney were not thinking "racial stereotype", they were thinking "sexually frustrated slapstick with funny accent". What Blake Edwards tried to do with Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", he was able to do full out with Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark". (And on "The Pink Panther", Edwards wasn't frustrated; in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", he wanted more scenes of slapstick with Audrey Hepburn, but she nixed that. Hepburn had final say on the set; she had already fired John Frankenheimer as the director, so if she didn't like what Edwards was doing, he'd be the next to go. But on "The Pink Panther", Capucine, certainly one of the most elegant women ever, was perfectly willing to take pratfalls and do slapstick.)

There is a funny/sad connection between Audrey Hepburn and Capucine: they were neighbors in Switzerland, and they would meet for lunch every few days. And several times, when Capucine didn't show up, Hepburn would get worried and call the ambulance, and they'd find Capucine unconscious, having swallowed a bottle of pills. Evidently, this happened more than once! And after Hepburn died, there was no one to look in on Capucine, and she finally succeeded in killing herself.

Today, spent time with my brother and my sister-in-law; my niece was organizing her room, because she wants to paint it. Black! I was reminded of William Demarest's line from "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" where he complains about daughters, how either they're so homely that they shame you by hanging around the house like moss, or if they're pretty they worry you into an early grave! (It reminds you how brilliant Preston Sturges was; it's like Christopher Durang years ago saying about "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", how there's always a line perfect for every occasion.) Andrew and Janice are going through the difficult period of adjusting to the fact that Jessica is a teenager. She had always been such a shy child, and she was so attached to her parents....

But she's 15, and she's one of the brightest girls in her class, as well as a real beauty, and so she's become one of the popular girls in high school. And Andrew and Janice are in shock! And it's happened so fast, even i miss that little girl. I couldn't believe it, she's cleaning up her room because she wants to paint it black. Black! (When i was in high school, i went through my black period, which actually lasted until college. I would only wear black clothes, my socks had to be black, my shoes had to be black, one Christmas i wrapped all my presents in black paper... Christine's mother asked, what's the matter with your friend?) But when i got home, Larry said to tell her, don't paint it black, because that's one color that can never be painted over: the black paint will just eat up any primer you try to put on later. So he suggested things like putting black fabric (velvet or felt) on the wall.

Thinking of black (my Existential phase), and my teen years, and suicide, i was reminded of the conversation i had with Arnold when i was 16; i asked him if he'd miss me if i killed myself, and he said he wasn't going to answer that question, because people always ask it to be reassured that they'll be missed. Right now, i'm listening to a Laura Nyro CD; when my sister and i were teenagers, Laura Nyro was one of our favorites. I remember running out to get "More Than a New Discovery" on Verve Records in 1966, and we just kept playing that album. And then, when other people started recording her songs (and having hits with them), sometimes we were a little miffed, because here in NYC, Laura Nyro was just so huge, but she never quite crossed over nationwide. But her songs did: Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, The Fifth Dimension, even (ugh) Barbra Streisand had hits with her songs. But Laura Nyro is another funny story: i did see her on one of the (few) occasions when she performed live, and that must have been '67 or so. And according to everything i've read, she was so traumatized by these performances that she rarely performed live for decades after that. She felt that people were laughing at her. And i don't remember that. I know that people were a little stunned: she was certainly unusual. She came out in this caftan-kind-of-outfit, and she sat at the piano, and she didn't look at the audience, and she had these black back-up singers.... but i don't remember any laughter. But once she started singing her songs, i think people were just thrilled.

But (of course) it goes along with my fascination with people like Nyro, or Capucine, or Elizabeth Hartman... people who wind up crippled by depression, who had great talent or great beauty, and yet that wasn't enough to save them from themselves. Margaret Sullavan is one of the greatest examples. (That's why Louise Brooks was obsessed with Sullavan, as she revealed in her last essay, which is uncollected in "Lulu in Hollywood" but was published in Film Culture, "Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs".)

I have always hated talking to people, especially if i have to... when i was working for Jonas Mekas at Film Culture, i had to make a phone call to Louise Brooks, just to see if she might be ready with her latest essay (which turned out to be "Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs"), but she wasn't... but what transpired was that we discovered that our favorite actress was the same, Margaret Sullavan. Of course, in 1975, no one was impressed that Louise Brooks and i shared the same obsession. Or maybe i never told anybody, because "Lulu in Hollywood" hadn't come out in book form, and not that many people knew who Louise Brooks was. Recently, i went to a website devoted to Louise Brooks, and in the bibliography section, there's no mention of "Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs" (Film Culture, No. 67-68-69, 1979).

All this leads me to several items. Brooks said she'd never write her memoirs because she was afraid of being absolutely honest about her sexual relationships, and she felt that Sullavan's life story, one of the most fascinating in Hollywood, would never get written, because Sullavan's true personality (her promiscuity, her need to dominate all relationships) could never get acknowledged. Recently, Yvonne Rainer published her memoirs (MIT Press) and John Rockwell reviewed the book (favorably) in the New York Times. Larry (finally) read last Friday's art section, and called on the cellphone, because he thought it was ironic that Rockwell's review of the book would be so favorable, when Rockwell has not reviewed Yvonne's work (such as her most recent piece as part of the Stravinsky tribute at Dance Theater Workshop) favorably: as i think i've noted, Yvonne has never gotten a good review in the New York Times as a choreographer. (If she did, it was before my time, i.e., i started reading the New York Times in the late 1960s, when Clive Barnes was the dance critic, and he blasted Yvonne's "Rose Fractions", if my memory serves.) The idea of a memoir... is there any privacy left?

Which leads to the hilarity of the news item yesterday about Lance Bass (of N Sync). It seems that Lance has been "outed" from several sources. One is his MySpace page: on his list of friends are several gay porn stars. (An admission: i first started looking at MySpace because i went to Spencer Quest's MySpace page, and then i looked at his "friends" MySpace links, and some of these turned out to be so fascinating.... i forgot how many steps it took, but Mason Wyler's MySpace page is fantastic, because he has a few blog items, and on one blog he explains his thoughts on the issue of gay marriage, how he and his boyfriend have the right to have a truly committed legal relationship, and he ends with the line, "I am gay and I will have gay marriage." It was remarkably articulate and very sweet.) But that's ok, a lot of gay porn stars link to music pages, etc. (So what else is new?)

But it seems that over the 4th of July weekend, Lance and Reichen (of "The Amazing Race", the out gay winner) were seen all over the place in Provincetown. And people with cameraphones took their picture at different gay bars. So that means: 1) if you're going to have a "friend" don't let him be an "out" celebrity; 2) don't go anywhere in public where you can be photographed together; 3) don't let people know your MySpace links (as of today, Lance's MySpace page became "private")... because people can put 1 and 2 and 3 together, and they can come up with 6 (as in Page Six of the New York Post).

In terms of "out", that leads me to the fact that on Friday (July 14th, or Bastille Day), "Changing Times" (Techine directing Deneuve), "Time to Leave" (Ozon directing Moreau) and "Gabrielle" (Chereau directing Huppert) opened: the trifecta! Three "out" French directors directing three "divas". I happened to find all three movies quite worthwhile... another recent French movie i liked was Laurent Cantet's "Heading South". An interesting generational dilemma with the last. Everyone i know (that is: critics over the age of 40) seems to have been very impressed with Cantet's latest, but every younger person (such as those who write for Time Out) has found "Heading South" to be repellent. "Gabrielle" raised an interesting question for me: as a film, i found it wonderfully crafted. As an adaptation, i found it... problematic. The "plot" hasn't been changed, but the perspectives have, and the movie winds up almost upending the Conrad story ("The Return"). This time, i think that the "interpretation" is valid, and i do think "Gabrielle" is impressive, but i was reminded of how angry i felt when i saw Ken Russell's version of "Women in Love". First of all, i hated the casting: Gerald was supposed to be tall and blond and almost an Aryan god, and he's played by... Oliver Reed? So i waver back and forth between feeling that Chereau has betrayed the source material, and feeling that Chereau's "license" is valid in "Gabrielle". But most people who've praised "Gabrielle" have either acted as if the source material were irrelevant, or else they've acted as if the movie were a perfect adaptation. What to do?

But the issue of "privacy": i don't feel any need to hide. On Donnie Deutsch's show this week, he had on someone who has started a dating bulletin board, and on it, several women posted things about a man, a doctor, and now he's trying to sue, claiming these women defamed him. (They claim he gave them an STD.) One point was that the women posted anonymously. Well: nothing i do is ever anonymous. When i post (even when i post a comment on someone's blog), i use my name. I'm not ashamed of it. I've left comments on blogs by Spencer Quest, by Jason Ridge and by Tyler Riggz; so i've read blogs from gay porn stars. So? I should be ashamed? (Actually, it's pretty amazing. I love the fact that Tyler Riggz titled one of his entries "They're All Gonna Laugh At You," taking the title from "Carrie". And the entry turned out to be a very intelligent analysis of gay relationships.) Joe A. Thomas, in his entry on Gay Porn Stars on glbtq.com, has talked about the "exalted" place that gay porn stars have in the gay community, because of the need/desire to confront sexuality in an open way.

But (on the other hand) even if i feel i should be as honest as possible, one's life (my life) gets entangled with other people, and they may need their privacy. But i'll say that this week there was a posting on the internet about Brett that was very disturbing, and i'd been feeling that something was wrong, so i called him and left a message on Wednesday, and he called me back... and we had a long talk. And there was a problem, and he is trying to deal with it, but it's hard to know that someone is really in so much pain... but at least he got the first package of books i sent him and i finally got off my ass and sent him the second package. But i wish there were something more i could do for Brett, right now.

I'm looking at that issue of Film Culture, the one with Louise Brooks's last article. It's a terrific issue. There was a wonderful section devoted to Bruce Baillie (one of my very favorite filmmakers, and one of my very favorite people as well), there's a great Ken Jacobs's interview, stuff on George Landow, Stan Brakhage, Jerome Hill, Hollis Frampton.... at the end there's a whole Alexander Hammid section. Margie Keller had a really great article about Kenneth Anger's "Rabbit Moon". Which reminds me that Coleen Fitzgibbon is probably away (they usually go out West for the summer) but i should call her in the fall when she's back...

Elizabeth Streb is at the Lincoln Center Festival. But if i do anything tomorrow (Sunday), it'll probably be the Asian-American International Film Festival, because they're having the reading of the winner of the Screenplay Competition. I wonder what won! I mean, of the five finalists, there were two i thought were really excellent (the other three were all highly competent, but... well, so what?) and i hope one of those two won. But maybe i'll go to the local movie theater here in Bay Ridge and finally see "The Devil Wears Prada" (which my niece has already seen twice). Even full price is still cheaper than Manhattan! And this coming week, it's full of press screenings...

But we have to get the windows replaced on the second floor. My brother came by today with an extra air-conditioner (they needed to get a stronger one, so we got the old one) and we tried to put it on the second floor in the back room, but the old windows... AGH! When we opened one of them, we them tried to close it, and the damn window just fell and the window pane cracked. Those old windows needed to be replaced but now it's imperative.

Bill Jones and Mark Flores are coming (Bill is having his video "V.O." screened at the Lincoln Center Video Festival) so they'll be staying with us, and we wanted to make sure that we could let them stay upstairs on the second floor, but not if there's no air-conditioner! The weather promises to be brutal! I loved "V.O." but i'm going to have to miss the screening, because it conflicts with my AAARI talk.

Larry and i hate it when PBS spreads those Mystery! programs out over two weeks. The first two Miss Marple shows were shown whole, in a two-hour slot. But last week, they showed "Part One" and this week, they're showing "Part Two" of "The Moving Finger", but last week, there were so many funny bits and characters.... we're enjoying this new series with Geraldine McEwan, but online i've read a lot of people who are complaining, because they love the Joan Hickson series, and McEwan is very different from Hickson. (But Agatha Christie really didn't like the old Miss Marple movies with Margaret Rutherford, and i used to love them. But then, i loved Margaret Rutherford, "Blithe Spirit" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" are two of my favorite English movies because of her.)

(The thing about Margaret Sullavan is that she only made a few movies in her career, but she did work with several directors who could be considered "auteurs": Frank Borzage, Ernst Lubitsch, King Vidor. Hitchcock actually wanted very much to work with her: she was his first choice for "Rebecca" but Selznick put Joan Fontaine under contract, and that was that. Right now, AMMI is putting on another Frank Borzage retrospective. A few years ago, Lincoln Center put one on... and MoMA just did that Janet Gaynor show, with the three Borzage movies, "7th Heaven", "Street Angel" and "Lucky Star" restored. The Borzage retrospective is also going to be out in the San Francisco bay area....)

Interesting: in the little booklet that accompanied the Gaynor retrospective, Leonard Maltin and Jeanine Basinger write about how Gaynor's acting holds up, as opposed to her frequent co-star Charles Farrell. Well, on IndieWire, someone (i forget who) writing from SF about the upcoming Borzage retrospective, says that Gaynor is highly professional in her sub-Pickford/Gish way, but that it's Charles Farrell who seems more openly emotional.

But we've got to get those windows replaced on the second floor!

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