Monday, April 30, 2007

Other coincidences: turns out David Koh is one of the producers of "Black White + Gray". Which brings me to my first encounter with Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. In 1970, Harry Smith had a friend, Sandy Daley, who had made a film, "Robert Getting His Nipple Pierced". So he arranged a screening for Jonas, and i was there, and Linda Patton and Callie Angell. And i remember... well, Callie and Linda and i were a little squeamish about watching the movie. (In 1970, piercings were not as ubiquitous as they would be.) But the visuals showed Robert Mapplethorpe... and the soundtrack had Patti Smith delivering one of the most raucous monologues i'd ever heard (at least, until that time). And a few months later, Adrienne Mancia and Larry Kardish programmed Sandy Daley in the "Cineprobe" series with "Robert Getting His Nipple Pierced" and its sequel, "Patti Getting Her Knee Tattooed"; at that time, the latter film had no soundtrack, but Patti Smith performed an impromptu monologue. Sandy Daley, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith were at that screening, and that's how i met them.

(Of course, Harry Smith always thought i was strange... because the first time his program played at the Invisible Cinema at Anthology when it was part of the Public Theater, he was there, and though eating and drinking were not allowed, Harry brought along a bottle of vodka, which he wanted to share with the audience. But when it was passed to me, i passed, since i don't drink (i still don't), and Harry looked at me and asked me if i had seen his films, and i said i had, and i said that i had watched them without smoking or drinking... and he couldn't believe it! Harry said, i like my movies, too, otherwise i wouldn't have made them, but i can't imagine seeing them when i'm not high!

Exhausted. Today went to five press screenings, three at the Chelsea Clearview on West 23rd Street, two at the Loew's at West 34th Street. The five: "Razzle Dazzle", a new Ken Jacobs piece; "Music Inn", Ben Barenholtz's doc about a jazz fest/symposia/school in Lenox, Massachusetts that lasted from 1951 to 1960; "Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe"... though it was mostly about Wagstaff; "You Kill Me", John Dahl's comic thriller about a hit man (played by Ben Kingsley) who goes to AA; and "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song". The last was very straightforward, but it had fascinating bits and pieces, and there were moments when i was very moved.

Not as startling, but an interesting social day. Coming out of "Music Inn", i ran into Hisami Kuroiwa; she was talking to David Koh. This reminds me of a story....

In 1975, i was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, attending a performance by Laura Dean and Dancers; during intermission, i ran into David Gordon. So i said hello, and he was with Arlene Croce. So my immediate response was, oh, i'm so glad to meet you, i'm the new you! And she shot me a look and said (very icily) what do you mean? And i said, well, when you got out of college, one of your first jobs when you moved to New York was as Managing Editor of Film Culture Magazine. (She was the first.) Well, i graduated and guess what my job is now? I'm the new Managing Editor of Film Culture Magazine! I thought she would say something like, how are Jonas and Adolphas Mekas? Instead, she looked at me like i had offended her, and she turned away.

Well, in the mid-1990s, David Koh was the new me, i.e., he was working for Jonas Mekas at Anthology Film Archives. So: in 1955, it's Arlene Croce; in 1975, it's me; in 1995, it's David Koh. Of course, in "A Walk Into the Sea", there's Callie Angell, the first librarian at Anthology Film Archives in 1970. I wonder if a lot of us Film Culture/Filmmakers Coop/Anthology Film Archives ex-workers shouldn;t have a reunion....

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Three more films at the Tribeca Film Festival; on track to seeing at least 30 films by the time this is over. The three today: "Live!", "Heckler" and "Shotgun Stories". The last was the most interesting, a regional (Arkansas) drama about a feud between estranged half-brothers.

Last night, Larry and i watched "The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green" which we found rather tedious. These recent gay comedies (cf. "Adam and Steve", "Ethan Green", "Boy Culture") are all rather twee.

Anyway, have been thinking about movies and their meanings. For example: the French version of "Lady Chatterley" was well-done, but rather decorous. And (finally) it had everything but real passion, and without that, the Lawrentian themes can't fully emerge. But do most people care? So many people i've read have noted that they are above considering D. H. Lawrence a great writer. (It's rather like the 1950s, when Dickens was out of favor, as if he were too common for serious literary concern.) What's crazy is that the four-hour TV version of "Lady Chatterley" done by Ken Russell in the 1990s had more passion and gave more of a sense of what the novel was supposed to be about. (It is true that "Lady Chatterley's Lover" is second-rate Lawrence, it is not one of his truly great works, but that shouldn't diminish Lawrence's achievement.) Ken Russell's "Women in Love" was almost a travesty of an adaptation: it was over the top, and purple in the wrong way. But it did have Glenda Jackson (in a performance which is even more impressive now). This version of "Lady Chatterley" didn't risk appearing ridiculous, and, in doing so, missed out on reaching for the sublime.

Anyway, in terms of the social aspects, saw Wendy Liddell, Steve Kaplan showed up to "Shotgun Stories"... on the subway, saw Barbara Moore. Watching her, i was reminded of how strange it is now, to see movies like last year's "Notes on Marie Menken" and "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" and this year's "A Walk Into the Sea" and "Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe", and to realize that people one knew, events one witnessed, etc. have now become the stuff of some sort of "history".

And it's like running into Marianne and Chris: running into the past, and suddenly remembering what one was trying to do so long ago, trying to create an art of utter self-critical awareness.

And also knowing that i refused (ever) to make pronouncements, to issue manifestos (which led so many critics to believe that i must have been naive or stupid, since no nonwhite person could be so hyper-critical). In her recent memoir, Yvonne Rainer talks about feeling stymied and stifled by the constant bringing-up of her manifesto from 1965, which was from one part of her career, yet it has defined how people view her work and its development. I never wanted that, but i also never thought that the white art establishment would be so stupid, so narrow, and so prejudiced. But that's besides the point.

The Tribeca Film Festival is so strange. When they had the preliminary press screenings, it was more conducive to... a kind of camaraderie. It's not that there aren't good movies: certainly, "Still Life" and "Lost in Beijing" were worthwhile; of course, there are a lot of movies like "Live!", a (tired) satire on television's search for ratings, a retread of "Network" with Eva Mendes recapitulating Faye Dunaway's hardedged executive. There are so many of these little American indie movies... and now a lot of the ones from last year are getting released. For example: two with Sigourney Weaver, "Snow Cake" and "The TV Set". Of course, one of them might break out of the pack (the way "transamerica" did), and that's what you hope for, but too many of them just weigh down the festival.

Sunday morning, April 29.

Yesterday, went to the press screening at the Tribeca Film Festival of Li Yu's "Lost in Beijing". A startling movie that deserves really serious analysis. However, in terms of a social event, it was also amazing....

Got there and ran into Wendy Sax... and then, Chris Cooper came in with Marianne Leone! I haven't seen them in... Marianne and i figured it must have been around 1980. That's 27 years! One thing i will always remember is that Marianne once said that, in terms of her professional destiny, there was some TV series out there just waiting for her. And there has been: she's played Michael Imperioli's mother on "The Sopranos" for the last five years. It's so strange... 27 years! We were young then, and full of promise, and i was really doing a lot of work. (In an aside: i checked and Patrick Byrnes directed two short plays in Dublin within the last few months, and Matthew Conlon played Prospero in an off-off-Broadway production of "The Tempest" two months ago. I wonder where Francis Parkman and Markus Wishmeyer are now.)

Wendy and i had a long talk about the situation of independent film, and the problem of finding places that really work on behalf of filmmakers.

Ok. So on Wednesday i had my tooth pulled. That knocked out that day. (Having my tooth oulled reminded me of Markus, who was always having problems with his teeth.) On Thursday, i went in to see the shorts program "Archiving Reality", a program which consisted of Jem Cohen's "NYC Weights and Measures", Mark Street's "A Year", Bill Morrison's "Who By Water", Kristin Nutile's "Loss" and Lynn Sachs's "The Small Ones". An excellent program, with Jem Cohen's piece being particularly poignant and poetic... and Bill Morrison's piece being a mistake. A mistake in the sense that the editing of the found footage was very delicate, but the music score was too bombastic and practically obliterated the imagery.

On Friday, saw all or parts of five movies: "Lady Chatterley", "Eye of the Dolphin", "Fireworks Wednesday", "On the Downlow" and "A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory". The last i went to in order to pay tribute to Jim Lyons, since that film was one of the last he worked on. I was surprised by "On the Downlow"... on the press screening schedule it was listed as "Coming Out" but there was no program with that particular title listed. Turns out it's being used as the title of the two hour-long docs, "On the Downlow" and "The Polymath, Or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delaney, Gentleman". But i got to see "On the Downlow" and then rushed to see "A Walk Into the Sea", so it worked out perfectly.

A lot of thoughts on all of these films, but have to rush to more screenings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anyway, yesterday, went to the dentist, appointment changed so it was earlier, 10:45 instead of 11:30... had a toothache a few weeks ago... turns out my right back bottom molar was disintegrating! So by 11:30, my tooth was pulled! I'm starting to feel old. But that did in my plans to go to five press screenings: i just wanted to go home, because my mouth was full of cotton gauze....

Charles came by last night, to give us some plants for the backyard. So hopefully, we'll be able to have some more flowers this year.

But talked to Christine, and she said there was an article in The New Yorker about aging.

But have to see what other press screenings are coming up, there are actually a lot of interesting movies this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Went to see two movies at the Tribeca Film Festival press screenings: "Napoleon and Me", an Italian comedy directed by Paolo Virzi, and "West 32nd" directed by Michael Kang from a screenplay by Kang and Edmund Lee. "Napoleon and Me" was very smooth, but it was very reminiscent of many other movies, all those historical comedies filled with irony... and there have been recent comedies about Napoleon which weren't erased by this film. Still, it had its charms (including Monica Bellucci, one of the go-to women for voluptuousness in recent European movies). And is it my imagination, or is Daniel Auteuil in just about half the movies coming out of France these days (with Gerard Depardieu filling in the other half)?

I was very curious about "West 32nd": i'd seen Michael Kang's first feature, "The Motel", and that film had been one which went through the process of a staged reading of the script, etc. through Asian Cinevision. "West 32nd" was actually very well-done (surprisingly so). It's a very stylish movie, and it's tight and well-organized, and very well acted. This is an example of a movie where the filmmaking expertise (and the very fine casting) really put over the material, because (on the printed page) the material can seem rather thin. I actually had an opportunity to read the screenplay, and i thought it was expert, really exceptionally well-crafted, but i didn't see the screenplay as particularly "original" and i also thought the characters were often stock. But this is an example of how craft can compensate, and also how actors can bring more than might be assumed from the printed page.

There was a party tonight at Triobeca, but i went home right after "West 32nd"... and Larry and i watched Frank Wisbar's "Wet Asphalt", which we rented from Netflix. Yes, it's dubbed and the dubbing is frequently very bad. But it was a sharp satire on journalistic ethics, with the odd slant of the crisis in the divided Germany of the 1950s.

But Frank Wisbar is an interesting filmmaker. "Fahrmann Maria" (1934) is an amazing Expressionistic movie, "Strangler of the Swamp" was Wisbar's attempt to remake that movie on a really low-budget in Hollywood in the 1940s, and "Wet Asphalt" was one of the German films Wisbar made upon his return to Germany. But his wife Eva Wisbar stayed in this country, and Larry and i wound up working for her when she was a film and video distributor.

Anyway, tomorrow more films, but also my dentist appointment.

Larry and i just watched "Rosemary and Thyme": we're really enjoying that series. We think Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris are hilarious. Either that, or we really miss "Murder She Wrote" more than we care to admit.

The first two days of press screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival. The first day (Friday), saw restored prints of Mikhail Kalatozov's "The Letter That Was Never Sent", Grigori Chukhrai's "The Forty-First", and Gerard Blain's "The Pelican". The Soviet films are (visually) amazing, with some of the most spectacular cinematography ever. Gerard Blain's film was elliptical, reserved and quite strong. But it was shown digitally, and that seemed to flatten out the visual quality. This is going to be a real problem, as restoration happens in different ways.

Yesterday (Monday), saw two recent Russian films, "Two In One" and "Playing the Victim", and Jia Zhang-ke's "Still Life". "Two In One", Kira Murtova's film, was perplexing. It seemed to run on and on, and it was antic in a rather mirthless way, and it was confounding, because it didn't seem to hold together, it simply scattered into bits and pieces which became more and more desperately flakey. "Playing the Victim", directed by Kirill Serebrennikov with a script by the Presneyakov Brothers, was a black comedy that was a little low-keyed, but showed invention and some spark. There were some startlingly funny scenes, like the one where the boy wants his girlfriend to strangle him, and she figures he wants to try erotic asphyxiation, and begins to masturbate him while tighten the scarf around his neck... and then his mother walks in!

"Still Life" was a marvellous film, unhurried and sad, as it depicts two people "displaced" because of the changes in China right now. Industries are being upended, people are scrambling to find a place in the rapidly changing environment (the "Metaphor" is the Three Gorge Dam, which is a hydraulic power plant which has been used to flooded whole areas, making the residents of those areas utterly displaced).

I'll try to see some more today....

However, our neighbor is filling in his backyard! This could be a real disaster for us, because it would mean that we would be one of the only houses on our street with a backyard, and when it rains, we would get flooded. So we might have to fill in our backyard, which would be horrible. Once people cement over their yards, the yards that are left get all the water, and it would cause constant flooding in our basement.

What to do?

Boris Yeltsin died. David Halberstam died. Historic passings.

Sanjaya was the one with the lowest score on last week's "American Idol" and he's been making the rounds on talk shows.

Vanessa Redgrave was on "The View".... she seems (now) to have gotten more frail....

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Well, we're lucky, the water has subsided, and there's some dampness in the absement, but we're using fans to dry it out, and by the weekend everything should be dry. For a lot of other people, the storm left a real disaster.

Anyway, the news just came in: Kitty Carlisle Hart died. Her impact on the arts in New York State was enormous: as the New York State Council on the Arts Chairperson for about two decades, she was a tireless advocate, and she refused to be intimidated by those who wanted to demonize the arts. But she was also a person who had a hand in some of the more interesting musicals of the 1950s: i remember listening to her talking about seeing the original full-length "A Star Is Born" and how betrayed George Cukor and her husband felt, to see their careful work cut, cut, cut. (Actually, they didn't see it; i think she mentioned how, after seeing the full-length cut at the premiere, Moss Hart refused to see it again when he heard that it had been cut by Warner Brothers.) Another story i remember hearing was how Moss Hart had to cancel a week of rehearsals for "My Fair Lady"; Julie Andrews was just not working out. She had been a radio and music-hall singer since childhood, but that's not the same as acting. And she had starred in one previous musical, "The Boy Friend", but that show was more of a revue. In "My Fair Lady", the part of Eliza Doolittle is still George Bernard Shaw's heroine, but with songs added. It's not a simple musical-ingenue part, and she was struggling. So Moss Hart decided to shut down the production, and to work with her. It was a week-long tutorial, and the only other person allowed in was his wife.

In The New Yorker, Hilton Als has a review of the new production of "The Moon for the Misbegotten"; it reminds me that a few months ago, he wrote one of the most interesting reviews of the recent revival for "Dutchman". The reason it was so interesting (and so illuminating) was that Hilton took the tack that there was merit in the work because of the specific historical consciousness (a particular moment in the development of African-American sensibility); in almost every other review, the "standards" of dramatic consctruction were invoked, as if the work were to be judged as unsuccessful....

Which reminds me of the plethora of reviews about feminist art.

Anyway, seen: Guy Maddin's "Brand Upon the Brain!" (not in full concert version, but with prerecorded soundtrack) and Robinson Devor's "Zoo"; also: "Mrs. Henderson Presents", "Ladies in Lavender" and "Hetty Wainthropp: Missing Persons". About "Zoo", i have to say that it was an experience that was more aestheticizing rather than illuminating.

Well, there has been a lot on the news (and in the news) about the massacre at Virginia Tech. The gunman turns out to be a Korean student, Cho Seung-Hsi; no matter what, it's a very sad story.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Nor'easter worked its way through NYC (April 15), causing massive flooding. 7 inches of rain! Of course, it caused flooding in our basement, and hysteria all around. But our neighbors also had flooding. There's nothing you can do to stop all that water!

Anyway, haven't seen much, but looking forward to this week's press screenings. george Robinson ( has some thoughtful comments about Resnais's "Private Fears in Public Spaces", which just opened, and also "Red Road", which also just opened.

James Lyons died. An obit in the Times. Very sad. The last time i saw him, he was telling me about the research he was doing for a short film he wanted to make. In the Times, there was a mention about a short film about Andy Warhol, which was never made. (Jim had worked on Mary Harron's "I Shot Andy Warhol".)

I'm exhausted from staying up, using the Shop-Vac trying to get some of the water out, so that the amount of water in the basement wasn't worse. Of course, we're not in a place like Sea Bright, where everything's flooded with inches of water.

But it was rather sobering to wake up and see the NY Times and read the obit for Jim Lyons. I wish he had been able to make his own film. I do remember the time he and Christine Vachon curated the peepshow exhibition as part of MIX. That was a lot of fun, it was done at Ann Street (i think).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stop the insanity! This whole Imus brouhaha has spiralled out of control. Jon Corzine is in critical condition, with multiple fractures sustained because of a car accident, which happened while he was on his way to facilitate the meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. Now, Rutgers is getting inundated with hate mail from Imus fans (who only prove that how inflamatory hate speech is).

Last night, on "Anderson Cooper 360", he had on Jason Whitlock and Amy Homes, two African-American commentators. Of all the people who've weighed in during the last few days (and i include Oprah Winfrey in this), Jason Whitlock is the only person who has been "sensible". Of course, what Imus said was reprehensible... but...

Somehow i am reminded of "American Idol": it's as if there's not supposed to be any criticism, any adverse comments. You've got to expect something, and with sports, you've got to expect dumb jock comments.

I don't know, maybe i'm wrong and not being sensitive enough.

Yesterday, went to see "The Short Life of Jose Antonio Guttierrez", a German documentary about the first "American" casualty in Iraq. It turns out that he wasn't an American at all, but an immigrant from Guatemala who was a "green card" recruit. I've been seeing a lot of documentaries about Iraq, this was reasonably well-done, but what was really stunning was the footage of things like the funeral, the coffin, etc. On yesterday's "The View", Rose McGowan mentioned that this was the only war in which the press has not been allowed to show anything: everything has to be vetted by the Defense Department, and there are strict prohibitions to showing anything relating to the deaths in Iraq, the funerals, the handicaps....

And of course this administration is the only one in history which actually bills those people who have been wounded in Iraq: every single soldier who has come back wounded has found bills for the equipment, the uniforms, etc. which might have been "destroyed" in the encounter. This is an example of how ruthless, how "business-like", how totally unconcerned this administration is to actual human suffering. This war is simply a business proposition, and wounded soldiers are supposed to pay back the government for surviving in less-than-perfect conditions.

And then there's the scandals of the VA hospitals.

But to see footage of an actual funeral (as in "The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez") was heart-breaking.

My question remains: why isn't George Bush accountable for anything? Why isn't Dick Cheney accountable for anything?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Omigosh, Don Imus was fired from CBS; Les Moonves has issued one of the most hypocritical statements ever.

Was Imus's comment offensive? Of course. But he's been offensive before. That's his job.

Oh, well....

Anyway, watched "Living on Love" (the remake of "Rafter Romance") and "A Man to Remember" (the remake of "One Man's Journey") on TCM, in addition to "Stingaree". Of the three, "Living on Love" was the least interesting. "Rafter Romance" had some sparkle (and Ginger Rogers was very charming in 1933), but "Living on Love" was rather flat, and Whitney Bourne was really bland, almost nondescript.

"Stingaree", like "Sweet Adeline", has a lot of charm; Irene Dunne in operetta mode is delightful, and the movie is well-paced, it's fast and funny. It's a real find....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On reading further, it turns out that the longer tours-of-duty (15 months instead of 12 months) is specifically for the Army, not the other branches of the armed forces yet. But it is for about 100,000 now in the Army....

It's still horrible.

Sol LeWitt died on Sunday. It's really true, an era is ending. The whole idea of New York City as an art scene is over. "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" opened at Film Forum; with "Notes on Marie Menken", these were two works i saw last year at the Tribeca Film Festival. So far, we haven't received a full press schedule for Tribeca, but the program has been posted. But one point i'd like to make: most of the people i've met recently, people who want to be artists or filmmakers, would have no interest in meeting Jack Smith or Marie Menken. (Most of the recent interest in people like jack Smith or Marie Menken has come from abroad: Australia is a real hotbed of interest. I remember meeting the Cantrills in the 1970s; at that time, the Australian experimental cinema was just in its early stages.)

Ed Halter has an interesting point in his review of the Collective for Living Cinema shows: the avantgarde cinema is now a nostalgic enterprise, with a lot of the energies devoted to cinema in the past tense.

This is totally against what drew many of us to the cinema in the first place: its immediacy, its sense of being the art of the future.

On his blog, George Robinson says that there are some interersting new releases. Michael Giltz ( has some great comments on "American Idol".

Watching "Stingaree" on TCM: the name "Lynn Riggs" is among those who worked on the script. Lynn Riggs is the person who wrote the original play that Rodgers and Hammerstein turned into "Oklahoma". "Stingaree" is a pseudo-Western operetta set in Australia....

My gosh, haven't blogged since Easter, and a lot has been happening. Nothing new in tems of movies (really) but a lot in the news.

The brouhaha over Don Imus just smacks of hypocrisy. It's a way for a lot of hypocrites to feel superior to Imus: they just haven't been caught. Even if i thought Imus's comments were offensive, what was more offensive (really offensive) was the holier-than-thou attitude of the Rutgers team. Their press conference literally reeked of self-righteousness. They didn't take the high road, they took the road of least resistance and just played the victim card. Hey, they're girl jocks, for chrissakes! Toughen up! The whole incident is disgusting, because no one is coming out of this looking good. And the thought police are all over this!

Now people are talking about Imus getting fired.

The Duke University lacrosse players were vindicated today. I don't see the people who are all over, screaming about Don Imus, apologizing to those boys for what's happened.

It's like Don Imus talked to Al Sharpton. Do i hear Al Sharpton apologizing to those boys? (Why should he? Because if fair is fair, then they were unfairly prosecuted because of the lies of a black woman.) Does the name Tawana Brawley mean anything? Has Al Sharpton ever apologized to the people he tried to have prosecuted in that case? Has he ever apologized to the police officers he tried to get fired because of their "assault" (which was proven to be false) on Tawana Brawley? (I know the answer: no, he has not. Al Sharpton has never acknowledged his culpability.)

There's been an announcement on extensions on tours-of-duty for the military. Everyone in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force can expect longer tours in Iraq. The military is being stretched thin, and it's totally unfair.

If the Shiites (who had wanted US intervention) now want the US to leave Iraq, why are we still there? The Sunnis don't want the US there. Who wants us in Iraq, except for Halliburton (which has already made billions)? But George Bush and Dick Cheney will never answer for anything. Dick Cheny can shoot someone, and the person he shoots apologizes to him! What kind of world do Bush and Cheney live in? It's too frightening to think about.

One thing i realized a few weeks ago.... on his blog, Doug Cummings wrote very discerningly about Alain Resnais's "Muriel" (which recently came out on DVD through Koch Lorber), and talked about the political ramifications of the film, how it was very daring in dealing with the Algerian War at a time when that conflict was still "present" in France....

And it occurred to me that one of the only shows on TV to deal with Iraq has been "The L Word"! I'm not kidding! Iraq has not been mentioned on "Heroes" or "Lost" or "The Office" or "My Name Is Earl" or "Entourage" or "The Sopranos"....

NO! Unless i'm mistaken, it's only been "The L Word"!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Yesterday, Larry and i watched "Whole New Thing"; a very Canadian film. In a way, it reminded me of "Kissed", the movie with Molly Parker in which she played a necrophiliac, that is, the subject matter may be potentially "explosive" but somehow the movie is very decorous. And the same thing happens in "Whole New Thing": the issue of the adolescent boy's crush on his (gay male) teacher is handled in a way which is inoffensive. It's not a bad film, but it's so curiously defanged. But the performance by Aaron Webber as the boy is extraordinary.

It's interesting that the film was produced by Camelia Freiberg. That's a name from the past. I remember when she was producing Srinivas Krishna's "Masala"; it might be a decade since i've seen her. In the press kit, it says she's now based in Nova Scotia, rather than Toronto.

Watching "Whole New Thing", i missed going to either Toronto or Montreal, because those film festivals always had a Canadian section, and it was interesting to see Canadian films, because the system of subsidies does have a real effect. A lot of the scripts get vetted, and so by the time a film is actually shot, the screenplay will have gone through several revisions, which helps to even out the script. But this "even-ing out" also removes the elements of the grotesque, the irrational, the freakish. And the energy of so many Canadian projects seems to be kept rather low.

It's amazing, because "Whole New Thing" should be shocking, or at least flirt with being shocking, and it's not. Even the father's fury over finding out about his wife's infidelity is handled almost politely.

But that's why Guy Maddin is such an anomaly. But then again, he'd be an anomaly anywhere. Coming up is "Brand Upon the Brain". I didn't see it when it played at the Walter Reade Theater, but i'm predisposed to liking it, since i enjoyed some of his last projects, such as "Cowards Bend the Knee" and "My Dad is 100 Years Old".

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It's been almost a week since i've blogged; haven't really been rushing to see anything new. Yesterday, went to the press screening for the Chinese documentary "West of the Tracks: Rust" which is the first four hours of a seven hour work. It's one of those docs which was done on digital video, and it seems intended to be shown on television. Fascinating depiction of the day-to-day events of smelting factories which are on the verge of closing in China, because of the changes in global economics.

Yesterday, watched the first three movies in the RKO Lost and Found films on TCM: "Rafter Romance", "Double Harness" and "One Man's Journey". Just some notes: in "RafterRomance", the ethnic humor (particularly the Jewish landlord, his wife and son) was rather thick. But people forget that it was such an ingrained part of American show business at the time. Now, there's such sensitivity about racial humor, but people forget that it extended into all ethnic groups. (It's like the point i've always tried to make about Mickey Rooney's character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's": for Blake Edwards, it's no different than the exaggerated "French" character of Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau, with his linguistic malapropism, his clumsiness, his sexual frustration. If you're French, are you supposed to be offended by Inspector Clouseau? In Blake Edwards, it's just part of a show business tradition that stretches all the way back: Edwards himself is a third-generation show business scion.) You can see a bit of it in "Double Harness", where the Chinese cook is the comic antagonist of Reginald Owens's English butler. Though i'd seen "Double Harness" before, i was glad to see it again, because it didn't leave a big impression. When i saw it a few years ago, it played with La Cava's "Gallant Lady", which was sensational: one of the best La Cava movies, an amazing screwball comedy. The reason "Gallant Lady" was amazing was that the plot was pure weepie (girl gets pregnant and her fiance dies before they can get married, she gives up the baby for adoption, years later she becomes the nanny to her own son, then the adoptive mother dies) but La Cava turns it into a comedy, by having a number of supporting characters who wisecrack and debunk the heroine throughout. "Gallant Lady" (which also starred Ann Harding) was so vivid it made "Double Harness" seem rather tepid. But on its own, "Double Harness" is a reasonably sophisticated marital drama. "One Man's Journey" is one of those good-man-through-the-years sagas. Usually the man is a doctor (when it's a woman, she's usually a teacher, cf. "Cheers for Miss Bishop", "Remember the Day", "Good Morning, Miss Dove", etc.), and, sure enough, here Lionel Barrymore is the country doctor of such virtue he practically moos, so stuffed is he with the milk of human kindness. But it's a pleasant enough movie, with a nice supporting cast.

The daytime schedule for TCM yesterday was a tribute to Anthony Perkins, starting with "The Actress", which i watched before i headed out to Anthology for the "Rust" screening. I've always liked "The Actress", but, then, i think Jean Simmons is a wonderful actress. And the film begins with her face in close-up, as she watches "The Pink Lady" in total rapture. And she makes that yearning so acute and funny. (Michael Douglas has a very funny story, about how his father had a party and was asking all the men there - who included Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum - who the sexiest actress was, and they all agreed it was Jean Simmons. That was when Kirk Douglas was having problems with "Spartacus", and he wound up casting Jean Simmons to replace the original European actress who had been cast by Anthony Mann. And Anthony Mann was replaced by Stanley Kubrick.) Jean Simmons was one of those actresses that, in the industry, was always regarded as someone who should have been a big star, and she was very well-regarded critically. But her career derailed when she became the object of contention between MGM and Howard Hughes: in 1950, Rank Studios sold her contract to MGM, but Howard Hughes had wanted the contract. He took MGM to court, and was allowed to buy out half her contract. But Simmons (who was married to Stewart Granger at the time) did not want to have an affair with Hughes (that's what the whole brouhaha was really about). And so he punished her. The highlight was "Angel Face": she didn't want to do the movie, Hughes insisted, she retaliated by cutting her hair, so she had to wear a wig (that's the reason for the rigid hairdo in the movie), and she went through the movie stone-faced (which actually worked for the movie). She was angry on the set, and that impacted, stoney-faced fury really adds to the movie.

But "The Actress" was a complicated story. Jean Simmons had been the original choice for "Roman Holiday" but when the property changed (Frank Capra and Cary Grant were no longer attached, it became William Wyler and Gregory Peck... when it was Capra and Grant, with Capra and Grant producing, the fee to borrow Simmons from her MGM/Hughes contract was included, but when Wyler produced, Peck's fee was too much to include Simmons's fee as well, so they went and cast an unknown who wouldn't cost as much... of course, in the studio days, the fee for the loan-out would have gone to MGM/Hughes, with Simmons merely getting her standard fee, the extra being pure profit for MGM/Hughes), Simmons was left without a project (though she had just finished "Angel Face" for Hughes, which meant that her next project could be for MGM).

Debbie Reynolds had actually been cast as Ruth Gordon Jones in "The Actress", but she was working on "Give a Girl a Break", which dragged on because of the constant disputes (the film was dividing into factions, with Gower Champion on one side, Bob Fosse on the other; if Champion choreographed a number, then Fosse insisted on choreographing another number). This was a relief to George Cukor, who didn't want to work with Debbie Reynolds; since Jean Simmons was free (and was an MGM star), she was cast.

But MGM is an example of gross negligence. MGM bought Deborah Kerr's contract in 1947, she was seen as the replacement for Greer Garson. But by 1950, MGM had also bought out Jean Simmons's contract. But MGM didn't know what to do with Deborah Kerr, and they didn't know what to do with Jean Simmons. (What was lucky for Deborah Kerr was her loan-out to Columbia for "From Here to Eternity"; from that point on, all the big pictures which made her a star, such as "The King and I" and "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison", were done for other studios. In addition, the money problems at MGM in the mid-1950s were such that when Kerr's contract came up for renewal in 1954, it was dissolved by mutual consent and she was free to free-lance.)

There are some ironies about MGM in the 1950s. The last MGM contract star would be, in fact, Debbie Reynolds. The last male contract star (and MGM was letting go of their stars left and right: Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Spncer Tracy... all of them were let go) would be Glenn Ford (who would sign with MGM in the mid-1950s, and would actually star in a number of box office hits, such as "Blackboard Jungle" and "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (yes, that was a hit). The irony of Glenn Ford being the last MGM star is that, when he was starting out, he married one of MGM's biggest stars, the musical star Eleanor Parker, and she retired (even though he was only a contract player with Columbia at that point). But in the mid-1950s, he came to MGM in triumph (whereupon he divorced his wife). Even though MGM had signed Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons, the three biggest MGM stars of the 1950s would be Debbie Reynolds, Grace Kelly (officially, she was an MGM star, though she did most of her movies on loan-out to Warners and Paramount) and Elizabeth Taylor.

But "The Actress" is a charming movie, and Jean Simmons is lovely.