Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Listen Here! 21 Hours Of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater On The Air

Seasoned theatrical and radio impresario Orson Welles, aged 23

As a teenaged stage actor in the '30s, Orson Welles helped pay the bills by lending his mellifluous baritone voice to scores of radio programs in New York. Before too long was a genuine radio star, making over $1500 a week in Depression dollars.

In 1935 he joined the newly created Federal Theater Project, a division of FDR's Works Progress Administration. The Federal Theater Project was designed to put skilled people to work staging plays. Performances were open to the public and often took place in areas that had been deprived of any kind of theater, let alone great theater. Welles first production was Macbeth, performed in Harlem with an all African-American cast. Not only did it draw audiences, it became a bona fide break-out success, and toured the country. Welles continued to work in radio and used his earnings to supplement the show's budget. President Roosevelt, according to Welles, called him "the only operator in history who ever illegally siphoned money into a Washington project."

After two years of success, the Federal Theater Project ran into political objections in Washington, ironically for criticism of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and was defunded. Welles and his favorite collaborators defected and created the Mercury Theater in 1937. The Mercury Theater now benefited from Welles' years of experience staging and directing plays, and of course his genius. The productions were modern, innovative and breathtaking.

The Mercury became so famous and esteemed that radio, Welles' constant source of funding during these creative years, came calling and Welles and company were engaged to create a 13 week series of literary adaptations called "The Mercury Theater On The Air." One of the most famous broadcasts in history was a Mercury episode, the famous and brilliant "War Of The Worlds" adaptation that many listeners believed to be real.

The series ran for 22 episodes before creative differences impelled Welles to pull the plug on it.

Here, on archive.org, are most of the episodes of the series, in mp3 form.

These make great listening for long drives, by the way. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Watch This: New Short Doc About the Genius Animator Behind JURASSIC PARK, STAR WARS, etc.

"I took LSD when I was working on RETURN OF THE JEDI. I could communicate with my cat Brian and Brian took me on a journey... I crawled into this cupboard with Brian the cat and we went to the center of the earth for like three billion years."

Friend of AFS Evan Husney has made a great new short doc for Vice Films about the man who created, either alone or in tandem with others, some of the most impressive movie special effects of all time. It's always been a little baffling how so many modern CGI effects look so terrible when clearly the technology was there to make the JURASSIC PARK dinosaurs look realistic decades ago.

In the doc, Tippett takes us into his workshop, shows us his models and shares his process and, maybe more interestingly, his philosophy.

It's a great watch. Here it is.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy 78th Birthday to the Great Jane Fonda

New Yorker Film Critic Pauline Kael, so often prescient in her evaluation of talent and so precise in writing about performers, wrote in 1969 of Jane Fonda in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?
"Fortunately, Gloria, who is the raw nerve of the movie, is played by Jane Fonda, who has been a charming, witty nudie cutie in recent years and now gets a chance at an archetypal character. Sharp-tongued Gloria, the hard, defiantly masochistic girl who expects nothing and gets it, the girl who thinks the worst of everybody and makes everybody act it out, the girl who can't ask anybody for anything except death, is the strongest role an American actress has had on the screen this year. Jane Fonda goes all the way with it, as screen actresses rarely do once they become stars. She doesn't try to save some ladylike part of herself, the way even a good actress like Audrey Hepburn does, peeping at us from behind "vulgar" roles to assure us she's not really like that. Jane Fonda gives herself totally to the embodiment of this isolated, morbid girl who is determined to be on her own, who can't let go and trust anybody, who is so afraid of being gullible that she can't live. 
"Jane Fonda makes one understand the self-destructive courage of a certain kind of loner, and because she has the true star's gift of drawing one to her emotionally even when the character she plays is repellent, her Gloria, like Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs, is one of those complex creations who live on as part of our shared experience. Jane Fonda stands a good chance of personifying American tensions and dominating our movies in the seventies as Bette Davis did in the thirties; if so, Gloria will be but one in a gallery of brilliant American characters."
Later, Kael wrote in her 1971 KLUTE review:
"Jane Fonda's motor runs a little fast. As an actress, she has a special kind of smartness that takes the form of speed; she's always a little ahead of everybody, and this quicker beat--this quicker responsiveness--makes her more exciting to watch. This quality works to great advantage in her full-scale, definitive portrait of a call girl in Klute. It's a good, big role for her, and she disappears into Bree, the call girl, so totally that her performance is very pure--unadorned by "acting." As with her defiantly self-destructive Gloria inThey Shoot Horses, Don't They?, she never stands outside Bree, she gives herself over to the role, and yet she isn't lost in it--she's fully in control, and her means are extraordinarily economical. She has somehow got to a plane of acting at which even the closest closeup never reveals a false thought and, seen on the movie streets a block away, she's Bree, not Jane Fonda, walking toward us.
"... I wish Jane Fonda could divide herself in two, so we could have new movies with that naughty-innocent comedienne as well as with this brilliant, no-nonsense dramatic actress. Her Gloria invited comparison with Bette Davis in her great days, but the character of Gloria lacked softer tones, shading, variety. Her Bree transcends the comparison; there isn't another young dramatic actress in American films who can touch her...."
These quotes help to provide a road map to appreciating Fonda's special talent. In addition to her onscreen work, of course she has also been an icon of style, fitness guru and flashpoint in the culture wars. She's a giant in her field and at 78 she's almost as famous now as ever.

This will be the first and last link to anything Oprah Winfrey related on these pages, but the story she tells here of meeting Greta Garbo tell us something about Fonda's strength of character and philosophy of life. I love it. Hope you enjoy it too:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

January's Essential Cinema: Blake Edwards & Julie Andrews - Read All About It

Hot off the presses, here are the programming notes for this January's much-anticipated Essential Cinema screening series. Screenings are open to the public. Click on links below for more information.

Blake Edwards’ name is synonymous with the kind of sophisticated yet physical comedy he mastered as a writer and director. The urbane and the profane coexist in the Edwards universe, and frequently prove to be opposite sides of the same coin.

Born in Tulsa but raised in Hollywood, young Blake Edwards knew the studio back lots like the palm of his hand. As soon as he was old enough to work he became a messenger, delivering script pages and dailies to the various studio offices. Soon he became a bit part actor, then a writer and director of B-movies, radio and television. The success of his television series PETER GUNN and subsequent early films like OPERATION PETTICOAT and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S made him a sought-after comedy director, and then the first two installments of his PINK PANTHER series, featuring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, carried him to the top of the heap.

THE GREAT RACE followed, a (for its time) massively budgeted comedy. It turned a profit but was critically unpopular. His next few films did not satisfy critics or audiences much. Edwards had come to a turning point by the end of the sixties. His next film, DARLING LILI, encountered a number of costly shooting delays and, making matters worse, studio management changed before the release and the new brass did not much care about making DARLING LILI a success. The movie was released, with cuts made by the studio, and underperformed at the box office. Seen today in Edwards’ preferred cut, it’s a minor masterpiece. Julie Andrews, making her first appearance in one of her husband’s films, is remarkable, demonstrating her acting, singing and even sex appeal. This last attribute was very controversial at the time, and the studio management’s discomfort with Andrews’ sexual side will come up again in S.O.B.

Subsequent Clouseau-free projects proved unsuccessful as well and Edwards found himself at the cusp of the ‘80s without a studio and without many prospects. Outside of the dependable PANTHER films, which were becoming a little worn at the edges, Edwards had presided over a string of flops, and his latest script, about a man having a midlife crisis, seemed like another box-office depth charge. The small production unit Orion Pictures took a gamble on Edwards’ talent (and his not inconsiderable anchor star and wife Andrews). 10 became a massive box office sensation, raking in $75 million dollars, the equivalent of a quarter of a billion dollars today. New discovery Bo Derek became ubiquitous in the national media after this film’s success and Ravel’s Bolero became one of the best selling classical compositions of all time.

Thursday, January 7, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1979, 122 min
Written by Edwards. Starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews, Bo Derek, Robert Webber, Dee Wallace, Brian Dennehy

Dudley Moore plays a successful songwriter, blessed with a loving partner (Julie Andrews), who spies beautiful young bride Bo Derek at a wedding and loses his mind. Unbeknownst to her, he follows her and her husband on their Mexican honeymoon trip. Between awkward encounters and many, many strong drinks he finds where his true happiness lies.

Rather than rest on his laurels or begin a new, profitable franchise, Edwards went his own way yet again, featuring Andrews in the acidic, brilliant and completely uncommercial satire S.O.B., which, unsurprisingly, was dumped by the studio and lost money but which today seems ripe for rediscovery. The central character, a director played by Richard Mulligan, is very much based on Edwards and the plot events reflect the aftermath of the DARLING LILI debacle.

Thursday, January 14, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1981, 122 min
Written by Edwards. Starring Julie Andrews, Richard Mulligan, William Holden, Robert Preston, Marisa Berenson, Larry Hagman

After a long and remunerative career in Hollywood, director Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan) is at the end of his rope. His latest film, a musical called NIGHT WIND, is a flop, his personal life falls apart and he finds he has few friends. Then Farmer has the insane idea to recall NIGHT WIND, add pornographic sequences starring his wife, a goody-goody Julie Andrews type (played by Julie Andrews, of course), and rerelease it. It’s an act of madness, of course, but then all of Hollywood is mad, unscrupulous and desperate in Blake Edwards’ deeply bitter, dark farce.

The Edwards/Andrews team followed this with sizeable hit and critical success VICTOR VICTORIA, which brought old-fashioned big-movie craftsmanship and talent back to the top of the box office charts again. It’s an extraordinary showcase for Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. This is top of the line stuff, as proficient an example of grown-up entertainment as Hollywood had ever managed.

Thursday, January 21, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1982, 132 min
Written by Blake Edwards from a story by Hans Hoemburg and Reinhold Schünzel. Starring Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras

In Paris between the wars, a British singer - an operatic soprano - (Julie Andrews) slogs from dive to dive looking for work. She becomes friends with gay cabaret pianist Toddy (Robert Preston) who comes up with the idea of having her impersonate a man who in turn performs onstage in female “drag.” The act is a sensation and the gender reversal causes a lot of personal turmoil for smitten American gangster King Marchand (James Garner) and his retinue.

VICTOR VICTORIA was a pinnacle of sorts for Edwards. His next projects must have been pretty dispiriting - one Pink Panther movie largely constructed of deleted scenes from other films in the series, a necessity created by the premature death of star Peter Sellers; and another Pink Panther movie starring Ted Wass as the lead investigator. Edwards’ next film betrays some of the ennui he felt during this period.

Thursday, January 28, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1983, 110 min
Written by Blake Edwards, Milton Wexler and Geoffrey Edwards. Suggested by a film written by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud and Suzanne Schiffman. Starring Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger, Marilu Henner, Cynthia Sikes, Jennifer Edwards, Sela Ward

A psychoanalyst played by Julie Andrews relates in flashback the tale of one of her most interesting patients, a wealthy sculptor who is obsessed by beautiful women and who pursues them even when it places his life in jeopardy. The film is told in a series of vignettes.

THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN is an Americanization of François Truffaut’s 1977 film, released stateside under the same title. Though he was a box office star, Burt Reynolds is not ideal casting. In fact Blake Edwards wanted Warren Beatty or Dustin Hoffman. Reynolds does his best though and the rest of the cast does very well at times, especially Andrews and Kim Basinger. This is a minor Edwards film, and chiefly interesting as the film that closes this cycle, but taken with the right attitude it is a lot of fun, it is well shot by the great Haskell Wexler, and there are several classic sequences.

The series has been programmed with author Bryan Connolly (DESTROY ALL  MOVIES!!!).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Carol Burnett's 70's Comedy Variety Show was a Film Buff's Dream

It was announced today that Texas native and comedy legend Carol Burnett will inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame at the Texas Film Awards on March 10. Her film credits are excellent in themselves, with great performances in PETE 'N' TILLIE (1972), THE FRONT PAGE (1974), Robert Altman's underrated THE WEDDING (1978), Alan Alda's THE FOUR SEASONS (1981) and. of course, John Huston's adaptation of ANNIE (1982); but it is her TV work that made Carol Burnett a household name.

Her best known television show was THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW which ran from 1967 through 1978. Along with her unparalleled stock company: Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway, and special guest stars, the show kept musical variety alive and kicking on television and brought Burnett's extraordinary talent for comic characterization into American homes for years. Though filmed for telecast, it maintained a live energy reminiscent of the early days of live TV.

Many of the show's sketches were about movies, both current releases and classics. It was assumed that the audience was conversant in the Hollywood cinema of the '30s, '40s and '50s. There were impossible-to-forget impressions of Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD and Bette Davis in ALL ABOUT EVE among many, many others.

Here is one of the best, a parody of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, featuring Burnett in the Stanwyck role and singer Steve Lawrence as the doomed insurance agent who falls under her spell. This is the Burnett magic at its best.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Critic/Historian Wheeler Winston Dixon on the Lost Art of Black & White

Here's a great interview with critic Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of the new book "Black & White Cinema: A Short History" on the pleasures, challenges and meaning of monochrome cinematography.

Here are some excerpts:
"If you go on Amazon and you see some great black-and-white film, and it’s going for $3, or any kind of foreign or obscure film, buy it, because it’s going out of print, and they’re not going to put them back into print. With VHS, everything came out, everything. And then they looked at what sold, and what didn’t sell didn’t make the jump to DVDs. There were thousands of films, tens of thousands of films, that were on VHS and never made the jump to DVD. Important films. Now that we’re going to Blu-ray, lots of films aren’t making that jump."
Dixon goes on to make other good points. Black and white cinematographers has much more freedom for instance.
"Remember that often working in color limited you in ways that black-and-white did not. Technicolor had a lock on the color processes until Eastmancolor came along in the early 1950s. So Technicolor controlled the cameras, the cameramen, the labs — everything had to be done through them. There were only 11 or so Technicolor cameras in Hollywood, so when you worked with Technicolor you also got Natalie Kalmus, the ‘color coordinator,’ and director of photography Ray Rennahan who was their in-house photographer, usually, and they typically wanted the colors to pop off the screen."
He also makes the point that black and white films are fundamentally different from color films.
"To me black and white is more sensuous. It’s such a transformative act to make a black-and-white film. You are entering an entirely different world, right from the start. It’s so much more of a leap into another universe. 
Color films and particularly color 3-D films attempt to mimic some sort of spectacular reality, whereas black-and-white films are really a meditation on the image."
 H/T Manohla Dargis

Thursday, December 10, 2015

AFS Viewfinders Podcast: Author Bryan Connolly on Blake Edwards

The new AFS Viewfinders podcast is up. You can find it on iTunes or click here to listen.

Our guest is Bryan Connolly, author and viral media celebrity. Bryan is joining us as co-programmer and co-host of our January Essential Cinema series, Love Is A Two Way Street: Films Of Blake Edwards & Julie Andrews. The series includes 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981), VICTOR VICTORIA (1982) and THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (1983). These films are masterful examples of Edwards' ability to work with a diverse palette, from social satire to keen interpersonal observation to, of course, slapstick physical comedy.

Connolly and I talk about Edwards' amazing career trajectory that took him to every level of Hollywood from the laundry room to the penthouse. We also talk about the social reasons for the widespread disparagement of physical comedy and the remarkable talent of Julie Andrews, Edwards' wife and, perhaps, greatest star.*

*Apologies to Peter Sellers

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Born On This Date: Cinema's Greatest Magician George Méliès

George Méliès, born on this date in 1861, brought dreams and magic to the cinema, where they have remained ever since in varying quantities. A stage magician by trade who owned his own theater and obsessively tinkered with his illusions, Méliès immediately saw the advantages that the young medium of moving pictures offered. He built a camera and projector and equipped his theater for exhibition. Soon he was making his own short films, often built around magic tricks. He was an obsessive tinkerer who took great joy in developing optical illusions. Most film special effects that followed owe something to Méliès' methods and his films still have the capacity to entertain and delight.

Here is Méliès' MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN, still an impressive compendium of all kinds of special effects and starring Méliès himself as Mephistopheles, naturally.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Watch This: John Belushi Walks on His SNL Co-stars' Graves in Tom Schiller's Short

Tom Schiller will join AFS for a screening of SCHILLER'S REELS, his best short films, and his feature NOTHING LASTS FOREVER on Monday December 21. The show will be cohosted by author and Schiller superfan Zack Carlson.

From the earliest days of Saturday Night Live, short films were a part of the show. Albert Brooks and Penelope Spheeris were among the many who made short films for the show, but writer/filmmaker Tom Schiller made the most abiding of all the SNL shorts of the first 15 years of the show's run.

Today the shorts are as funny as ever, and have new layers of meaning and sometimes pathos. John Belushi is hilarious in old man makeup, walking on the graves of his erstwhile cast members, but there's more to the gag now. Schiller's reels never pounce on the easy laugh. There is wit and sophistication about them, such as in LA DOLCE GILDA, which places Gilda Radner in the decadent Roman milieu of Federico Fellini. Schiller also loves distending and displacing time periods, as in his feature NOTHING LASTS FOREVER which glides between a 1930s Capra reality, a 1950's television consumer frenzy and an '80s New Wave future.

Here's that Belushi short: DON'T LOOK BACK IN ANGER, one of many shorts that will be featured at our December 21 screening.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Happy 85th Birthday Godard; Huppert & Karina Recount Their First Meetings with J-L.G.

Today is the 85th birthday of a filmmaker who has lived a life of rebellion against the status quo, against safety, against security, against his own "success." A filmmaker who has angered, alienated and bored many, and also made beautiful films which helped to create a new way of interacting with the moving image. Whether we love him or hate him we can agree that he's one of a kind.

Thanks to Criterion we can hear from Isabelle Huppert, star of his 1980 "comeback" movie EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, tell of her first meeting as they prepared for the film.

And here Anna Karina, perhaps Godard's most iconic '60s female star, recalls her first meeting with Godard, whom she married in 1961 and was divorced from four years later.

Monday, November 30, 2015

From Grady Hendrix: The Japanese Criterion Classics You Can't Buy

Masahiro Shinoda's KILLERS ON PARADE (1961)

Our favorite writer on Asian Cinema Grady Hendrix has a Film Comment article here about some of the Japanese titles that Criterion has in its vaults that are not available on DVD but that are available on Hulu. While many people rely on Hulu for repeats of network TV shows (punctuated by annoying commercials unless a bribe-like surcharge is paid), the most essential feature of the streaming service is their Criterion titles. It does not include all the titles Criterion has released, but to make up for that it includes many films that have never been released on home video formats.

As Hendrix says:
Hulu is a repository for everything that Criterion would never put on DVD, from Ironfinger (65) and Golden Eyes (68), two very strange James Bond knock-offs that feel like they were made by and for small children, to deep catalogue cuts from international masters like Nagisa Oshima (Criterion DVD = 8 movies; Hulu = 16). If you only know Nobuhiko Obayashi from his experimental haunted mansion movie, House (77), you owe it to yourself to check out his experimental true crime castration movie, Sada (98), or his ultra-experimental gothic short film Emotion (66), both of which are streaming. (To be fair, Emotion is included as a supplement on the HouseDVD but at 40 minutes it’s a nice stand-alone film.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Here's an Hour of Allison Anders Interviewing Wim Wenders, Enjoy!

AFS has a gigantic Wim Wenders retrospective coming up in January and February. We can't wait. In the meantime, here's an appetizer. Writer/director Allison Anders talking at length to her longtime friend Wenders.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Born On This Day: Harpo Marx; Watch Harpo & Chico Play a Piano Duet Like No Other

Harpo Marx, one of the three funniest Marx Brothers, was born on this date in 1888.

The Marx Brothers' family had show biz connections and their mother Minnie had the necessary iron will to serve as their manager during the turn of the century musical variety years. The brothers were all fine musicians and it was in this capacity that they first took the stage. Harpo, master of many instruments, was the most talented at music. It was the comic ad libs the brothers threw around onstage and their responses to hecklers that made them major stars though. Harpo's elaborate pantomimes gave the routines a sublime dimension and as we all know they went on, in middle age, to become movie stars as well.

Here is a scene from THE BIG STORE (1941), not their best work, but like all Marx Brothers films, a showcase for some peerless routines. Here brothers Chico and Harpo execute a piano duet that contains humor, agility, brotherly love and, of course, anarchy.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Watch This: The Life & Times of Don Luis Buñuel; also: His Perfect Martini Recipe

Luis Buñuel's LOS OLVIDADOS screens Tuesday 11/24 at AFS @ The Marchesa, hosted by Richard Linklater with special guest Professor Charles Ramírez Berg, author of The Classical Mexican Cinema.

Has there ever been a great filmmaker with the range and diversity of material shown by Luis Buñuel? It's staggering to think that the same filmmaker who brought the world UN CHIEN ANDALOU also made BELLE DE JOUR. The same man behind the socially conscious (mostly) realist LOS OLVIDADOS also tripped off into the sensual surrealism of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE.

Here is a fine 1984 BBC doc that includes interviews with many of his contemporaries and collaborators.


Also, just for kicks, here is Buñuel's martini recipe, which includes a dash of sacrilege.
The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients — glasses, gin, and shaker — in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don't take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Shake it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, shake it again, and serve. 
The making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin's hymen "like a ray of sunlight through a window — leaving it unbroken."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Watch This: Live from Lisbon - The Austin Panel

Halfway around the world a few days ago, a group of people gathered together at the Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival to talk about Austin as a film city success story. The panel, consisting of Louis Black, Sandy Boone, David Gordon Green, Geoff Marslett and Bob Byington talk at length about what makes Austin special for filmmakers and audiences. It's a very instructive master class, loaded with insight and great stories.

Watch it here:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Scene Missing: Dennis Hopper, American Dreamer

Dennis Hopper's THE LAST MOVIE is, as has been recorded by practically everyone who saw it since its release, a flawed film (aren't they all?), and a deeply self-indulgent exercise. It also carries the potent smoke of its era in every frame, and if Hopper's final cut of the film makes little linear sense, maybe it is also true that Hollywood and the world in 1971 made little linear sense.

At a time when the Hollywood studio machine had lost its commercial compass, Hopper's low budget motorcycle quest film EASY RIDER broke the box office, tapping into what had been a very elusive youth market. Universal offered Hopper a chance to make his dream project, an existential western about a movie bit player who, rather than pick up and leave when his movie wraps, stays on location and becomes something like a modern desperado. Hopper received a no-strings-attached million dollars and the assurance of final cut. He shot the film, with a cast and crew consisting mostly of his friends, in Peru, home of a certain potent variety of cocaine.


With the exposed film in the can, Hopper came down off the mountain and retired to Taos, New Mexico to edit his masterpiece. Here he was vulnerably situated in the center of a freak vortex and he solicited and received all kinds of editing advice from all quarters. One of the most persuasive voices was that of director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who urged him to subvert the more-or-less conventional narrative structure in favor of a fragmented style that expressed the schizophrenia of modern life. He heeded this advice and the released version of THE LAST MOVIE was jagged, discontinuous and frequently beautiful. It was savaged by critics and withdrawn by Universal but it has appreciated in critical esteem, even though Hopper did not work as a director again for several years.

The documentary THE AMERICAN DREAMER was also put together in a loose way. In 1971 L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller documented a number of wild weeks in Taos as Hopper edited, partied, philosophized and shot firearms. The film does not document the events of the period so much as it provides seemingly random slices of life - Hopper working the moviola and sharing his ideas about the art of film, Hopper taking a bath with two appreciative young women, Hopper drinking endless beers and smoking endless joints. It's kind of like a nature documentary about a wild man who was an enigma to his industry, a challenging, exhausting friend to those close to him and a true artist who followed his star to the extent that he could still make it out in the haze of booze and drugs that surrounded him.

THE AMERICAN DREAMER has recently been restored and is being theatrically rereleased. AFS will play it twice, on November 20th and 23rd.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Born On This Date: René Clair - Watch His 1924 Dada Masterpiece ENTR'ACTE

René Clair (born on this date in 1898) is well known as one of the most important figures in film history, from his early triumphs LE MILLION and À NOUS LA LIBERTÉ to his American period which includes THE GHOST GOES WEST and I MARRIED A WITCH and through to his postwar return to France and mature works.

But before he became a giant of the world screen, the 26 year old Clair was a dashing young writer and actor who fell in with the Dada crowd, which looks like a pretty fun crowd to roll with to be honest. With a few collaborators, including Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Erik Satie he made this rollicking 20-minute commissioned piece, which played between the acts of a ballet performance as an intermission or ent'racte.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Watch This: Documentary About AFS At The Marchesa Wins an Emmy!

It was an honor to work with the talented crew of Mario Troncoso and Chelsea Hernandez on their KLRU Arts In Context documentary BEST LITTLE ART HOUSE IN TEXAS last year. The show also covers Michael Moore's State Theater in Traverse City Michigan.

Now they have taken home a Lone Star Emmy for the show! Mario and Chelsea also received Emmys in three other categories. We're sure their arms were sore by the end of the night. The accolades are well deserved.

Here, for your consideration, is the award winning 26 minute doc.

Cool Thing To Do Alert: The Austin Asian American Film Festival is Wilder Than You Think

The stars of ATOMIC HEART, taking a break from being pursued by other-dimensional Saddam Hussein

Considering how busy we are in all of our lives and how many film screening opportunities there are going on all the time in Austin, we might occasionally overlook something pretty great. This is pretty great.

The Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF) kicks off this Thursday at the Marchesa. Their programming team has assembled a really terrific lineup including the exceptional doc THE CHINESE MAYOR, the crazed, experimental (Christopher Doyle-shot) Philippine experimental feature RUINED HEART, THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR with director Arthur Dong in attendance, and, my favorite, the transgressive, reality-bending youthquake ATOMIC HEART from Iran, which definitely makes Tehran look like the strangest city on earth right now.

Along the way there is a K-Pop party, an AAAFF Comedy Night and more. There are badges and passes for sale on the AAAFF site and most events will have individual tickets for sale at the box office.

Also: AFS members can get $10 off badges and film passes to this year's festival by using discount codes at checkout. Use "afspass10" for passes and "afsbadge10" for badges.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Watch This: Richard Nixon Opens for Elaine May & Mike Nichols in 1959

The Emmy Awards were a wild proposition in 1959. Here, Vice President and 1960 Presidential Contender Richard Nixon drops a characteristically awkward, tone-deaf speech about the "freedom to change the channel" or something like that, before yielding the stage to Elaine May and Mike Nichols, who tear it down. Their "Total Mediocrity Award" sketch is as big a hit as Nixon's crude speech was a bomb.

Warning, the quality of this video is on par with Mars Rover transmissions, but it's worth it.


Nichols, who died last year, was born on this day in 1931. He and his brilliant comedy partner Elaine May each changed the face of film with their incisive and humane work. Recently it was announced that May will direct the PBS American Masters documentary about Nichols. That's something to look forward to.

Here are Nichols and May talking film in 2006. This gets into real grand-master territory and is worth your time if you are a filmmaker or are into the process of filmmaking.

"The thing I love most about movies, and the thing I love most about other people's work, is small things. If you think about your favorite thing in a movie or in a play or in a performance ever, it's always something very small that you can barely tell other people about. It's so small but it just makes you gasp. Because it's like a little pebble of truth. It's something true. And harvesting them, because after all the acting's done by other people, is still something that I think is so thrilling. With luck you can catch that wind. It can still be done."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ferrara/Noé: The Maddening Audio Interview We've All Been Waiting For

Abel Ferrara and Gaspar Noé are both polarizing filmmakers who take major risks and seem to live on the edge at all times in their professional lives. From Ferrara's arthouse/grindhouse beginnings to his current residency in Italy making biographical films about Pasolini and Padre Pio, he has both attracted and alienated audiences with his choices and attitudes. He's the classic reprobate in many ways, and has also turned out brilliant work. Film history will be kind to him.

The Argentinian/French Noé, in his films I STAND ALONE, IRREVERSIBLE, ENTER THE VOID and the new 3D hardcore erotica film LOVE, also stands outside what might be consider the orthodoxy of international arthouse cinema.

What happens when these two attempt to have a meeting of the minds over Skype? It's challenging to both the brain and the ears, and definitely not safe for work, especially the part where they talked about Abel Ferrara's beginnings making a porn film.

It's good to hear that Ferrara's energy level is as high as ever and that even Noé has a hard time keeping up with his profanity laced wisdom.



Monday, November 2, 2015

One of the Greats, Luchino Visconti, Born on this Day in 1906

Luchino Visconti, who began making films as Jean Renoir's assistant in 1935 and went on to a career as one of the world's greatest filmmaking masters, was born on this date on 1906. He did not make as many features as many of his contemporaries but he really made his work count, with epics such as THE LEOPARD, ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS and THE DAMNED among his finest works. In addition to his work on the screen he was an eminent director of Grand Opera, and he staged four Maria Callas productions at La Scala in Milan, along with many others.

Here's a documentary that gives some insight into the mature Visconti's craft, as he works with Helmut Berger, Ingrid Thulin and others on the set of THE DAMNED (1969).

Friday, October 30, 2015

Watch This: THE ENDLESS NIGHT - The Ultimate Noir Valentine

A few years ago, at one of his many tremendous Noir City screenings, writer/historian/programmer Eddie Muller introduced an evening of film noir classics with this short film, painstakingly assembled by someone who calls herself RubyTuesday717. I have often thought about this short since and was happy to stumble across it again today.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

AFS Viewfinders Podcast: Filmmaker Kat Candler on the Creative Life, Horror Movies & More

I sat down yesterday with Kat Candler, mainly to talk about her new short THE RUSTED, which will screen at AFS' MAKE WATCH LOVE Party on November 12 (don't forget to RSVP.) Naturally the discussion went every which way and we ended up talking about life choices, the importance of actors, the relative warmth of Brian De Palma and favorite horror movies. It's good!

Listen to it here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Watch This: The Winning Entrant in the Austin Polish Film Festival's Shorts Competition

The 10th Annual Austin Polish Film Festival was held this past weekend at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre. Along with their screenings of feature films, short film blocks, parties and Polish poster exhibition, there was a judged short film competition. We are proud to share the winner of the competition with you.

It is Alison Klayman's THE NIGHT WITCH, a film created in conjunction with a New York Times issue commemorating the recently deceased. The film is about the remarkable Nadezhda Popova, who flew bombing missions by night for the Soviet Air Force against the Nazis. It's a pretty amazing story, and you'll learn a lot as you enjoy Klayman's beautiful compositions.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Start Spreading The News: 7 Weeks of Arthouse Classics Hosted By Richard Linklater

Our Jewels In The Wasteland series, in which AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater presents a selection of his favorite films from the '80s along with thorough introductions and audience discussions, has proven over its first two years to be (no surprise) one of AFS' most beloved and popular programs. It's no wonder that the young stars of Linklater's new film referred to him as Rickipedia, he's tremendously knowledgable and insightful.

This November and December we celebrate AFS' first 30 years with a look back at some of the films presented in the early days of the film society, all chosen, hosted and followed by a discussion period with Linklater. The program is geographically wide-ranging, with films from France (MASCULIN FEMININ, PICKPOCKET), Japan (THE CEREMONY), Mexico (LOS OLVIDADOS), the Hollywood underground (shorts by Anger and Lynch) and good old NEW YORK, NEW YORK for Scorsese's underappreciated musical drama.

The entire schedule is here.

As usual, no AFS membership is required to attend, but it's a lot cheaper to buy that $20 a month (or $30 a month DUAL) LOVE membership and see them (as well as scores of other films throughout the year) free. It is sneakily the best filmgoing deal in town, and a great - hint, hint - holiday gift.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Happy Birthday to Screen Legend Catherine Deneuve, Revisit her Chanel n°5 Commercials

Catherine Deneuve, certainly one of the most talented and fascinating stars in film history, has appeared, and left iconic impressions in films by Truffaut, Buñuel, Polanski, Demy, Melville, Ferreri, Aldrich, Tony Scott, Carax, Ruiz, Von Trier, Ozon and, of course, many others.

Consider this body of work, and then reflect that it only represents a fraction of her performances, and that she continues to work today:

UN FLIC ('72)
8 WOMEN ('02)

It's truly stunning. Also, it's a little sad that in the midst of such an amazing international career she was probably best known in the U.S. for her Chanel n°5 commercials. Such commercials though! They sell the notion of Deneuve's elegance and independence as much as they sell the perfume. We can see why they were so effective. It's all Deneuve.

Check these out:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

50 Pieces of Advice for Filmmakers from Wim Wenders

In January and February of next year we will be presenting an 8-film retrospective of Wim Wenders films. In anticipation of that we would like to share these important and valuable tips for filmmakers as related by the master himself. You can read the original article here or watch Wenders on video sharing some of the greatest hits.
1. You have a choice of being “in the business” or of making movies. If you’d rather do business, don’t hesitate. You’ll get richer, but you won’t have as much fun!
2. If you have nothing to say, don’t feel obliged to pretend you do. 
3. If you do have something to say, you’d better stick to it. (But then don’t give too many interviews.) 
4. Respect your actors. Their job is 10 times more dangerous than yours. 
5. Don’t look at the monitor. Watch the faces in front of your camera! Stand right next to it! You’ll see infinitely more. You can still check your monitor after the take. 
6. Your continuity girl is always right about screen directions, jumping the axis and that sort of stuff. Don’t fight her. Bring her flowers. 
7. Always remember: Continuity is overrated! 
8. Coverage is overrated, too! 
9. If you want to shoot day for night, make sure the sun is shining. 
10. Before you say “cut,” wait five more seconds. 
11. Rain only shows on the screen when you backlight it. 
12. Don’t shoot a western if you hate horses. (But it’s okay to not be fond of cows.) 
13. Think twice before you write a scene with babies or infants. 
14. Never expect dogs, cats, birds or any other animals to do what you’d like them to do. Keep your shots loose. 
15. Mistakes never get fixed in post! 
16. Final cut is overrated. Only fools keep insisting on always having the final word. The wise swallow their pride in order to get to the best possible cut. 
17. Other people have great ideas, too. 
18. The more money you have the more you can do with it, sure. But the less you can say with it. 
19. Never fall in love with your temp music. 
20. Never fall in love with your leading lady! 
21. If you love soccer, don’t shoot your film during the World Championship. (Same goes for baseball and the World Series, etc.) 
22. Don’t quote other movies unless you have to. (But why would you have to?) 
23. Let other people cut your trailer! 
24. It’s always good to make up for a lack of (financial) means with an increase in imagination. 
25. Having a tight schedule can be difficult. But having too much time is worse. 
26. Alright, so you’re shooting with a storyboard. Make sure you’re willing to override it at any given moment. 
27. Less make-up is better. 
28. Fewer words are always better! 
29. Too much sugary stuff on the craft table (or is it Kraft?) can have a disastrous effect on your crew’s morale. 
30. Film can reveal the invisible, but you must be willing to let it show. 
31. The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked. 
32. Don’t tell a story that you think somebody else could tell better. 
33. A “beautiful image” can very well be the worst thing that can happen to a scene. 
34. If you have one actor who gets better with every take, and another who loses it after a while, make sure they can meet in the middle. Or consider recasting. (And you know whose close-ups you have to shoot first!) 
35. If you shoot in a dark alley at night, don’t let your DP impose a bright blue contre-jour spotlight on you, even in the far distance. It always looks corny. 
36. Some actors should never see rushes. Others should be forced to watch them. 
37. Be ready to get rid of your favorite shot during editing. 
38. Why would you sit in your trailer while your crew is working? 
39. Don’t let them lay tracks before you’ve actually looked through your viewfinder. 
40. You need a good title from the beginning. Don’t shoot the film with a working title you hate! 
41. In general, it’s better not to employ couples. (But of course, there are exceptions!) 
42. Don’t adapt novels. 
43. If your dolly grip is grumpy or your electricians hate the shot it will all show on the film. (Also, if you’re constipated…) 
44. Keep your rough cut speech, your cast and crew screening speech and your Oscar speech short. 
45. Some actors actually improve their dialogue in ADR. 
46. Some actors should never be forced to loop a single line. (Even Orson Welles wasn’t good at that.) 
47. There are 10,000 other rules like these 50. 
48. If there are golden rules, there might be platinum ones, too. 
49. There are no rules. 
50. None of the above is necessarily correct.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Happy 90th Birthday to the Legendary Angela Lansbury

Happy 90th Birthday to the truly great Dame Angela Lansbury. Here she is singing "Goodbye, Yellow Bird" from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY 70 (!) years ago.
There are stars who are gifted with personalities that shine through everything they do, and she is certainly so gifted. Then there are performers so intelligent and hard-working that they continually seem to get even better, even when that scarcely seems possible. This also applies to Lansbury. She was not a movie star in the classic mold, but she made such an impression in roles such as the Cockney maid in GASLIGHT (1944) and singing Sibyl Vane in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945, see below) that the public saw her worth well before the studios did.
You would have to have your head in a bag not to see what was so special about Lansbury in this scene from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, made when she was barely out of her teens. The eyes have it. She's one of the great ones and we're lucky to have her. It was this performance that prompted Pauline Kael to muse: "I don't think I've ever had a friend who didn't treasure that girl and that song."

Watch This: John Carpenter talks Directorial Style, Hawks, Ford & Horror Films

"Style is all about instinct. It’s all about how a director sees things. If you watch any of the directors that you admire… you can see what their concerns are and how they approach things, how they approach the characters, how they approach the world they’re in. So it’s an instinctual type thing. A director makes movies about himself. All the time. In some way or another. It’s finding a way to express in visual terms the instincts that you have, the feelings that you have inside."
Here's a nice interview with a writer/director whose films are synonymous with this time of year. John Carpenter went to USC film school in 1968, where he wrote and edited an Oscar winning short film. Another student film was enlarged and released as the sci-fi parody DARK STAR (1974), and he was off to the races. His next film, the urban action film ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), combined elements of westerns and horror films in some startlingly effective ways. The runaway success of his third feature, HALLOWEEN (1978) set the (insistent, pulsing) tone for the rest of his career, and for the next ten years of horror films.

In the interview below (just follow along to part 2, etc.) Carpenter shares his philosophy of filmmaking as well as a little bit about his beginnings and early influences.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nappy Birthday to Director Mira Nair

Director Mira Nair, born on this day in India in 1957, first came to international prominence with her striking 1988 feature SALAAM BOMBAY!, which takes viewers into the streets of Mumbai to observe the particulars of life of homeless children. The film won a number of awards and was widely screened in art houses around the world.

Her next few films were made in the U.S., her adopted country. It was her return to India however that inspired her greatest success to date, MONSOON WEDDING (2001) which takes viewers behind the scenes of a traditional Indian arranged wedding, with very funny and keenly observed portraits of the participants. The film was a major international hit and set a record as the highest grossing Indian movie of all time.

In the years since she has directed a number of films including a 2004 adaptation of VANITY FAIR, THE NAMESAKE in 2006 and the Amelia Earhart biopic AMELIA (2009).

Here she is on the film that changed her life, and it's a somewhat surprising choice: Gilles Pontecorvo's BATTLE OF ALGIERS:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

John Sayles to Write New DJANGO Western with Franco Nero to Star

The Hollywood Reporter posted yesterday that John Sayles has been engaged to write a new DJANGO film. The first DJANGO film was made by the great Sergio Corbucci in 1966. While there are a couple of semi-official sequels, the name Django caught on with quick buck exploitation producers and they slapped it on many films with no connection to the original character or film, much like the way the name Bruce Lee was appended to numerous films that had nothing to do with Bruce Lee at all.

It's a major coup to land not only Sayles but also Nero, who, though in his seventies now, is a fine actor and a link to the authentic spaghetti western past. No director has been announced, but perhaps those of us who love Westerns All'Italiana may be forgiven for holding out hope that Enzo Castellari gets the assignment. Castellari has worked with Nero many times and may just be, along with the less action-oriented Sergio Martino, the greatest living Italian genre director.

You can see rare, and hysterical, footage of Castellari on set below (starting at about 5:22). It's a corny, staged (and weirdly dubbed) interview, but you get an idea about Castellari's vigorous style.

The whole doc is pretty great actually. Enjoy, and start getting excited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Happy Birthday to Master Provocateur Dusan Makavejev

Dusan Makavejev is one of our greatest and most important filmmakers. Born in Serbia on this day in 1932, he studied psychology before he began making films. His initial efforts trod the boundary line of social and political acceptability, mainly due to their sexual content. With 1971's W.R. MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM, he obliterated that line, with extremely frank sexual content and a playful, satirical approach to politics that went right over the heads of even the relatively liberal Yugoslavian government. His next film, made in Canada was the legendarily profane and divisive SWEET MOVIE (1974), which is very likely the most graphic and transgressive film to play in international arthouses. As an international exile he continued making movies in Western Europe and elsewhere

Here is a multipart interview with Makavejev in which he ruminates about his aesthetic choices and beliefs. He seems like a nice man, and not at all like a bomb-throwing anarchist, except for a slight twinkle in his eye.

An excerpt:
"Creative people don't need to know exactly what they are doing. I'm not saying that God is talking through them but something is talking through the artist. I think that the work of the artist is a form of art. You create an interplay between certain forms. Now, is it characters in a story, through the action, or is it interplay between background and foreground... , is it people in landscapes, close-ups and wide shots, zooms, movements? But it's all formal games. It's all formal work, what you do. Of course you always claim that, 'OK, this is the story I want to say' but the story's always a pretext, the story's always a trigger, the story is something that will help you and the crew to get into creative work."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Director Brian Trenchard-Smith on the Life and Legacy of Bruce Lee

There's a nice Bruce Lee article on the site Talkhouse this week. Brian Trenchard-Smith is a very prolific director of (mostly) low-budget fare. Don't let the downmarket pedigree fool you though, he is a very smart man and a clever, talented filmmaker.

His piece on Bruce Lee, still the most influential martial arts star ever despite his comparatively minuscule filmed output and early death at the age of 32, has some nice insight about Bruce and his place in film and cultural history, and the director recalls his ill-fated trip to meet Lee and pitch the film that eventually became Trenchard-Smith's gonzo action thrill-ride THE MAN FROM HONG KONG.

Most interestingly is Trenchard-Smith's perspective as a director and it's Lee the director as much as Lee the star he mourns.
"He was only 32, with a grasp of the dynamics of action staging that was ahead of the curve. He planned to put spiritual content and Asian values into his forthcoming Hollywood movies. What might his oeuvre have contained if he was still directing today in his seventies and beyond, like Scorsese, Eastwood and Ridley Scott?"
Lee only signed one film as director but he is as much auteur of his films as a great comedy team is of theirs. You can see his mark in the staging of action, the casting and even in aesthetic decisions made for non-action scenes. It is easy to pick out which scenes in his early films were not directed by Lee because of their lack of dynamism and reliance on cheap corner-cutting techniques. As he grew older he would probably have become primarily a director, and we are all the worse for not having decades of Bruce Lee films to enjoy.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Happy Birthday Guillermo del Toro: Watch His Spellbinding Texas Film Awards Speech

Every year at the Texas Film Awards, all of us AFS staffers are busy running around, doing our jobs,  trying to appear convivial and have fun while simultaneously doing what we can to make the show run well. As a result, we don't often get to see the speeches and presentations onstage except in hurried, overheard, incomplete sections. But there was one speaker this year who made us all stop in our tracks, hit pause, and listen.

Guillermo del Toro, who was presented with an Honorary Texan Award that night, gave an acceptance speech that did no harm to his reputation as a warm, witty and engaging extemporaneous speaker. His speech is by turns funny and heartfelt. You can watch the whole thing here, including the presentation by Robert Rodriguez and the highlight montage, on the occasion of his 51st birthday today. Happy birthday GDT!