Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Watch This: A Raucous, Profane & Altogether Amazing Q&A with Director Ana Lily Amirpour

Ana Lily Amirpour, photo credit Charles Ramírez Berg

First off - if you don't want to hear a bunch of off-color language, drug references and vulgar sexual metaphors, go watch something else right now. It's cool. However, to really get an idea about Ana Lily Amirpour's aesthetic, you kind of need to ride along on this bumpy road for a while.

On Friday night, 280 people joined us for a screening of A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT with Amirpour.

After the thunderous applause died down, she and I sat down for a very memorable Q&A. She extolled the creative virtues of certain hallucinogens, used very precise salty language to describe abstract filmmaking concerns and even gave a couple in the audience a suggestion for making their intimate moments "juicier."

It was really special and no one who was there will forget the experience, or the brilliance and exuberance of Lily's spirit. We're all waiting for her next film impatiently.

Here's a video of the introduction and Q&A. Wow!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Name-Check: Jeanne Eagels, Born 125 Years Ago Today

"I'm the greatest actress in the world and the greatest failure, and nobody gives a damn."

Chances are, unless you came across this post while looking for information about Jeanne Eagels, that you've never heard the name, let alone known the reputation that Eagels enjoyed among her contemporaries as an incandescent, proto-method actress. She was beautiful and brilliant, acclaimed as a great genius, and yet she also seemed to be in a hurry to destroy her career and her life.

She was born into a poor family in Kansas, ran off to join a traveling theatrical company at age 12, landed in New York, remade herself, became a chorine and a Ziegfeld Girl, studied acting and became a sought after theatrical name. As her heavy schedule - which soon included silent films - began to weigh on her, she self-medicated with pills, alcohol and possibly harder stuff.

Soon, after dozens of successful roles, she became a Broadway super-star playing Sadie Thompson in Somerset Maugham's "Rain." As her fame increased, so did her reputation for temperamental behavior and even unreliability. She drank even during performances and made work difficult for her co-stars and directors, but she also focused her performance like a laser and communicated her great reserves of emotional pain in a focused way that had scarcely been seen before. The word "genius" became permanently attached to her name.

Her "Rain" director John C. Williams said of her, "First off, she knew to perfection, and adhered to as to a religion, the art of listening in acting. At every performance, whether the first, or the hundredth, the speeches of the character addressing her were not merely heard but listened to. Hence there was always thought and belief and conviction behind every speech and scene of her own-- the essence of theater illusion."

This was not always so typical of stage divas, and it gives an idea of why young Barbara Stanwyck, for one, was so enthralled by Eagels, and why she emulated her acting style throughout her career. It's one of the keys to good acting, and Eagels mastered it early on.

Her self-destructive behavior, not helped a bit by an abusive marriage to an ex-football hero, helped drive her out of Hollywood. She would disappear for days on end during shoots, a thought that must send shivers up the spine of anyone who has ever worked in films. But one producer, Monta Bell, thought that no-one as talented, well-spoken, and glamorous should be kept from the screen and he cast her in Paramount's very first talkie THE LETTER. It was a smash hit and Eagels' performance was electric.

It was to be her next-to-last job. She made one more film, JEALOUSY, but no one considered it a worthy successor to THE LETTER. She died on the night of October 3, 1929, aged 39. Her death was variously attributed to alcohol, sleeping pills and heroin. It was as sensational a story as can be imagined, made all the more so because it happened in New York, the hub of gutter journalism*. She was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in THE LETTER, but did not win.

Today we can only gauge Eagels' power from anecdotal remembrances and a couple of films. A biopic of her life was made in 1957, starring Kim Novak. It was primarily a work of fiction and fetishized her Fitgerald-era beautiful damned life.

The following clip, and the movie it is excerpted from, gives us an idea of the rare combination of talent, beauty and emotional power Eagels contributed to her work and, through the example set by Stanwyck and other acolytes, to the art itself. This is her big speech from THE LETTER. It spoils the plot, so if you want to watch the whole film - and you should - watch it here. Otherwise, enjoy the majesty of Jeanne Eagels in THE LETTER:

*Interesting factual tidbit provided by Jeanne Eagels superfan Richard Linklater - the young reporter who got the scoop about Eagels' death was none other than Samuel Fuller.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pauline Kael's Legendary Sick-Burn "Replying To Listeners" Radio Broadcast

Nearly 14 years after her death, film critic Pauline Kael still inspires controversy. During her lifetime she was loved by many, hated by some and feared by studios and publicists (much of Hollywood felt, with some justification, that she could make or break a movie with her New Yorker reviews).

One matter than nearly everyone agrees on is that she was an exceptionally good and forceful writer. Her collections fall in and out of print, but just as every generation of theater people discovers Shakespeare anew, so does every new cycle of film people find its way to Kael. And if those copies of "I Lost It At The Movies" or "Kiss Kiss Band Bang" are a little dog-eared and foxed, then so be it, the contents are immortal.

Kael began writing about film professionally when she managed and programmed a small two-screen theater for the Berkeley Cinema Guild from 1955 to 1960. She wrote beautiful, insightful and persuasive capsule notes for the films she chose. At around the same time she became the on-air film critic for Berkeley's community radio station KPFA. A number of the reviews Kael read on-air are collected in her first books and her capsule reviews can be found in the invaluable collection "1001 Nights At The Movies," revised as "5001 Nights At The Movies."

She had an 8-year run as unpaid film reviewer for KPFA before quitting in 1963. Some of the frustrations that led to her resigning the post are apparent in this broadcast, recorded just before she quit. Kael's legendary wit, incisiveness and truculence are here, in a giant-sized portion. All of us who replay an argument in our heads afterwards, thinking, "I should have said that!" will appreciate the precision and sickness of the burn she administers here.

I sheared the existing broadcast recording of a few minutes of KPFA business. Her full broadcast script (including the portion not available on tape) is reprinted here:

I am resolved to start the New Year right; I don’t want to carry over any unnecessary rancor from 1962. So let me discharge a few debts. I want to say a few words about a communication from a woman listener.

She begins with, “Miss Kael, I assume you aren’t married—one loses that nasty, sharp bite in one’s voice when one learns to care about others.” Isn’t it remarkable that women, who used to pride themselves on their chastity, are now just as complacently proud of their married status? They’ve read Freud and they’ve not only got the idea that being married is healthier, more “mature,” they’ve also got the illusion that it improves their character. This lady is so concerned that I won’t appreciate her full acceptance of femininity that she signs herself with her husband’s name preceded by a Mrs. Why, if this Mrs. John Doe just signed herself Jane Doe, I might confuse her with one of those nasty virgins, I might not understand the warmth and depth of connubial experience out of which she writes.

I wonder, Mrs. John Doe, in your reassuring, protected marital state, if you have considered that perhaps caring about others may bring a bite to the voice? And I wonder if you have considered how difficult it is for a woman in this Freudianized age, which turns out to be a new Victorian age in its attitude to women who do anything, to show any intelligence without being accused of unnatural aggressivity, hateful vindictiveness, or lesbianism. The latter accusation is generally made by men who have had a rough time in an argument; they like to console themselves with the notions that the woman is semi-masculine. The new Freudianism goes beyond Victorianism in its placid assumption that a woman who uses her mind is trying to compete with men. It was bad enough for women who had brains to be considered freaks like talking dogs; now it’s leeringly assumed that they’re trying to grow a penis—which any man will tell you is an accomplishment that puts canine conversation in the shadows.

Mrs. John Doe and her sisters who write to me seem to interpret Freud to mean that intelligence, like a penis, is a male attribute. The true woman is supposed to be sweet and passive—she shouldn’t argue or emphasize and opinion or get excited about a judgment. Sex—or at least regulated marital sex—is supposed to act as a tranquilizer. In other words, the Freudianized female accepts that whole complex of passivity that the feminists battled against.

Mrs. Doe, you know something, I don’t mind sounding sharp—and I’ll take my stand with those pre-Freudian feminists; and you know something else, I think you’re probably so worried about competing with male egos and those brilliant masculine intellects that you probably bore men to death.

This lady who attacks me for being nasty and sharp goes on to write, “I was extremely disappointed to hear your costic speech on and about the radio station, KPFA. It is unfortunate you were unable to get a liberal education, because that would have enabled you to know that a great many people have many fields of interest, and would have saved you from displaying your ignorance on the matter.” She, incidentally, displays her liberal education by spelling caustic c-o-s-t-i-c, and it is with some expense of spirit that I read this kind of communication. Should I try to counter my education—liberal and sexual—against hers, should I explain that Pauline Kael is the name I was given at birth, and that it does not reflect my marital vicissitudes which might over-complicate nomenclature?

It is not really that I prefer to call myself by my own name and hence Miss that bothers her or the other Mrs. Does, it is that I express ideas she doesn’t like. If I called myself by three names like those poetesses in the Saturday Review of Literature, Mrs. Doe would still hate my guts. But significantly she attacks me for being a Miss. Having become a Mrs., she has gained moral superiority: for the modern woman, officially losing her virginity is a victory comparable to the Victorian woman’s officially keeping hers. I’m happy for Mrs. Doe that she’s got a husband, but in her defense of KPFA she writes like a virgin mind. And is that really something to be happy about?

Mrs. Doe, the happily, emotionally-secure-mature-liberally-educated-womanly-woman has her opposite number in the mailbag. Here is a letter from a manly man. This is the letter in its entirety: “Dear Miss Kael, Since you know so much about the art of the film, why don’t you spend your time making it? But first, you will need a pair of balls.” Mr. Dodo (I use the repetition in honor of your two attributes), movies are made and criticism is written by the use of intelligence, talent, taste, emotion, education, imagination, and discrimination. I suggest it is time you and your cohorts stop thinking with your genital jewels. There is a standard answer to this old idiocy of if-you-know-so-much-about-the-art-of-the-film-why-don’t-you-make-movies. You don’t have to lay an egg to know if it tastes good. If it makes you feel better, I have worked making movies, and I wasn’t hampered by any biological deficiencies.

Others may wonder why I take the time to answer letters of this sort: the reason is that these two examples, although cruder than most of the mail, simply carry to extremes the kind of thing so many of you write. There are, of course, some letter writers who take a more “constructive” approach. I’d you to read you part of a long letter I received yesterday:

I haven’t been listening to your programs for very long and haven’t heard all of them since I began listening … But I must say that while I have been listening, I have not heard one favorable statement made of any “name” movie made in the last several years…. I have heard no movie which received any kind of favorable mention which was not hard to find playing, either because of its lack of popularity or because of its age. In your remarks the other evening about De Sica’s earlier movies you praised them all without reservation until you mentioned his “most famous film—The Bicycle Thief, a great work, no doubt, though I personally find it too carefully and classically structured.” You make me think that the charge that the favorability of your comments on any given movie varies inversely with its popularity, is indeed true even down to the last nuance.
But even as I write this, I can almost feel you begin to tighten up, to start thinking of something to say to show that I am wrong. I really wish you wouldn’t feel that way. I would much rather you leaned back in your chair, looked up at the ceiling and asked yourself, “Well, how about it? Is it true or not? Am I really biased against movies other people like, because they liked them? When I see a popular movie, do I see it as it is or do I really just try to pick it apart?” You see, I’m not like those other people that have been haranguing you. I may be presumptuous, but I am trying sincerely to be of help to you. I think you have a great deal of potential as a reviewer…. But I am convinced that great a potential as you have, you will never realize any more of that potential than you have now until you face those questions mentioned before, honestly, seriously, and courageously, no matter how painful it may be. I want you to think of these questions, I don’t want you to think of how to convince me of their answers. I don’t want you to look around to find some popular movie to which you can give a good review and thus “prove me wrong.” That would be evading the issue of whether the questions were really true or not. Furthermore, I am not “attacking” you and you have no need to defend yourself to me.

May I interrupt? Please, attack me instead—it’s this kind of “constructive criticism” that misses the point of everything I’m trying to say that drives me mad. It’s enough to make one howl with despair, this concern for my potential—as if I were a cow giving thin milk. But back to the letter—

In fact, I would prefer that you make no reply to me at all about the answers to these question, since I have no need of the answers and because almost any answer given now, without long and thoughtful consideration, would almost surely be an attempt to justify yourself, and that’s just what you don’t have to do, and shouldn’t do. No one needs to know the answers to these questions except you, and you are the only person who must answer. In short, I would not for the world have you silence any voices in you … and most certainly not a concerned little voice saying, “Am I really being fair? Do I see the whole movie or just the part I like—or just the part I don’t like?”

And so on he goes for another few paragraphs. Halfway through, I thought this man was pulling my leg; as I got further and read “how you missed the child-like charm and innocence of The Parent Trap … is quite beyond me,” I decided it’s mass culture that’s pulling both legs out from under us all. Dear man, the only real question you letter made me ask myself is, “What’s the use?” and I didn’t lean back in my chair and look up at the ceiling, I went to the liquor cabinet and poured myself a good stiff drink.

How completely has mass culture subverted even the role of the critic when listeners suggest that because the movies a critic review favorably are unpopular and hard to fine, that the critic must be playing some snobbish game with himself and the public? Why are you listening to a minority radio station like KPFA? Isn’t it because you want something you don’t get on commercial radio? I try to direct you to films that, if you search them out, will give you something you won’t get from The Parent Trap. You consider it rather “suspect” that I don’t raise more “name” movies. Well, what makes a “name” movie is simply a saturation advertising campaign, the same kind of campaign that puts samples of liquid detergents at your door. The “name” pictures of Hollywood are made the same way they are sold: by pretesting the various ingredients, removing all possible elements that might affront the mass audience, adding all possible elements that will titillate the largest number of people. As the CBS television advertising slogan put it—“Titillate—and dominate.” South Pacific is seventh in Variety’s list of all-time top grossers. Do you know anybody who thought it was a good movie? Was it popular in any meaningful sense or do we just call it popular because it was sold? The tie-in campaign for Doris Day in Lover Come Back included a Doris Day album to be sold for a dollar with a purchase of Imperial margarine. With a schedule of 23 million direct mail pieces, newspaper, radio, TV and store ads, Lover Come Back became a “name” picture.

I try not to waste air time discussing obviously bad movies—popular though they may be; and I don’t discuss unpopular bad movies because you’re not going to see them anyway; and there wouldn’t be much point or sport in hitting people who are already down. I do think it’s important to take time on movies which are inflated by critical acclaim and which some of you might assume to be the films to see.

There were some extraordinarily unpleasant anonymous letters after the last broadcast on The New American Cinema. Some were obscene; the wittiest called me a snail eating the tender leaves off young artists. I recognize your assumptions: the critic is supposed to be rational, clever, heartless and empty, envious of the creative fire of the artists, and if the critic is a woman, she is supposed to be cold and castrating. The artist is supposed to be delicate and sensitive and in need of tender care and nourishment. Well, this nineteenth-century romanticism is pretty silly in twentieth-century Bohemia.

I regard criticism as an art, and if in this country and in this age it is practiced with honesty, it is no more remunerative than the work of an avant-garde film artist. My dear anonymous letter writers, if you think it is so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a poet or a painter or film experimenter, may I suggest you try both? You may discover why there are so few critics, so many poets.

Some of you write me flattering letters and I’m grateful, but one last request: if you write me, please don’t say, “This is the first time I’ve ever written a fan letter.” Don’t say it, even if it’s true. You make me feel as if I were taking your virginity—and it’s just too sordid."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky Interviews EDEN Director (and AFS July Guest Programmer) Mia Hansen-Løve

Here's a nice interview piece from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on Mia Hansen-Løve's new movie EDEN. She will guest-program three screenings: Jean Eustache's epochal THE MOTHER & THE WHORE, Assayas' under-seen SOMETHING IN THE AIR and a sneak of EDEN.

The rare 35mm screening of THE MOTHER & THE WHORE (1973) takes place at the Marchesa Wednesday, July 1. SOMETHING IN THE AIR (2012) by Olivier Assayas (CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA) will screen on Tuesday, July 7 and then EDEN (2015) will play Friday, July 10.

All details about the Mia Hansen-Løve Selects series, and all ticket links, are here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Celebrate Billy Wilder, Born On This Day in 1906, with this Extended 1995 Interview

Billy Wilder with Austrian Pickelhaube helmet and Oscars

Here's a long form interview with the still very agile minded Billy Wilder conducted in 1995. As this video was created by the Writer's Guild, there is a lot about story - very few have ever mastered movie storytelling as well as Wilder, after all - but there are a lot of other gems too. None of us, whether we be directors, writers, technical personnel, or merely film fans, can or should disregard the lessons laid down here by Wilder. This kind of advice has no expiration date, and the filmmakers of today who heed it will have the advantage over those who ignore it.

On tricky camera set-ups:

"I don't indulge in camera tricks. I don't want - you know, one director says to another, "did you see the set up that the guy has? Terrific what he did with the camera." No, I just photograph it as simply as possible, but as elegantly as possible. You will never see a surprising shot from the point of view of Santa Claus, shooting through the fireplace. Who is there?! Santa Claus maybe."

On changes in the movie business:

"The studios are now copying more successful pictures. If you bring them a picture that's totally original they say, "this is very interesting but I've never seen it before." "That's why I want to make it!"

On keeping audience interest:

"You have to get the hook, the big hook, that keeps them there. And don't let go. Because they are fickle. Very fickle. Keep working on that throat. Keep getting tighter and tighter."

Friday, June 19, 2015

Richard Linklater on Paul Schrader, Mishima & More.

The AFS Jewels In The Wasteland II series, programmed by Austin Film Society founder and artistic director Richard Linklater, wrapped up earlier this month with an archival 35mm screening of MISHIMA: A LIFE IN THREE CHAPTERS.

It's appropriate that a Paul Schrader film would cap our screening series focusing on the years 1984-1986, because, during that era, Schrader was one of the biggest filmmaking and screenwriting heroes of young Richard Linklater, who had not yet made his first feature, but who was already running the film society and plotting his career.

MISHIMA doesn't screen around much and that's a shame because the films set-pieces and designs don't translate well to the small screen and you need maximum visual impact to get the poetic resonances of the story. It's a truly powerful film when seen in a theater.

Here is Linklater's introduction to the film and our post-movie discussion, hitting on a lot of topics both relevant and not. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Independent Movies Under The Stars: Cinema East's Summer Season Preview

Holly Herrick previews this year's Cinema East season. All Cinema East screenings take place on the French Legation grounds.

Summer movies outdoors are not only the creation of the American drive-in, they are a pleasure the world over, and enjoyed in outdoor amphitheaters from Ouagadougou to Athens, Australia to India. Austin’s open spaces mean that outdoor movie going appear frequently on the city’s agenda, but at AFS, we always have our eye on Cinema East, whose excellent location (the French Legation) and good presentation are matched by their exciting programming, always focused on a select few ambitious and ultra low-budget American indies. 

If you are a movie lover who’d like to see new independent films flung far from the limits of convention, the four films offered in Cinema East’s summer program are absolutely for you.
The series starts on Sunday, June 28th with Jennifer Phang’s ADVANTAGEOUS, a feminist dystopian sci-fi, which was awarded a special jury prize at Sundance this year. This is the sophomore feature of the San Francisco-based filmmaker, who has been praised for her thought-provoking visions of the future in her shorts and in her first feature, HALF LIFE.

We’re particularly excited for FUNNY BUNNY, which screens with Cinema East Sunday, July 12th, and will have an encore screening with AFS at the Marchesa on August 18th (at which the director, Alison Bagnall, will be in attendance). The film premiered at SXSW to rave reviews, and Bagnall’s knack for getting exciting performances from wonderful actors is on display here. As a screenwriter, Bagnall does fascinating work with oddball characters (she is co-writer, with Vincent Gallo, of the indie classic BUFFALO ’66).

One of the most versatile and prolific characters of independent film as of late, Onur Tukel, has become a fixture of Cinema East both as a director and star. It’s hard to describe Tukel to those who’ve never experienced his work; he’s a Turkish-American southern painter with a gift of gab that would silence a young Woody Allen, and his comedy films, in which he always stars, have run the gamut in subject matter, from genital disfigurement (DING-A-LING-LESS) to a satire of Brooklyn vampires (SUMMER OF BLOOD). His latest feature ABBY SINGER/SONGWRITER, will screen in the series on July 26th.

The series wraps up on August 9th, with the SXSW selection NAZ & MAALIK, a Flatbush, Brooklyn-set day in the life of a black Muslim teenage gay couple; shot on the streets and so connected with the setting that it feels like a time capsule for summer, 2014.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT Writer/Director Ana Lily Amirpour in Conversation with Roger Corman

Ana Lily Amirpour portrait by Jason Bedient

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour and legendary producer/director Roger Corman sat down for a discussion earlier this year at the Hammer Museum for a wide-ranging discussion that begins with an advertisement in favor of LSD use, and then moves on into more of the specifics. Corman is genuinely impressed with Amirpour's vision, and they come across as two mavericks of a kind.

Amirpour tells how she got her start, making her own versions of TV commercials, and obsessing over the "Making Of Thriller" VHS tape.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Birthday H.G. Lewis, Here He is Talking Shock Tactics with John Waters in 1997

Herschell Gordon Lewis, born on this date in 1929, is known as the Godfather Of Gore for a reason. At a time in the '60s when independent exploitation filmmakers were trying to find the next big thing, Lewis decided to give blood and guts a try. It went over big, literally breaking attendance records at drive-in theaters. One of the impressionable young people forever scarred by the experience of watching Lewis' films was John Waters.

Here, on John Pierson's 1997 television show SPLIT SCREEN, Waters and Lewis reminisce about the films and Lewis tells some of his best stories. Enjoy. The action begins at 1:50.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A 1984-1986 Summer Viewing List (and more) from Richard Linklater

From TO LIVE & DIE IN LA. This is what 1985 felt like, 24/7.

Since you're reading this I can guess that you're a big movie enthusiast. Me too. Together we've seen a lot of movies. When we get together with our friends we're the ones who know that actor's name or that director's name, or what year that came out. But in my peer group there's someone who knows so much more, who has so many more years of experience at this, that I am constantly learning from him and tracking down films he recommends. That person is Austin Film Society founder and Artistic Director Richard Linklater.

Last summer we presented a series of films chosen and introduced by Linklater called Jewels In The Wasteland, spotlighting the first 4 years of that maligned decade, the '80s. You can see the full lineup here.

This spring, even though Linklater was hard at work finishing a new film, we managed to squeeze in a 10 film series covering the years 1984-1986. But due to the brevity of our time window and, in some cases, non-availability of certain film prints from the era, we were not able to show everything we necessarily wanted to.

Last year, Linklater created a 1980-1983 Summer Viewing List" for people who wanted to keep the series going at home, or just to get some great movie recommendations. Now he has created the 1984-1986 Summer Viewing List.

Pro-tip, if you create a free account on Letterboxd, you can use these lists to create your own watchlist of films you want to get around to seeing. We recommend it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stranger Than Fiction: Marlon Brando's Bizarre 2002 Master Class

Marlon Brando did not look like this in 2002

Hollywood Reporter today released a truly bizarre report about an 10-day acting class taught by the legendary Marlon Brando in 2002. The story is so odd and improbable that I was checking throughout for an April 1 dateline or an indication that it was a satirical story, but it seems to check out. Quotes below are from the article, which you really must read.

Though he was in poor health and seemingly mentally unstable, a whole assortment of A through C-list Hollywoodites signed up for what Branco advertised as an acting workshop in 2002. The idea was that the recorded footage of the class could be licensed and sold - possibly on QVC. Attendees included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Edward James Olmos, John Voight, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Dean Stanton and Robin Williams, who was there for every minute of every session. Michael Jackson showed up for one class, as did Leonardo DiCaprio, who balked at signing the camera release and was ejected from the class by Brando.

Brando hired AMERICAN HISTORY X director Tony Kaye to supervise the camera crews documenting the event. Kaye reportedly showed up on the first day of shooting dressed as Osama Bin Laden. Brando himself didn't disappoint in the weirdness department either.

"When the doors flung open, the 78-year-old Brando appeared wearing a blond wig, blue mascara, a black gown with an orange scarf and a bodice stuffed with gigantic falsies. Waving a single rose in one hand, he sashayed through the warehouse, plunked his 300-pound frame onto a thronelike chair on a makeshift stage and began fussily applying lipstick.

"I am furious! Furious!" Brando told the group in a matronly English accent, launching into an improvised monologue that ended, 10 minutes later, with the actor turning around, lifting his gown and mooning the crowd."

Once the classes were in full swing, they remained odd in the extreme.

"During one of the sessions, a troupe of little people and a team of Samoan wrestlers — Brando somehow had wrangled all of them to the warehouse on the same day — did improvisation exercises together on the stage. Another time, Brando plucked a homeless man from a dumpster and brought him in for acting lessons. He had students strip naked in front of the entire class. ("The girls were shaking, like, 'What the f— am I doing here?' " recalls Olmos. "But Brando had a reason for it. He always had a reason.") While a jazz musician played Brando's favorite tunes on a rented piano, Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who had crossed the Twin Towers, did stunts on a high-wire."

But it wasn't just a circus. Real lessons were taught. Brando, after all, was one of the greatest actors of all time.

For Robin Williams' improv, Brando brought in a real used-car salesman whom he had imported from a Ford dealership in North Hills. The salesman left the improv master speechless. "We didn't know he was a real car salesman," says Olmos. "We didn't know who he was or where he was from. We just thought it was going to be another improv. But Brando brought this guy onstage, and he tells him to try to sell a car to Robin Williams. And then he tells Robin, 'But you don't want to buy the car.' And all of a sudden, this car salesman kicks in, and he's incredible. He was so fast he wouldn't let Robin get a word in. But that was the point of the exercise. Even Robin Williams, who was an expert at improv, who was so quick he could annihilate you, had to listen and react when dealing with the truth. Even Robin Williams gets slapped in the face by reality. That was the lesson Marlon was teaching."

The footage of all of this exists, but it is likely to be held up legally and never officially released. Doubtless somewhere in the Hollywood Hills a bootleg exists and someone is laughing right now. In the meantime these videos seem doomed to a DAY THE CLOWN CRIED-style legendary status.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

AFS Salutes Pioneering Golden Age Hollywood Director Dorothy Arzner with 3 Screenings

This month AFS Presents a series of three films directed by Dorothy Arzner, who made films in Hollywood during the studio system era as the only contracted female director since the silent era.

Films screened will be DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940) on June 12 & 14; MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932) on June 19 & 21; and WORKING GIRLS on June 23 & 28.

Here's a fascinating interview with Dorothy Arzner, conducted by Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary by mail in 1974. She gives an idea about the kinds of career opportunities a woman might be expected to have in Hollywood during that era. Her struggle to rise in the ranks and become a director is modestly recounted, but we can only imagine the kind of courage it must have required to make the stand she did.

An excerpt:

"... and I told him, I was leaving Paramount after seven years, and I wanted to say good-bye to someone important. “Come into my office, Dorothy.” I followed him, and when he sat down behind his desk, I put out my hand and said, “Really, I didn’t want a thing, just wanted to say good-bye to someone important. I’m leaving to direct.” He turned and picked up the intercom and said, “Ben—Dorothy’s in my office and says she’s leaving.” I heard Ben Schulberg say, “Tell her I’ll be right in.” Which he was—in about three minutes.

“What do you mean you’re leaving?” “I’ve finished Ironsides. I’ve closed out my salary, and I’m leaving.” “We don’t want you to leave. There’s always a place in the scenario department for you.” “I don’t want to go into the scenario department. I’m going to direct for a small company.” “What company?” he asked. “I won’t tell you because you’d probably spoil it for me.” “Now Dorothy, you go into our scenario department and later we’ll think about directing.” “No, I know I’d never get out of there.” “What would you say if I told you that you could direct here?” “Please don’t fool me, just let me go. I’m going to direct at Columbia.” “You’re going to direct here at Paramount.” “Not unless I can be on a set in two weeks with an A picture. I’d rather do a picture for a small company and have my own way than a B picture for Paramount.”

With that he left, saying, “Wait here.” He was back in a few minutes with a play in his hand. “Here. It’s a French farce called The Best Dressed Woman in Paris.

So, there I was a writer-director. It was announced in the papers the following day or so: “Lasky Names Woman Director.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

Weirdly Cool: A Guy Compressed 50 Different Westerns Into Single Frames

The photo above may look like a Mark Rothko painting, but it is actually a composite of every 10th second of John Ford's classic western THE SEARCHERS (1956). All the Monument Valley sandstone formations, all the golden sunlight, richer than ever in Technicolor, and all the wide blue sky is there, as well as John Wayne's brick red shirt and chestnut mount.

Here, and note the Cinemascope frame, is Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), given the same treatment:

Kevin L. Ferguson has done a lot of this and he reports on his findings about color, light and the psychology of perception in his Outtake article here. As he says, "These shapes and colors are evocative in a way that tea leaves and tarot are: they don’t actually tell you much about what you’re looking at, but they allow you an emotional response confirmed or denied once you come to discover what the image “really” is."

One last example, the Western that very nearly ended all Westerns, Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE (1980). Sunlight, dust, loss:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Richard Linklater on Eric Rohmer's SUMMER (LE RAYON VERT)

In the next-to-last installment of the AFS Jewels In The Wasteland II program last week, AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater joined Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick to present and discuss Eric Rohmer's 1986 film SUMMER (LE RAYON VERT). Linklater is a great admirer of Rohmer's work and makes a number of excellent points in both the introduction and the post-film discussion.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Watch This: Martin Scorsese's 1963 Student Film

Talent is usually discernible from a long distance or with a small sample size. Even when a major director's work is a little undercooked and not quite successful, we can see the makings of a real filmmaker.

Here's a short called WHAT'S A NICE GIRL LIKE YOU DOING IN A PLACE LIKE THIS? made by 20 year old student Martin Scorsese in 1963. You can feel the humor of the time and place and you can also sense the assurance and gifts of its young writer/director. The camera movements and edits feel like prime post-TAXI DRIVER Scorsese and the pacing feels downright GOODFELLAS-ish.

It has a real Nichols and May feel to it, and an enthusiasm for every film technique the young director could master, which even at this early date, was a lot.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Avant-Garde Resource Alert: A Free Repository of Decades of Underground Art Film & Video

For nearly 20 years the site UbuWeb has existed to promote and promulgate avant-garde poetry, music and video content. Founder Kenneth Goldsmith calls UbuWeb the "Robin Hood of the Avant-Garde." Offerings are vast and eye-opening, a constant source of refreshment for those who like to be exposed to different ideas and systems of thought.

The film and video section of UbuWeb contains hundreds of entries, most of them completely obscure. It is fun to explore the stacks and find yourself watching a vicious parody of a beauty pageant from 1977 or a Cindy Sherman film essay about doll clothes or even 45 minutes of Ennio Morricone playing obtuse electro-acoustic music with Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza (1967).

UbuWeb fulfills the promise of the internet to bring culture, even outlaw culture, to the masses. It's always been on unstable footing, and in a somewhat precarious position as concerns copyright, but it's still here. Use it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Brief History of the AFS Grant

On the eve of the 2015 AFS Grant deadline (Hurry up, if you haven't submitted yet!), here is a very brief history of the AFS Grant from AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick.

Filmmakers have always been at the center of the Austin Film Society. Founded and run by filmmakers from the very beginning, screenings were originally programmed and hosted by filmmakers for other filmmakers. Many Austin artists’ film education was provided by AFS screenings, especially in the case of our founder and artistic director, Richard Linklater, who was AFS’ first film programmer and selected films based on what he wanted and needed to see as he developed his own aesthetic.

It wasn’t until after SLACKER was made that Linklater envisioned a new purpose for the Film Society outside of exhibiting great works of world cinema in Austin. At this time, the National Endowment for the Arts individual artist grants—which can be credited for the completion of SLACKER—were cut by the federal government, and became obsolete for filmmakers.  Austin was already a hot spot for filmmakers, but there was no clear support structure comparable to the media arts organizations that were being established in New York and Los Angeles. 

Could the Austin Film Society expand its programming and pool its contacts and resources to put together an artistic fund for Texas filmmakers? 

It was an ambitious vision; the society at that time was a bare bones organization run by part-time employees and volunteers, pulling in just enough cash to run the exhibition program. Raising non-operational funds at this juncture for any organization would be a leap, especially given that the model for film societies in the early 90s didn’t generally include artist support. But Linklater had a vision that came from that “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” spirit, and determined that AFS could perform support functions for filmmakers. He knew that other directors of his generation would get on board.

Beginning with premieres of SLACKER, DAZED AND CONFUSED and PULP FICTION, AFS began to raise money by bringing great directors to Austin to premiere their newest films.  Soderbergh, Tarantino and Terrence Malick are just a few of those who joined Robert Rodriguez and Linklater in the cause, and in 1996 AFS established the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund, awarding $30,000 in cash to filmmakers throughout the state. Among those first recipients, there was a new project from the legendary Eagle Pennell, and a short film by Bob Byington, now a fixture of the Texas film scene (Bob premiered his latest AFS grant funded feature, 7 CHINESE BROTHERS, at SXSW this past March).

With a long-range plan to increase the amount of the fund, AFS needed a stronger mechanism than premieres to generate funds. We established the Texas Film Hall of Fame, and now the annual Texas Film Awards are the biggest fundraiser for the program. 

2015 will mark AFS’ 20th grant cycle, and when we award the funds in August, we will surpass $1.5 million in cash given to Texas filmmakers.  This year alone, we’ll give out $105,000 in cash to support production, post-production, distribution and festival travel expenses for Texas filmmakers. On top of that, our in-kind package of production  and post-production services will exceed $40,000.

The grant continues to be a vital source of support for the state’s creative community. While we’ve built AFS’ artist services programs over the years, the AFS Grant remains at the heart of what we do and has supported some tremendous filmmakers towards massive career leaps. Artists who have been supported by the grant include Jeff Nichols (MUD, TAKE SHELTER), Jay Duplass (HBO’s “Togetherness”), Margaret Brown (THE GREAT INVISIBLE, THE ORDER OF MYTHS), David Lowery (upcoming PETE’S DRAGON, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS), Kat Candler (HELLION), Emmy-Award winner Heather Courtney (WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM), David Zellner (KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER), Andrew Bujalski (RESULTS) and Trey Edward Shults (KRISHA), among many other notable names.  Each year first and second-time filmmakers receive the grant, and AFS is with them on the ground floor.  

To have a sneak preview on the next generation of great Texas filmmakers, look out for this year’s AFS Grant recipients, announced in early September.  

This year’s AFS Grant was made possible by the many generous donors and attendees of the Texas Film Awards, as well as Dell Precision Systems, MPS Camera and Lighting Austin, The Four Seasons Austin, the NEA and TCA, Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin, and Kodak Motion Picture Film.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Richard Linklater on RIVER'S EDGE

Wow, our Jewels In The Wasteland II screening of RIVER'S EDGE (1986) was pretty terrific. It's a movie that I had not seen since the '80s and my memories were that it was relentlessly grim. It's not. There's so much humor in it. So many notes of truth. It's a great film. Here's AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater's pre-recorded introduction (he had to miss the beginning of the screening) and the post movie discussion.