Wednesday, January 27, 2016

RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY - First Wave of Sundance Reviews


The documentary RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY screened at Sundance yesterday and the first reviews are in. The doc, directed by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein, gives audiences the most complete portrait yet of Richard Linklater, writer, director and, yes, founder and Artistic Director of the Austin Film Society.

John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter calls the film "One of the most enriching and enjoyable docs about a filmmaker in recent memory," and gives us the following appetizing teaser:
"The film offers plentiful pre-moviemaking biographical material and spends enjoyable time thumbing through the spiral notebooks where Linklater kept journals full of big ideas. Offering wisdom any wannabe auteur should heed, Linklater describes his approach to the one-man production of his pre-Slacker feature It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books ("It's a long time before your technical skills catch up to your ideas.") and shows the meticulous, Walden-inspired accounts he kept of how he spent his money and time in those days."
 The Guardian review notes that:
"The years which led up to him making Slacker are joyously depicted. In high school, Linklater loved baseball and at one point attempted to write a biography of Dostoyevsky. Then he decided to switch from being an aspiring novelist and playwright to making films. He made his own one-man productions, recording the sound on a Walkman. He moved to Austin and found like-minded friends who started a film club and would eventually become the crew and production unit behind Slacker."
And finally, Joe Gross at the Austin American Statesman's Austin 360 blog share the news that the film will be broadcast as part of PBS' American Masters series after its theatrical run.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

30 Years Ago: When Abe Vigoda Met Dr. Ruth


Abe Vigoda, who died today at the age of 94, seemed like a great guy. He was blessed with an unforgettable face and he was a fine actor whom everyone who worked with him seemed to love. Today most of us know him best from his role in THE GODFATHER as Sal Tessio. He was also one of the stars of the very successful comedy series BARNEY MILLER. Significantly, in MTV's obituary they refer to him as the star of 1997's GOOD BURGER. He lived so long that even his longevity became a fond joke.

Here is Vigoda in the place we would least expect to find him, on Dr. Ruth Westheimer's sex advice talk show. He's very sharp, funny and deeply lovable as he talks with Westheimer. Don't expect much sex advice, he's strictly business.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Watch this: Sergei Eisenstein's Avant-Dada Short Film from 1923


In 1923, 25-year old Sergei Eisenstein, destined to change the art of film forever as director of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and other seminal works, was working as a stage director. On one production he had the idea to add a multimedia element, a filmed fantasia that would serve as an act break and a cover for changing sets. The resulting short film, which we call GLUMOV'S DIARY, is the master's first cinema credit. It is considerably different from Eisenstein's other work, and it's weird. It also shows us his great flair for the medium, especially notable for one so lacking in film experience.

In tribute to Eisenstein on the 117th Anniversary of his birth we present it here:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Watch This: Fascinating Footage of Cecil B. DeMille Directing 1934's CLEOPATRA


Pardon the poor video quality, this footage is worth it. It's very rare to see footage of any Golden Age director actually going about the work of directing. The featurette is certainly staged, and stagey, but we get a sense of what Cecil B. DeMille was like as a director and also of his priorities for shooting scenes. DeMille is often considered a schlock master and a camp figure, and it's hard to deny some of the truth in that assessment, but he was a master of spectacle and of the technical aspects of filmmaking.

It's fun to watch DeMille shout instructions at extras "I need those slaves to come in much, much faster!" and, later, to give some poor prop man hell for shoddy swords and shields in a brilliant bit of publicity hokum.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Happy 70th Birthday David Lynch - Enjoy These Behind-the-Scenes Photos of the Master


His name has practically become a byword for "original" and "weird." He's also one of our greatest film masters, with an untouchable filmography and a reputation that, if anything, improves every year. We're lucky to have him among us, still working and still giving us the most accurate weather report of all at age 70.

Here are some photos of Lynch behind the scenes of his films.

ERASERHEAD

THE ELEPHANT MAN

DUNE

BLUE VELVET

BLUE VELVET

TWIN PEAKS

TWIN PEAKS, FIRE WALK WITH ME

Friday, January 15, 2016

Watch This: A Brilliant Short Film Starring Only Anonymous "Leader Ladies"


If you've watched 35mm feature films presented you have perhaps seen "Leader Ladies" or "China Girls." These are the colloquial terms for the test frame attached to each reel processed in a color lab. Color and light density tend to be perceived subjectively by the mind, so a uniformly colored photograph is used to gauge the quality and density of color information of processed motion picture stock. It has been traditional to use photographs of young women for this, sometimes young Asian women, hence the appellation "China Girl."

Even though you have seen them, you have likely never noticed it because they would have only been shown for 1/24th of a second, and only then at the beginning or end of a reel. Some of the photographs used are quite beautiful and the "Leader Lady" has become kind of a talisman of projection booths. They can often be seen taped to the walls with splicing tape.

Julie Buck and Karin Segal have given these anonymous models starring roles in their short film GIRLS ON FILM (2008). It's great to see so many beautiful frames in one place.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From The New Yorker: Werner Herzog on Virtual Reality


Werner Herzog has never been averse to new technology in his own work (his 2010 CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS was the first arthouse feature made in the contemporary 3D climate) so it's not surprising that he is interested in the implications of Virtual Reality, which is on the cusp of becoming a mainstream phenomenon. He elaborates in an interview with Patrick House of the New Yorker.

He is especially interested in the fact that the expressive power of the medium will lead creators to express new things:
"I am convinced that this is not going to be an extension of cinema or 3-D cinema or video games. It is something new, different, and not experienced yet. The strange thing here is that normally, in the history of culture, we have new stories and narrations and then we start to develop a tool. Or we have visions of wondrous new architecture—like, let’s say, the museum in Bilbao, or the opera house in Sydney—and technology makes it possible to fulfill these dreams. So you have the content first, and then the technology follows suit. In this case, we do have a technology, but we don’t have any clear idea how to fill it with content. 
"The Prussian war theoretician Clausewitz, in Napoleonic times, famously said, “Sometimes war dreams of itself.” Does the Internet dream of itself? That’s a big question. Now let me ask the Clausewitz question about virtual reality. Does virtual reality dream of itself? Do we dream or express and articulate our dreams in virtual reality? It remains to be seen."

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie in Film


The news of David Bowie's death has been like an all-day, slow-motion explosion. The man had such a pervasive hand in popular culture, music, style and film. There have been pop stars in movies before but how many have made anything like Bowie's impact?

Putting aside his own career in front of the camera for a moment - though we'll get back to it - consider these uses of Bowie songs in film:

CHRISTIANE F. (1981): Bowie is all over this film about a teenage drug addict, perhaps most memorably in a scene where a group of teenagers run through a train station and smash a ticket booth while "Heroes" plays. More than any other, this film gives us a sense of how essential and what a lifeline Bowie's music was to young people of the '70s and '80s.

DOGVILLE (2003): At the end of Lars von Trier's harrowing indictment of small town America, we hear a joyous piano arpeggio and Bowie's bittersweet "Young Americans" plays over a montage of stark photos of Americans in trouble.

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (2009): At a moment of extreme personal crisis, Robin Williams' character takes off his clothes and dives into a school swimming pool while "Under Pressure" plays. It's a (toweringly great) song that's used a lot, but for once it is not wasted.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009): In an inspired music choice, Bowie's song "Cat People: Putting Out Fire") is used in a scene where a character is preparing for a dangerous life-or-death mission.

This is not even to mention the sneakily pervasive LABYRINTH (1986), where in addition to playing an iconic role he sings several songs. It's one of many unforgettable onscreen appearances. Some of the best of these are:

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976): Bowie was born to play an alien, and he is brilliant at it in Nicolas Roeg's wiggy sci-fi classic.

THE HUNGER (1983): Bowie plays a 200-year old vampire in a frantic search for a means to prolong his eternal youth in this ultra-stylish vampire movie costarring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE (1983): Bowie is exceptionally good in Nagisa Ôshima story of relationships between captured British soldiers and their Japanese captors in a WWII P.O.W. camp.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988): In Martin Scorsese's flawed but ambitious adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, Bowie plays Pontius Pilate.

TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1991): Bowie makes a cameo appearance as a mysterious figure in one of agent Dale Cooper's dreams. He affects a southern drawl and says the unforgettable line, "Wayull now, I'm not gonna tawlk about Judeee."

BASQUIAT (1996): Bowie was a strangely appropriate choice to play Andy Warhol, whom he had celebrated in song 25 years earlier.

Many of Bowie's film and television appearances to follow were more-or-less cameos. He had become an icon too big to be contained in a character. But Bowie was a fine actor with a commanding presence and sense of movement. In roles like the Goblin King in LABYRINTH he throws off rock-star sparks, but in character. That's a testament to the skill of this man who played many roles onscreen and off.

Friday, January 8, 2016

BALL OF FIRE, Modern Ascendance Of A Screwball Comedy Classic


It's interesting how some films can emerge from obscurity and muddy critical opinions to become recognized classics. Reading this fine essay on BALL OF FIRE by Jeremy Carr, reminds me that a few short years ago it was not considered one of Howard Hawks' most enduring classics and it was not very well known by modern audiences. Critical fashion changes and good word of mouth among audiences can help even a 70 year old film rise to restored prominence.

Over the past three of four years BALL OF FIRE has probably been shown as often as its 1941 Barbara Stanwyck-starring contemporary THE LADY EVE (AFS has screened both). While THE LADY EVE is probably the better film, mainly due to a superior romantic interest, BALL OF FIRE is inarguably a crowd-pleasing film. The Wilder/Brackett screenplay is a bit hackneyed, maybe a lot hackneyed; the supporting players are up and down; Hawks is sometimes careless in his direction; Gary Cooper's chemistry with Stanwyck is not exactly smoldering (see Stanwyck/Fonda for comparison); and it goes on 10 minutes too long; but Stanwyck, playing a character of comic-strip level complexity, brings so much raw energy, charisma, sex appeal and, before it's all over, genuine emotion, that audiences are won over every time.

Has any performer had a better year than Stanwyck's 1941. THE LADY EVE, BALL OF FIRE and Frank Capra's MEET JOHN DOE in the same year. If Stanwyck was the best actress to work in Hollywood films, and I say she was, this was her finest hour. Her Sugarpuss O'Shea, a nightclub dancer being hidden by her gang-boss boyfriend from a grand jury investigation in which she could provide damning testimony, would be a rank cliche in the hands of most other performers, maybe all. But Stanwyck has it all, the dance steps, the seduction wiles, the rapport with the audience. It's a virtuoso turn by a maestro who is her own instrument, and a perfectly tuned one at that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An Exhaustive List of Everything Steven Soderbergh Read, Watched & Listened To in 2015

MODESTY BLAISE, viewed February 13, 2015

Steven Soderbergh has retired from filmmaking, kind of, but he is still updating his infrequent blog Extension 765. Yesterday he posted his annual Seen, Read list detailing which films, plays and television shows he has watched, what books or storied he read and what music he listened to.

All kinds of people make similar lists but of course it's interesting reading what a working filmmaker who has proven himself to have pretty good taste chooses to watch, read, etc.

It's a little surprising to see that he watched, in addition to many fine films, the Justin Bieber Comedy Central Roast and the World Figure Skating Championship. He watched a lot of TV, in fact, and a bunch of his own movies and TV shows. No word on what he ate while he watched them.

That list is here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

50 Years Ago: 1966 in Auteur Film


We all have our lists of filmmakers whose work we keep up with. There are 15 or 20 filmmakers I follow avidly, with an eager eye towards their latest film. But in 1966 that list would have been much longer. In fact, for me, all of the following films would have been must-sees.

It's a little overwhelming to look back at the U.S. release schedule in 1966 and see how many major filmmakers were working. The year was a bit of a generational crossroad. Many in the old guard tried to adapt to the new youth market, masters with long track records tried to stay in the game, and the next generation of auteurs took early steps.

Here's the auteur scorecard for 1966, a head-spinningly great year in film:

Michelangelo Antonioni

BLOWUP

Mario Bava

KILL, BABY, KILL

Ingmar Bergman

PERSONA

Robert Bresson

AU HASARD BALTHAZAR

Richard Brooks

THE PROFESSIONALS

Věra Chytilová

DAISIES

René Clément

IS PARIS BURNING?

Francis Ford Coppola

YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW

Sergio Corbucci

DJANGO
THE HELLBENDERS
NAVAJO JOE

Roger Corman

THE WILD ANGELS

Damiano Damiani

A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL

Vittorio De Sica

AFTER THE FOX

Stanley Donen

ARABESQUE

Blake Edwards

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?

Terence Fisher

DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS

John Ford

SEVEN WOMEN

John Frankenheimer

GRAND PRIX
SECONDS

Pietro Germi

THE BIRDS, THE BEES & THE ITALIANS

Jean-Luc Godard

MADE IN USA
MASCULINE-FEMININE

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea

DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT

Howard Hawks

EL DORADO

Monte Hellman

RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND
THE SHOOTING

Alfred Hitchcock

TORN CURTAIN

King Hu

COME DRINK WITH ME

John Huston

THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING...

Shohei Imamura

THE PORNOGRAPHERS

Phil Karlson

THE SILENCERS

William Klein

WHO ARE YOU, POLLY MAGOO?

Sergio Leone

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

Richard Lester

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

Jerry Lewis

THREE ON A COUCH

Joseph Losey

MODESTY BLAISE

Sidney Lumet

THE DEADLY AFFAIR
THE GROUP

Ida Lupino

THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS

Jean-Pierre Melville

LE DEUXIÈME SOUFFLE

Jiří Menzel

CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

Mike Nichols

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Kihachi Okamoto

SWORD OF DOOM

Arthur Penn

THE CHASE

Roman Polanski

CUL-DE-SAC

Sydney Pollock

THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED

Gillo Pontecorvo

BATTLE OF ALGIERS

Powell/Pressburger

THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB

Satyajit Ray

NAYAK: THE HERO

Michael Reeves

THE SHE BEAST

Karel Reisz

MORGAN!

Alain Resnais

THE WAR IS OVER

Jacques Rivette

THE NUN

Volker Schlöndorff

YOUNG TÖRLESS

Ousmane Sembène

BLACK GIRL
BOROM SARRET

Sergio Sollima

THE BIG GUNDOWN

Seijun Suzuki

FIGHTING ELEGY
TOKYO DRIFTER

Andrei Tarkovsky

ANDREI RUBLEV

Frank Tashlin

THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT

Francois Truffaut

FAHRENHEIT 451

Andy Warhol

CHELSEA GIRLS

Orson Welles

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT

Billy Wilder

THE FORTUNE COOKIE

William Wyler

HOW TO STEAL A MILLION

Fred Zinneman

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

Monday, January 4, 2016

Goodbye To Two Masters of Cinematography: Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond


The past week has been hard on the art of cinematography. Two of its mightiest masters have gone. First, last week Haskell Wexler died, then a few days later Vilmos Zsigmond followed. They were both advanced in age and had done enough good work for ten normal lives, but they have left a mighty example for those to follow. When the members of the International Cinematographers Guild were polled in 2012 both men were included on their list of Most Influential Cinematographers of all time, alongside the likes of Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Vittorio Storaro and Sven Nykvist.

These were giants. Wexler shot such immaculate films as THE LOVED ONE, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, MEDIUM COOL (which he also wrote and directed), BOUND FOR GLORY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and MATEWAN, among many others. He won two Oscars and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The American Society Of Cinematographers. He was also an outspoken activist and campaigner for social justice.

Zsigmond was a well respected Cinematographer in his native Hungary but when he emigrated to America in the early '60s there were few opportunities open to him so he made his living shooting industrial films and low budget films such as THE SADIST and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. Robert Altman gave Zsigmond his big break in the U.S., hiring him for McCABE & MRS. MILLER. He went on to shoot THE HIRED HAND, DELIVERANCE, THE LONG GOODBYE, SUGARLAND EXPRESS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE DEER HUNTER, HEAVEN'S GATE and many more.

Here is a candid master-class with Zsigmond from 2014 where he shares his thoughts, experiences and opinions:


A sample: "It (cinema) is an art form. And unfortunately today we are losing it. We think now that with special effects we can do everything... effects are overtaking everything. And I think the problem is that (in the past) films started to be about images, and we forgot about that. Also they started to be stories about people, and we forgot about that. And you know the effects are becoming the people. I don't know how many explosions, how many killings... it's amazing. What happened to my darling artistic movies, you know? It was gone. It is gone. So how do we get it back?"