6/23/17

EDWARD DMYTRYK TALKS WITH TWO FRENCH GUYS



Here's my old friend and film school advisor Eddie Dmytryk talking to the same two French guys as in the previous post (scroll down, dammit) for the mysterious TV program 'Cinema, Cinemas' (translation: 'Theater, Theaters'). As always with Eddie, much time is devoted to his infamous blacklisting and subsequent recanting. I like the way at the very opening Eddie waits for the French interviewer to ask his uncomfortable opening question about his firing after the Hollywood Ten came into public view. The interviewer thinks that his opening statement is enough for Eddie to take the bait, but Eddie is having none of it, forcing the interviewer to stumble on in increasing discomfort until the interviewee finally lets him off the hook and launches into an extended answer. Eddie was articulate and forthcoming to a fault and the interview is fascinating and entertaining. He was a difficult, controversial figure and not always an easy man to like. I had a long and complex relationship with him when growing up (he and my father were close friends and collaborators). If you're interested in knowing more about that particular subject, click here to read an extended post I wrote back in 2008, his centenary year.

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6/19/17

RICHARD BROOKS TALKS 'IN COLD BLOOD' WITH TWO FRENCH GUYS



Back in the 1980s, cinema journalists Phillippe Garnier and Claude Ventura seem to have created a show consisting of interviews with Hollywood directors (and occasionally actors) that I can only presume was made for French TV. Titled 'Cinema, Cinemas' (English translantion: 'Film, Films' or, colloquially, 'Movie, Movies') the show consists of neat little twenty minute segments combining interviews of the filmmakers in English (subtitled in French) with scenes from the films accompanied by somber French commentary (with no English subtitling). A number of episodes are posted on Youtube and I've just killed a significant portion of my workday watching a few. This all came about because I'm reading a  biography of writer-director Richard Brooks and went casting about for interview footage of him that might have been parked by someone on the Tube. Voila! Youtube never disappoints, does it? A nice discovery, this 'Cinema, 'Cinemas' program (alternate translation: 'Picture, Pictures' or, colloquially, 'Flick, Flicks'.)

Brooks talks exclusively about 'In Cold Blood' in this segment and almost does a Truman Capote imitation--he wisely stops himself after it fails to convincingly get off the ground. His manner is one that doesn't seem to exist in people anymore--that of a grand, confident and intense anecdotalist. He was certainly a spellbinder and, though perfectly calm and well-mannered, one can see the rage beneath the surface that was, apparently, often in evidence on his sets. He actually got away with starting his movies without completed scripts and frequently refused to show actors more than the pages they were shooting, apparently convincing them that their performances would be better if they didn't know what was coming next. How Burt Lancaster, Gene Hackman, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Diane Keaton, Sean Connery etc. actually put up with this insult is beyond me. Nonetheless, Brooks was an interesting and highly successful (and unusual) combination of studio system functionary and iconoclastic auteur and the interview is a nice way to spend twenty minutes avoiding work, to say nothing of exercise.

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5/24/17

NYC: WHEN CRAZIES WERE KOOKS


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What on earth was the above video made for? It's a short film in the style of a tourist-lure travelogue promoting New York. Only its point is how lousy New York is. The Youtube poster is at least ten years off in his estimation of when it was shot--he says early sixties but the cars (among other things) show it to be the notorious New York of the early 70s. The funk music helps solidify this as well as the cabbie who uses the word 'kooks' to describe the crazy people he encounters in his job. Now dig: 'kooks' was a 50s/60s word so one could be forgiven for thinking that the use of the word places the film in the early 60s. But the cabbie is at least fifty-something years old, meaning that his use of the word 'kooks' was new and fresh ten years earlier and--as is often the case with us older ones--is a stale leftover of the hip world that he remembers from his fast-receding youth. Do you buy it? Well if not, here's the ultimate proof that the damn thing was shot in the late 60s at the very least. It comes courtesy of a comment posted on the video and proves that there are people out there much kookier and obsessive about this crap than I am. Dig:

These scenes from days gone by appear to be from the late 1960's.  Why ? In the beginning of the video you see the subways and one car with graffiti and it clearly has the "B" train letter on the side. The letter and number designations for certain subway lines started in 1967.  Prior to then,  there was no alpha-numeric designations for the trains . They had the BMT, IRT, and IND lines in the 4 boroughs, and just names like: Sea-Beach, West End, Culver-Line, Lexington Avenue, 7-th Avenue, etc.

5/3/17

PARIS HOLIDAY: STARRING PRESTON STURGES (and bob hope)



The toweringly talented writer-director Preston Sturges (no, I will not give credits since you must be crazy to be reading this blog if you don't know who Sturges is) appeared on screen as an actor four times. Twice were cameos in his own films ("Christmas In July" and "Sullivan's Travels"--damn, I just gave credits) and once as himself in a Paramount war-time musical ("Go over there boys and knock 'em dead for us dames!") called "Star Spangled Rhythm." The fourth appearance came in 1958 (the year before he died) in a Bob Hope movie called "Paris Holiday." As Sturges appears to have left behind no filmed (or recorded) interviews, this is our only chance to see the great man in the filmic flesh, to watch how he handled himself, what that magnificent head of hair really did when he walked around (it flounces a little) and to take in the strange sort of late 19th/early 20th century Boulevardier manner with which Sturges walked through the world.

Why was he in this movie? The film was shot on location in France and Sturges was, at the time, living in Paris. He had known Hope for twenty years--before his writing-directing career took off in the early forties he wrote a 1938 Hope movie called "Never Say Die." It's no secret that Sturges was in a bad way by the end of the 1950s--his Hollywood career had perished earlier in the decade, he threw away most of his savings on his money-pit restaurant 'The Players' on the Sunset Strip, he had a drinking problem, was considered unreliable and had an adorable young wife and two charming little sons to support. Was giving him this small but not insubstantial role in the movie a  'beau geste' on Hope's part, to help an old pal out? Probably, since Sturges wasn't really an actor. He plays a French playwright who Hope is schmoozing in the hopes of acquiring his newest play as a star vehicle for himself. Sturges scene is five minutes long, shot in a flat, late-fifties lock-off style and is excruciatingly dubbed. Which makes me wonder if it's Sturges voice we're hearing or another actor who was brought in later to replace his voice. My money is on the latter, my theory being that the scene was shot with only a 'guide track' for audio (a scratch recording for future dubbing reference). This wasn't uncommon in Europe as filmmakers there tended to prefer to add sound later rather than struggling for good quality sound on location. Since Sturges had long abandoned the United States, the movie would have needed somebody else to replace his voice once the post-production moved back to Hollywood. The guy doing the voice does a mock-French accent so poor as to render the scene almost unwatchable. And of course it also features Hope, thereby rendering the scene even more grating.

Nonetheless it's filmed evidence of the 'real' Preston Sturges and as such is invaluable. I hope it's not his voice. And I hope he spent the money he made from Hope's generous gesture on several good bottles of Brandy and a bauble or two for the wifey and kiddies.

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4/25/17

"THE WIZ": A LITTLE DOC ABOUT A BIG MOVIE



Above is a 'featurette' made for God knows what reason about the making of the 1977 movie version of the musical 'The Wiz'. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film was an enormous and enormously expensive undertaking--the most expensive movie ever made in New York at that time (according to this mini-doc)--and was an enormous failure, both critically and commercially, ending the cycle of 'blaxploitation' films that had begun earlier in the 1970s and dooming the Hollywood musical for quite a long time.

Lumet is interviewed as is Rob Cohen, the producer. That it took two New York Jews to end the resurgence of black cinema is a fact one can't comfortably look away from (or comfortably look at, for that matter). Lumet blathers platitudes about how fabulous Diana Ross is, how 'truthful' young Michael Jackson is ("you have to work very honestly around him...' etc.). He also performs a very interesting dance step at 4: 40--did he choreograph as well? I remember the movie coming on the Z Channel (L.A.'s first all-movie cable channel) shortly after the debacle of its 1977 release and turning it off less than halfway through. From the looks of the above doc it appears rather flat though imaginatively conceived. I'm not sure Lumet was the guy for this job, being a little realistic (as well as just being little--five and half feet, supposedly). Would Bob Fosse have delivered a stronger movie? How about a black director? Were their any? Gordon Parks? Melvin Van Peebles? Perhaps an adventurous co-directing team-- a choreographer and a cinematographer working together to deliver the bang/zoom that the movie seems to lack. I like Vilmos Zsigmond and Twyla Tharp for this version.

At the end of the roughly twelve minute doc, their appears to be B-Roll that somebody spliced on, consisting of silent footage of the Motown offices. What was it for? Why is it there to begin with? A somewhat ghostly way to end this look at the movie that temporarily ended the Hollywood musical. "Annie" was only four years away from nailing the coffin shut for another decade and a half.

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