11/23/07

"SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE"

rosebudposter

In 1980, a writer and filmmaker named Ted Gershuny published a "making of" account of Otto Preminger's penultimate film, the disastrous "Rosebud". The book, "Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture", is one of best looks at the behind the scenes misfires that can occur on pretty much any movie--though this film had certain ingredients, going in, that marked it as an all but certain cinematic calamity just waiting to happen. Gershuny's book--out of print and where did my copy go anyway?--really needs to be required reading for all aspiring filmmakers. For rather than mocking the bad material, blaming the aging director or rolling his eyes at the whole corrupt set-up, he shows what every director knows is the truth about filmmaking; it's a big, fat roll of the dice and sometimes, as the machine starts gathering momentum, mistakes occur and compound, luck with actors and behind the scenes technicians runs out, energies flag and--as with all movies--it all becomes an endurance march just to finish the damn thing. (I recall a Francois Truffaut quote, which I paraphrase: "When I begin a movie I'm filled with hopes, plans and ideas. By the end, I'm just glad I finished...") Preminger is not unfairly treated in Gershuny's book--he comes off as energetic, optimistic and never less than lucid, organized and able to inspire his ragged troops to push onward with an alarmingly difficult and ill-planned shoot that spanned four countries and spelled the end, one way or the other, of his career as an international filmmaker.

"Rosebud" turns up on TCM and, unlike many other luckless flops of the past, really does deserve its lousy reputation. Strangely, the below trailer for the film--the format which usually can hide a film's flaws by zeroing in on the handful of sharp moments almost any professional movie possesses--instead manages to encapsulate the films errors. The laughably wooden John Lindsey (former Mayor of New York and no Ronald Reagen he!) is mistakenly showcased, along with the once fine actor Cliff Gorman (the original "Lenny" in the Broadway production of Lenny Bruce's lifestory, pre Dustin Hoffman/Bob Fosse's filmization of it) who is strangely unconvincing in "Rosebud" and feels as if he's reading his lines for the first time off cue cards located a mile away from the camera. Preminger himself narrates this trailer with a wince-inducing accent, right out of the Max Von Mayerling school of Prussian/Teutonic filmmachherrs. Finally, the films tasteless and immortal line, "Jews don't go marching into gas chambers anymore...they fight!" is given center stage and, alas, points up the reason--pointed out in Foster Hirsh's new Preminger bio (see previous post)--that "Rosebud" remains beyond criticle rehabilitation; the plot, centering as it does on the kidnapping of five wealthy young girls by a Palestinian terrorist group, cynically uses the Arab/Isreali conflict as a mere mechanism for a kidnapping-thriller, ignoring any sense of political reality or point of view, turning both sides into cartoons and leaving the Palestinians drawn as unmistakably the fanatics who deserve elimination. (In fact, the chief thing that the film gets right--the loony of the PLO side, played by Richard Attenborough, Bin-Ladinishly hides out in and issues orders from caves--now seems prescient but was laughed off the screen in the previews). One of the kidnapped girls is a seventeen year old Kim Cattrall ("Sex In The CIty"), another is the French actress Isabelle Huppert. Both appear frozen and petrified by something other than being kidnapped--the temper of the director, perhaps? Probably the best parts of the movie, the views of the exotic locations, are on view here, though I do wish the footage shot with a drunken Robert Mitchum had survived--Preminger canned Mitchum after a week do to extreme inebriation. Mitchum was replaced by the equally alcoholic Peter O'Toole. When told that O'Toole had been hired as his replacement, Mitchum supposedly said: "That's like replacing Ray Charles with Helen Keller."

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