Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Imagine my surprise when I heard that "City Island" opened last weekend in...the former USSR? Really? Before America gets to see it in wide release, the Russkie's do?
But--delight of delights--it turns out that our Bronx based family comedy seems to have a fairly universal appeal. Below I pasted a blackberry-ish communication from our Foreign Sales company, who seems genuinely delighted with the business we did on opening weekend in...the former USSR?
Subject: FYI: City Island - Russia - first weekend BO
They are releasing with 120 prints or about, this is a very good start!!!
Imagine--a hit in Kiev! A sell-out in Moscow! A smash in St. Petersberg (?)...To celebrate, why not post my favorite number from the only true Cold War musical, "Silk Stockings"--music and lyrics by Cole Porter, natch. The song is the "Red Blues" and the damsel who kicks it into gear is, of course Cyd Charisee. The number is magnificently staged and directed by Rouben Mamoulian--a Russian himself and the versatile stage director of "Porgy and Bess" and "Oklahoma" as well as the director of movies such as "Love Me Tonight", "Blood and Sand", "Golden Boy" etc. Mamoulian, by the way, would be a good subject for one of my "Auteur Theater" posts--though not a writer, he truly did leave his thumbprint on every one of his movies (and he didn't make a lot of them). I'm currently working on a post about Robert Rossen ("The Hustler", "All The Kings Men") and will have it up momentarily (screenplay writing has been occupying my time, thus the paucity of posting). Last night, had the opportunity over dinner in West Hollywood with Peter Bogdanovich to discuss Rossen, as well as the truly sublime Jean Renoir. Peter didn't cotten much to Rossen, but positively glowed when discussing Renoir--the ultimate auteur of course and one of those spirits who it seems nobody has a negative word for. I'm sure there are some good Renoir interviews on the YT--once I come up for air I'll dig in...
Hang in, dear and loyal "City-Islanders." More on our movie--and forgotten auteurs--in a minute. Now here's that number I promised...
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Apparently the folks at Deauville are doing an homage to Andy Garcia--clips of his other films I imagine, perhaps full screenings?--and then presenting our movie. I love this idea as I very much want people to view Andy in "City Island" both as the character he portrays (and he effortlessly inhabits Vince Rizzo--never for a moment do you think it's Andy being Vince) as well as the wonderful movie star who you know from a pile of movies going back twenty years and who here is showing a side of his performing talent that you may not be familiar with. Andy's comic and emotional turn as Vince is, I say immodestly, a career highlight and I love that Deauville (and I hope other festivals) are interested in putting his work in perspective, and using "City Island" as a lens to filter it through.
I've been to Deauville twice before--in 1996 with my first film "Cafe Society" and in 2000 with my film "Two Family House". Unless it's changed radically, it was by far the most enjoyable, sociable and least smarmy of all the major festivals. For one thing, the town itself has two enormous old turn of the century hotels right on the water...and that's all! So a great many well known actors and filmmakers are thrown together in what amounts to two large lobbies...and you are all forced to socialize. Rather than inhibiting people, this serves to bring out the egalitarian in even the snootiest of people. A very clubby, friendly spirit pervaded the place the two times I went and I was delighted to find myself sitting around having drinks and eats with a slew of people who I'd admired for years--Bob Altman, Barry Levinson, Neil Jordan, Julie Taymor, Anouk Aimee, Leslie Caron...and Kevin Spacey (I suppose)...
I have news on the movies US release as well, but have been asked by our distributors not to release a date yet, until they can make the official announcement. Let's just say the month begins with the letter "M" and doesn't end with the letter "Y".
And by the way: yesterday, according to my producer (procurer?) Lauren Versel, was the one year anniversary of the start of principle photography. Jesus!
Here's more Sam Fuller...
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Apropos of inspiration seeking and the whole auteur-ism business of the bizness of the bidness, I'm reading Sam Fuller's massive autobiography "A Third Face". Nobody can dispute Fuller's place in the pantheon as an early auteur--though he didn't always operate within the studio system like his friend Richard Brooks (see previous two posts). Fuller frequently found independent financing back when that was even more unusual then Brooks taking no up-front money from a studio in exchange for artistic control was. Indeed, Fuller's earliest "angel" was a man named Robert Lippert, the owner of some drive-ins in northern California who had a hankering to produce his own movie. Somehow he and Fuller got hooked up and this led to Fuller's first feature as writer/director, 1949's "I Shot Jesse James".
I haven't seen this film in years but remember enjoying it quite a bit on television as a young'n. It's bare bones stuff, to be sure, but Fuller-esque in the extreme--which is to say stuffed with tense, squirm inducing moments built around a series of set-piece shock moments. But let me say, at this juncture, that Fuller remains, for me, a filmmaker whose existence I admire more than any one of his films. I've enjoyed a few of Fuller's films--but none draw me back for repeat viewings and frankly all have things in them too absurdly stupid to allow me to consider them as much beyond shock-kitsch. I know this is a grossly unfashionable attitude--Tarantino, Tim Robbins et. al having come to late to the resuscitation and made it stick with their enthusiastic (and loving, if slightly goofy) reconsiderations of some of Fuller's most iconic (and often silliest) works. Indeed, it was my friend Peter Bogdanovich who initially led the parade (at least the American one) that helped rally support to reconsider Fuller as a major film artist. We've never spoken about it.
Still, I love the man for his straight forward, no-punks-get-in-his-frigging-way attitude. It certainly is the American autuer spirit incarnate and the only way for the writer/producer/director to make any headway in a world that did not, contrary to popular opinion, only recently turn cold; the film industry was always cold toward the individualist, no matter how important, generation after generation, those individualists were to the growth of the art.
As far as Fuller's films, I like "Jesse James" and "Shock Corridor" best. "The Naked Kiss" promises much (the bald Constance Towers opening scene is , of course masterful) but peters out, in my opinion, rather quickly and ludicrously as the prostitute is redeemed by her work with the children. (Apropos of a bad girl turning good perhaps not being the strongest story line, Billy Wilder once remarked about female characters: "Unless she's a whore, she's a bore". Comments, anyone?) But even the Fuller films that I like are best taken in small doses. For instance, dig the trailer of "Shock Corridor":
Now, you may very well be intrigued to see the film after having watched this...but unlike so many good movies with trailers that can't do them justice, this one does the film perfect justice. To the extent that you've essentially seen the best of the movie within the above hot little trailer. Yes, yes, "Pickup On South Street" is a good, tight noir...and "Underworld USA" has its supporters. Fuller's long gestating masterpiece, "The Big Red One" was, I'm afraid to say, something of a disappointment once he got around to making it--thirty or so years after he scripted it. There's much talk of his directors cut being better and I can't say having not gotten up the gumption (nice word, that, been using it quite a bit of late, derives from the root word "gump") to actually sit through it. Is it necessary to like the artists work as much as the artists symbolic place in the world? I like the fact of Fuller, more than the fact of his films. He doesn't need my fandom, anyway. He's secure in his spot...
Anyway, look what the hell I found today picking through the detritus in the gigantic Fibber McGee video closet known as YouTube. First, a terrific scene from Fuller's debut film, "I Shot Jesse James." And then, buried in an eight part documentary on Fuller (made in France) are home movies of Fuller directing his first movie, shot by none other than his friend Richard Brooks. As you'll see, the barroom set in the first clip is the same as the set depicted in the behind the scenes footage--said footage begins about one minute and fifty seconds into the ten minute chunk of this quite interesting looking doc (I'll post more of it through the week). A thrilling little bit of kismet, this linking of Brooks and Fuller, as I procrastinate with my own writing and channel these two Hollywood mavericks for a bit of inspiration. Dig...
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The year is 1982. I'm a pisher of eighteen or so, intensely interested in and committed to filmmaking, film history, filmmakers etc. And one of the last of the old Hollywood characters to still be at it this late in the game is Dick Brooks (see previous post)--though I hesitate to think of him as "old Hollywood". The truth is, his best films were made later in his career and hardly feel like the work of a writer/director bred in the B unit at RKO and MGM (which he was, more or less). But Brooks always defied easy characterization--although he started writing for movies before World War 2, his breakthrough work wasn't a screenplay but instead a novel called "The Brick Foxhole" which was filmed as "Crossfire" in 1947. Even then, Brooks had a flair for the outrageous and lethally incorrect; the plot of "The Brick Foxhole" revolved around a group of war veterans who murder a homosexual. Forget the gay angle--daring enough in its day. The fact that he wrote about the revered returning vets in terms less than holy was the real news. (Indeed the movie version substituted anti-semitism as the motive for the killing and was just as controversial). Brooks claimed to have been court-martialed for writing the novel. Maybe he was. Like I said in the previous post, he was a great anecdotalist.
Anyway back to 1982. Brooks penultimate film, "Wrong Is Right" starring Sean Connery hadn't gone into general release yet but was being screened at Arthur Knight's USC Thursday evening class, where Knight would usually show a new film and interview the director. (The class was known among students as "Thursday Knight at the Movies"). Because of a personal friendship between Arthur and my father--and myself for that matter--Arthur invited me to attend the class.
The word on "Wrong Is Right" was that it was a mixture of "Network" and "Dr. Strangelove" and supposedly as good or better than either. Alas that wasn't the case--though I haven't seen the film in a long time and wouldn't be surprised if it looks quite a bit better now than it did then. According to some IMDB posts, the film accurately predicts the rise and domination of the 24 Hour news cycle. Certainly Brooks wasn't looking backward for inspiration--he was then in his early seventies and deeply engaged in and concerned with the world as it was now...in other words, he was an artist who saw his job as a filmmaker to depict the difficult and often unpleasant truths in the world he was living in (for his best stab at this, see two great movies that he wrote/produced/directed and rather single-handedly and single-mindedly forced into the American consciousness: "In Cold Blood" and "Looking For Mr. Goodbar"--though both were hit books, neither were obvious book to film adaptations).
After the screening of "Wrong Is Right" Brooks showed up and took questions. He reiterated his preference for writing the dialogue the night before shooting to keep the actors fresh (could Connery have put up with this madness?) and talked at length about the amount of research he'd done at think tanks before launching into writing his screenplay. I remember this because it left an indelible impression on me--the fact that the writing of a screenplay was so sacrosanct an act to him as to require real research made me realize how truly important the work could be.
And then some USC student raised his hand and asked for his advice on how to break into the business. Apparently this kid had already been out and about Hollywood and hadn't been pleased with the reception he'd been accorded. Brooks stared at him as the kid recited his litany of woes. He'd been all over looking for a job--any job--on a movie and nobody would hire him. He even bought his own Nagra tape recorder but couldn't get into the sound union. He'd written a screenplay but couldn't get anyone to read it. "Mr. Brooks, if you were me, would you keep trying or give up?"
Brooks peered at the kid, his navy style crew cut giving him a drill sergeants demeanor, the pipe clenched in his mouth adding a professorial touch. The pause after the kids speech and before Brooks answer was akin to the pause in "Patton" after George C. Scott hears from the traumatized soldier that he has a bad case of "nerves".
Brooks started gently. "You couldn't get a job, huh? And the sound people don't want you? Hm. And you wrote a script--a whole script, start to finish--and you can't get a read. Is that right?" The kid nodded. Big pause. And then, as if chipping each word off a rock, Brooks said: "Kid...let me give you the best piece of advice anyone will ever give you: if you want to make it in this business...you have got to be prepared to EAT SHIT UNSALTED!"
The applause was as much for the sentiment as well as the old storytellers theatricality. Later, leaving the screening, I noted that Brooks had a limo waiting for him to take him back to wherever he was living. So maybe he really was "old Hollywood" --or at least was tied to the vestiges of that vanished world which had made him--after all.
Here's part two of the interview with Brooks from 1985.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I'm sitting in my air-conditioned dustbin (aka converted garage) in the back of my house in LA getting ready to write my new screenplay. This is a fearsome prospect for some reason. As a young man, I thought nothing of sitting down, banging out a few scenes, seeing if there were characters and a story in there that I liked and proceeding onward, finishing up a draft over the next four to six weeks. Some of the scripts were good. A few have gotten made. Most were mere practice-- in Norman Mailer's classic phrase, "running existential errands". A few were lousy.
But the older I get--and I technically entered middle-age last week as I turned forty-five--the more selective I get about what I think I'm getting into when I sit down to write. Actually that's crap. It's not just that I'm selective--I'm also less confident, less able to brush off failure. Although that's not exactly correct either--having experienced real failure, I no longer fear it as a fact. Rather, notional failure--the future failures-- can stop me in my tracks...enough said I think. This is one of those mind-bending processes that itself threatens to derail one from any road that remains open. Should I even be writing this blog? What if this entry sucks?
And so we come to Richard Brooks. What, say you? How dare you this non-transition? Simple. In getting up the gumption to get to work, I need to channel filmmakers I admire (preferably dead ones) and think about their accomplishments, who they were and how they handled the difficult task of sitting down and starting, from scratch, yet another mind-twisting experience-to-be involving the greatest puzzle ever invented by mankind--the motion picture. When I was growing up, the men who made me want to make movies were mostly from the past. And with a couple of exceptions--Hawks, Capra--they were writers who became directors. Wilder, Sturges, Huston--all were early heroes of mine because I sensed somehow that the films they made belonged more to them due to their having written every word. Even the not so good films of these directors were better than the not so good films of non-writing directors.
Early on I began to seek out films made by other writer-producer-directors and soon landed on the work of Richard Brooks. I believe it was a two-night presentation on the KTLA 8:00PM movie of "Elmer Gantry" (for which Brooks won an Oscar for Best Screenplay) that initially impressed me. Later I saw "Blackboard Jungle", "In Cold Blood" and the marvelous "The Professionals". But more than any of Brooks' films, what I most admired were his interviews. At the time (the mid to late seventies) he was still working--indeed he made two of his best films that late in his career, the unjustly neglected western "Bite The Bullet" and the still difficult to watch and immensely powerful "Looking For Mr. Goodbar". So he was much in the press and not at all shy about racountering his long experience in Hollywood.
Brooks' work has fallen into critical disfavor and has not really been rehabilitated--yet. But beyond the attitude toward the work, what I fail to understand is how cinema historians have overlooked his real place in the historical landscape of filmmaking: he was truly the first auteur who functioned within the studio system. In his 1970's press, he made much of the unusual, not to say maverick, ways in which he got his movies made. Some of these are now no longer so odd--Brooks bragged that he never took any money up front in salary, preferring to be "left alone" by the studio to make the movie he wanted and to share in the profits. This is now called independent filmmaking--or "the filmmaker getting screwed as usual." But in Brooks' Hollywood, it was the sign of an anarchist.
Brooks also frequently went into production without a finished script--something that nobody, NOBODY, would be able to pull off today, when scripts are around for years to be studied, teased apart, rewritten to death, resuscitated and finally either made or, more likely, put out of their misery once and for all. Brooks claimed that he wrote detailed enough outlines to budget and schedule a movie--and that he preferred to write the pages of dialogue the day before they were shot so as to keep the actors fresh. Could this really have been the case? Did Burt Lancaster put up with this blarney? There is no, so far as I know, official Brooks biography on the shelves so I can't say. But the stress of working this way strikes me as far worse than the alternative--writing a script before a massive production is underway and having to go home from a long shoot day to sit up and write tomorrow's damn dialogue. Then again Brooks directed 10 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Lee J. Cobb, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Lancaster, Shirley Jones, Ed Begley, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight, Jean Simmons and Tuesday Weld. Lancaster, Jones, and Begley won Oscars for their performances in one of Brooks' movies. So maybe there's something to that whole "don't show the actors the script" bit. If, in fact, that was what was really going on...
These strikingly individual methods, combined with Brooks' colorful anecdotes, made me anxious to meet the man in person. This was a guy who had survived the studio system as a writer only to bend it to his will as a writer/producer/director. His films were his responsibility alone and he seemed, to me, to exemplify the best of a forgotten breed: the maverick filmmaker/showmen of the early silent era--the Fairbanks/Chaplin/Rex Ingram/Von Stroheim clan--who made what they damned pleased in the time and fashion that suited them.
This weekend I'll post on my one experience meeting Dick Brooks in the early 1980's. Below is part one of an interview with Brooks shot in 1985 when he was promoting his last film, the unfortunate "Fever Pitch". And below that, dig the trailer of the still terrific "Elmer Gantry."
Friday, July 3, 2009
Re: City Island. Click on the above to read the marvelously positive notice about our movie in Film Comment magazine. Film Comment, snootiest of the snooty cinema rags, has never before (to my knowlege) deigned to write about one of my films. So Amy Taubin's excellent piece is a real thrill for me.
Re: our "sponsor screening" the other night. The Tribeca Film Festival gave a little party for the executives who work for the various companies who sponsored the festival--Amex, Snapple, Heineken, Delta Airlines etc. were all represented. Our movie was the chosen entertainment--and Julianna Margulies and I showed up and did a little Q&A. Thank you to Tribeca for picking us and thank you Julianna for coming out for the movie once again--a peach of a pro. Click here for pictures of the event.
Re: Cameron Crowe and "jazz abuse". Here's a very articulate post I dug up, reprinted with no permission whatsoever, written by somebody identified only as "lunacymusic"--it was on the IMDB discussion board for "Jerry McGuire". Before fanning the flames of this not very controversial controversy, let me add that I love the movie "Jerry McGuire" and even really like Crowe's ode to the rock he adores (and that I abhor) "Almost Famous". This is a very good summary of Crowe's most egregious jazz bitch-slap--the unfortunate "jazz nerd baby sitter" sub plot. Viz:
I find it curious that Crowe would blemish an otherwise very entertaining movie with unecessary digs at jazz. I cringe everytime it gets to the part with the male babysitter; he's portayed as a complete anti-social jazz nerd. When he says that he's gonna teach the kid about jazz (something that I think the kid would benefit from), Dorothy says something like, "That'll put him to sleep, for sure." I have kids and they've always loved jazz their whole lives and never went to sleep on it, unless they were already tired. And then the real idiotic part is when the babysitter tries to give Jerry some music that is supposed to "romance" Dorothy - so he gives him Miles and Trane in Stockholm, music that was recorded when Trane was in a transitional, searching period in his career. Not romantic background music, to be sure. The kicker, of course, is that when Jerry takes his advice and plays the CD, it ISN'T Miles in Stockholm; the source music that they use is actually Mingus - "Haitian Fight Song" - another intense and serious jazz composition. Finally, an exasperated Jerry says, "What IS this music??", at which point we then hear some lame, tired, and tepid "indie" sounding pop song.
My point is that jazz is an American art form that everybody in the world recognizes as important, except here in America. Cameron Crowe may look at jazz as "elitist egghead music"; he certainly portrays it as such. Likewise, a jazz musician (which I am) may look at Cameron as a film maker, who has neither the inclination, capacity, nor attention-span to understand jazz.
Thank you, lunacymusic, whoever you are.
Re: the Woody Allen clip I posted last time. I still don't know quite what its from (it feels like raw footage--unedited that is--for a TV profile piece). As always with New York footage, the primary joy for me are the period (in this case mid-sixties) views of the Upper East Side--the neighborhood I live in by the way--where Woody has always lived/worked. We see the brownstone on East 79th that he then inhabited--the apartment was (is) a duplex in an old five story house. Later Woody moved to the fabled penthouse on Fifth Avenue and 74th--the views of Manhattan seen in the magnificent opening montage of "Manhattan" were shot from the terraces of that apartment.
When he left 79th Street, he gave the lease of that apartment over to Dick Cavett, who continues to live there to this day. Jim Gavin and I shot a wonderful interview with the very witty and erudite Mr. Cavett a few months ago and then walked him home. He told us that his apartment had formerly been Woody's and then mused: "I always liked saying 'we took the Woody Allen place'--the way people in Hollywood used to say 'we took the Gable and Lombard place'. Wouldn't it be great if somebody said, 'We took the Leo Gorcey place'?" For those of you who know who Leo Gorcey is, this is prime Cavettian humor...
The not so upbeat ending of our "Two Family House" saga will follow shortly (and Cameron Crowe once again figures into the action...). Below, Woody and Dick--old pals and not yet landlord and tenant?--jaw it up on Cavett's network TV program from the early seventies.