Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Antonioni: Three Scenes

Every film that Antonioni shot has at least one sequence that is, at the very least, totally awe inspiring and never less than extremely moving. Here are three of the most celebrated.
First up are the final shots of L'ECLISSE which is one of the most memorable endings in all of screen history. No shot is repeated and the silence is overpowering, this is film making at its most subtle and finest.

Next up is the closing sequence from ZABRISKIE POINT. Set at first to silence and then to Pink Floyd's CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE EUGENE. This is simply one of the most mind blowing series of shots ever committed to celluloid, with Antonioni bravely exposing the materialistic baggage we carry with us constantly as the disposable junk much of it is. I still find this series of shots to be as breathtaking as anything in cinema, or art in general for that matter. The sixties end here.

Finally the astonishing final one shot take from THE PASSENGER. I saw this on the big screen a couple of years back and it caused me to audibly gasp. Before CGI made the impossible very boring, this amazing and magical sequence stands as a reminder of the possibilities of cinema.

My tribute to the late and already much missed Michelangelo Antonioni will continue tomorrow. Thanks to the people who have been reading and helping me pay tribute to this extraordinary man.

Antonioni: Eight Disciples

Just as the career of Brian Eno is often overlooked as completely altering the modern music landscape, the films of Antonioni are undervalued in how influential they have been. It would be impossible to even began to list the number of filmmakers who have name checked, copied and paid tribute to Antonioni in the past forty years but here are eight whose films would not have been the same without the master's work. I chose eight who are all very different from one another, who span five different countries, several different generations and many different genres.

With the exception of Mario Bava, no director has had more of an impact on the films of Dario Argento than Antonioni. His first feature THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) immediately springs to mind as a work that owes much to Antonioni's astonishing composition and color schemes but it is Argento's DEEP RED (1975) that plays as an almost valentine to Antonioni's works, specifically BLOW-UP (1966). Argento's obsessive and penetrating study of misplaced memories and fractured personalities seem to spring directly from Antonioni's towering works on alienation such as L'AVVENTURA (1960) and RED DESERT (1964).

The handful of films that Jack Nicholson has directed since his striking and hard to see debut DRIVE HE SAID (1971) have all be indebted to Antonioni's work. Nicholson, who would give one of his great performances in Antonioni's THE PASSENGER (1975), has been one of the master's biggest vocal supporters and presented him with his honorary Oscar over a decade ago. All of Nicholson's films, perhaps none more so than the carefully designed THE TWO JAKES (1990), share Antonioni's very specific ability of presenting a past that is deliberately and regretfully being disintegrated. The final moment in the THE TWO JAKES where Meg Tilly screams at Nicholson's defeated Jake Gittes, "Does The past ever really go away?" to which he responds with a broken, "It Never Does" could have been lifted from any number of Antonioni's greatest works.

Polish director Walerian Borowczyk might be one of the only filmmakers in history who managed to match the painterly and always awe inspiring compositional skill of Antonioni. They also both knew how to use music to often devastating effect. Pink Floyd has been used in a lot of films but watch the endings of Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT (1970) and Borowczyk's LA MARGE (1975) to see two of the bands most famous songs transformed into purely cinematic works for two of the great masters to manipulate and add unquestionable dimension to.

Would Travis Bickle have been possible without the films of Antonioni? I'm not sure but I am willing to bet that the despairing alienation that Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader were able to bring TAXI DRIVER (1976) would have been a lot less without Antonioni's early black and white work. Everything from the film's striking one sheet to the many shots of De Niro's fragmenting psyche recall many moments in Antonioni's canon, specifically Monica Vitti's astonishing turn in RED DESERT.

Like Argento's DEEP RED, Brian De Palma's masterful BLOW-OUT (1982) plays like a love letter to BLOW-UP. Perhaps more noteworthy is De Palma's acceptance of cinema as an art form where extremes are not only at times welcome, but necessary. Match up the final explosion in ZABRISKIE POINT or the final ten minute tracking shot in THE PASSENGER to some of De Palma's more elaborate and breathtaking set pieces, the ending of THE FURY (1978) and the Cannes sequence of FEMME FATALE (2002) come to mind, and suddenly it isn't the ghost of Hitchcock who most often occupies De Palma's films.

When he was preparing one of his final films, BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995), Antonioni called in German born Wim Wender's to assistant him as a stroke had taken most of his ability to speak away. All of Wender's films are clearly directly descended from Antonioni. From the loneliness of ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974) to the simultaneously searching and running away Travis in PARIS TEXAS (1984), Wender's lonely variations on the road film are unthinkable without Antonioni.

Egyptian born Atom Egoyan's characters often seem trapped in a world they feel they can't inhabit while at the same time being indebted to the convenience of it. Outside of the obvious compositional comparisons to Antonioni's films, Egoyan's fascinating look at the strife and deceptions between family members seems more than just cinematically connected to the failing marriage in RED DESERT or the doomed affair in L'ECLISSE (1962). Egoyan's best films, such as EXOTICA (1994) and THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997) possess Antonioni's ability to connect a seemingly simple gesture with a world threatening to fall apart.

When Sofia Coppola won her much deserved Oscar for her screenplay to LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) she went out of her way to thank Antonioni. Watching her three features, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999), LOST IN TRANSLATION and MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006) it seems clear that the thoughtful and powerful works of Antonioni are not going to disappear any time soon. LOST IN TRANSLATION'S final moments play like a promise that Antonioni's often ambiguous art house dreams aren't as dead as so many film goers and critics like to believe.

There are many others I could have singled out but these eight all seem particularly indebted and worth mentioning as I begin my tribute to Michelangelo. I can imagine if asked what they would say to him, they would all offer the one word he had for The Academy the night he won his honorary Oscar..."Grazie."

I Am Speechless

With all due respect to the memories of Tom Snyder and Ingmar Bergman, Moon In The Gutter will be paying tribute to one of my true heroes and biggest inspirations for the rest of the week.

The great Michelangelo Antonioni has died.

Trust Tom Snyder and Elvis Costello

I remember a great old Rolling Stone interview with Lou Reed around 77 where he is driving around New York with a journalist listening to The Sex Pistols NEVER MIND THE BULLOCKS, and he's lamenting the fact that the British Punk scene had only ripped off the New York sound but not the intelligence. It's a classic Lou moment that was quite perceptive although I am sure he said it before the first Elvis Costello album landed in the fall of that same year.
One of my favorite Tom Snyder interviews, thankfully preserved on Shout Factory's excellent Tomorrow Show Punk and New Wave collection, is when he sat down for a talk with Elvis Costello for the release of his TRUST album in 1981.
Costello was sandwiched between the odd combination of a clean-television rights activist and the great Frank Capra when he came out and performed a bruising and beautiful NEW LACE SLEEVES, one of the great songs off the undervalued TRUST. Snyder's moments with John Lydon, The Plasmatics and a bloody Iggy Pop might have made for better television, but the Costello interview provided American audiences with one of their first viewings of the man behind one of the most fierce and uncompromising persona's in rock history.
The talk revolves around Costello's time as a Computer operator, battles with record company executives, his lyrical influences (Snyder is obviously impressed by his mentioning Cole Porter and Lorenzo Hart), his father and his infamous Saturday Night Live appearance. Not brought up was the ugly Ray Charles incident that had damaged Costello's career in the late seventies. Snyder was right not to approach it as the issue had bean beaten to death and mostly resolved by February of 1981.
Both Costello and Snyder come across as well spoken intelligent men with sharp sense of humors. There is something so unrehearsed and fresh about this interview, and indeed all of Snyder's interviews, that is sadly lacking from most of today's talk shows. It's to both men's credit that the talk doesn't disintegrate into the combative nature of something like Snyder's interview with Paul Weller (a talk that seemed to bring out the worst in both men) or the infamous Lydon talk.
After the interview Costello would perform the astonishing WATCH YOUR STEP, also on TRUST, and Frank Capra is brought out. Costello's record company was so impressed with the interview that they released a rare promo vinyl copy of it backed with the studio version of WATCH YOUR STEP. An autographed copy is currently up on Ebay and it makes me wish I had 150.00 to spare as it is one of the only Costello records not in my collection. It looks like a great souvenir documenting a nice moment between two individuals who were the best at what they did. I thought of Costello yesterday when I heard the news that Snyder had passed away, and I wonder if the great man sent a clever spiritual quip to the one of the first journalists who bothered looking through his angry persona.

Artist and Muse #25

PERSONA (1966)
SHAME (1968)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Serrault and Beart

I am frankly overwhelmed right now with what has become a very dark July 30th. So in tribute to the great Michel Serrault, who also joined Ingmar Bergman and Tom Snyder in the great unknown today, I will just offer this one image from my favorite film of his.

Here is Michel staring longingly at the lovely back of Emmanuelle Beart in Claude Sautet's memorable and haunting 1995 feature NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD. I can still remember how touched I was by both Michel and Emmanuelle's work in this film when I saw it in an empty Kentucky theater back in the Fall of 95. Today I would like nothing more than to be back in that little theater twelve years ago, surrounded only by the flickering images of what has too soon become just a memory.

Ingmar Bergman Five Posters/Five Films

Bergman was such a prolific director and made so many quality films that it is hard to know where to begin with him. I am still working on his filmography and have probably only seen maybe a little less than half his work at this point. Here are five poster designs for a handful of his films that moved me greatly. I tend to gravitate towards his output from the late sixties up until FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1983) as these attest too but he had at least one masterpiece in every decade since the forties which is something few filmmakers can claim.
I will be posting some more personal thoughts on Bergman in the next few days as I am sure many will be, in the meantime here are five very distinctive films in his canon that can all be granted the sometimes over used term 'masterpiece.'

For The Love Of God, Tom Snyder Has Passed Away As Well

Minutes after I find out that one of my favorite directors has died, I get the news that one of my most treasured television personalities has also passed away. The fine tv broadcaster and interviewer Tom Snyder has died at the age of 71 after a long fight with leukemia. Snyder was a real treasure and one of the most charismatic and straight forward people television ever saw. I will also be posting a proper tribute to him as well this week, right now I just want to go hide before any more bad news comes through.

Ingmar Bergman Has Died

It is being reported that one of the true greats has passed away at his home in Sweden at the age of 89. Regardless of whether you were a fan of Ingmar Bergman's films or not, the man was one of the great masters in all of cinema and one of the most important and influential filmmakers of all time.
I will be posting a proper tribute to this very great man and some of my favorite films of his in the next day or so. Right now I am just trying to process this terrible news.

My Appointment With The Tyrell Corporation

There are many great dvds coming out this Fall, including everything from obscure cult films, exciting mainstream releases and rare TV shows. I must admit though there is only one collection that has me so excited with anticipation that I can hardly stand it.
While I won't believe it until it is actually in my hands, it appears that Ridley Scott's landmark 1982 feature, BLADE RUNNER, is going to finally get its due on December 18th in a massive five disc set that will include no less than five versions of the film including Scott's new Final Cut as well as the mythical Workprint version.
Fans of the film will already be aware of the legal troubles that have kept this project just a rumor for many years now so actually having a release date, full specs and artwork are major things themselves.
BLADE RUNNER, a film that recently appeared on AFI's otherwise questionable 100 best American films list, is a major work and is, along with Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and Wim Wender's PARIS TEXAS, my favorite film of the eighties.
I first saw the film as a teenager in the eighties on the old theatrical release VHS and I was frankly underwhelmed by it. There were elements of it I liked but, like many, Harrison Ford's narration struck a false chord with me and anyone could see that the ending had been tampered with. I caught up with the film again in the early nineties on the laserdisc version of Scott's 'Directors Cut' and this is where the film began to quickly become one of my all time favorites.
Like a lot of fans I have eagerly eaten up as much information as possible, ranging from Video Watchdog's great early look at the films different versions to the exhaustive FUTURE NOIR by Paul Sammon. Sammon's book remains one of the great film books and it is absolutely essential for fans of the film or modern cinema in general.

I will be looking at the film, and the new box set, in detail when it arrives in December. I will say for now that one thing I have always loved about this haunting film is just how much disagreement it causes. Many of my favorite film conversations from the past have centered on this film (Is Deckard a replicant? The theatrical cut vs. the International version etc. etc.) Scott's film has given me many, many hours of interesting but friendly arguing and disagreeing...and to show which side I am on, yes he is a replicant.
So below are the full specs to the upcoming box set and a photograph of it. This monster is available for pre order on Amazon and Deep Discount for under sixty dollars! I would be willing to visit a clinic and sell blood on a weekly basis if I had to to get this. It will also be available in a two disc and four disc set but this box is the way to go and it is the only way to get the legendary workprint.
Here are the final specs and proof positive that at least this year, Christmas arrives almost a week early.

Disc One
Restored and remastered with added & extended scenes, added lines, new and cleaner special effects and all new 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. Also includes:

Commentary by Ridley Scott
Commentary by executive producer/co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher and co-screenwriter David Peoples; producer Michael Deely and production executive Katherine Haber
Commentary by visual futurist Syd Mead; production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David L. Snyder and special photographic effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer

Disc Two
A feature-length authoritative documentary revealing all the elements that shaped this hugely influential cinema landmark. Cast, crew, critics and colleagues give a behind-the-scenes, in-depth look at the film -- from its literary roots and inception through casting, production, visuals and special effects to its controversial legacy and place in Hollywood history.

Disc Three
This is the version that introduced U.S. movie-going audiences to a revolutionary film with a new and excitingly provocative vision of the near-future. It contains Deckard/Harrison Ford's character narration and has Deckard and Rachel's (Sean Young) "happy ending" escape scene.

Also used on U.S. home video, laserdisc and cable releases up to 1992. This version is not rated, and contains some extended action scenes in contrast to the Theatrical Version.

The Director's Cut omits Deckard's voiceover narration and removes the "happy ending" finale. It adds the famously-controversial "unicorn" sequence, a vision that Deckard has which suggests that he, too, may be a replicant.

Disc Four
BONUS DISC - "Enhancement Archive": 90 minutes of deleted footage and rare or never-before-seen items in featurettes and galleries that cover the film's amazing history, production teams, special effects, impact on society, promotional trailers, TV spots, and much more.

Featurette "The Electric Dreamer: Remembering Philip K. Dick"
Featurette "Sacrificial Sheep: The Novel vs. The Film"
Philip K. Dick: The Blade Runner Interviews (audio)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Cover Gallery (images)
The Art of Blade Runner (image galleries)
Featurette "Signs of the Times: Graphic Design"
Featurette "Fashion Forward: Wardrobe & Styling"
Screen Tests: Rachel & Pris
Featurette "The Light That Burns: Remembering Jordan Cronenweth"
Unit photography gallery
Deleted and alternate scenes
1982 promotional featurettes
Trailers and TV spots
Featurette "Promoting Dystopia: Rendering the Poster Art"
Marketing and merchandise gallery (images)
Featurette "Deck-A-Rep: The True Nature of Rick Deckard"
Featurette "--Nexus Generation: Fans & Filmmakers"

Disc Five
This rare version of the film is considered by some to be the most radically different of all the Blade Runner cuts. It includes an altered opening scene, no Deckard narration until the final scenes, no "unicorn" sequence, no Deckard/Rachel "happy ending," altered lines between Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his creator Tyrell (Joe Turkell), alternate music and much more. Also includes:

Commentary by Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
Featurette "All Our Variant Futures: From Workprint to Final Cut"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Voices (1979)

I have wanted to see Robert Markowitz's 1979 feature VOICES for many years now. Amy Irving has been among my favorite American actresses since I was a teenager and this film has proved to be the most elusive of all of her early work. Thanks to Inter Library Loan and The San Antonio Public Library I have now finally be able to watch this little seen film so I thought I would share my initial reactions towards it.
VOICES is the only feature film that television director Markowitz has ever made. Working with first time screenwriter John Herzfeld (who would go onto to write and direct the unfortunate John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John film TWO OF A KIND (1983)) and with a score by legendary composer and songwriter Jimmy Webb, VOICES tells the tale of a frustrated and struggling Hoboken singer who meets and falls in love with a young deaf teacher who dreams of being a dancer.
VOICES is essentially a two character study piece, the kind of romantic film that could have only come out of the seventies. It isn't a great film but it is a good one that is blessed with two extraordinary performance with Michael Ontkean's sensitive portrayal as the dreaming and lonely Drew and Amy Irving' incredible near silent work as Rosemarie.
Ontkean has always been an underrated actor and VOICES features on of his best performances. He had just finished up the 1977 hit SLAP SHOT opposite Paul Newman when he began to prepare for the difficult role of the singer Drew. The future TWIN PEAKS Sherriff Truman is very handsome here and brings a real honesty to a role that could have been a simply caricature.
Drew's disfunctional Hoboken family that he lives with features accomplished character actor Alex Rocco as his gambling father Frank and Barry Miller as his younger troubled brother Raymond. The film is filled with many good supporting turns and it is the acting and solid direction by Markowitz that overcomes the slightly cliched script.
Amy Irving is wondrous in the role of Rosemarie. With only a few lines of dialogue she manages to sell every emotion with just her body movements and facial expressions. It is too her credit that she never overplays the role, something that would have most definitely happened in the hands of many lesser actresses. The 24 year old Irving is a model of restraint throughout the entire film and when she finally does let out an anguished scream, it turns out to one of the most jolting and moving points in the whole feature.
VOICES was shot just after Irving's incredible turn in Brian De Palma's THE FURY (1978), one of the great performances in all of American genre cinema, and VOICES continues the great winning streak she was on as one of America's premiere young actresses of the seventies.
VOICES is just a couple of steps away from being a great film. Some scenes simply don't work, including a painful dream sequence where Drew pictures himself on stage in front of a screaming audience and an awkward scene where Rosemarie performs an odd dance recital for her young class. Still, a misstep here and there doesn't hurt VOICES too badly, by the end of the film I very much wanted everything to work out well for these two.

The soundtrack by Jimmy Webb is fine and, while it isn't among his best works, it is a completely respectable addition to his catalogue and deserves a cd release. An early Tom Petty track is also featured on the lp, as well as a painfully out of place Willie Nelson tune. Burton Cummings is also heavily featured on Webb's songs for the film.
VOICES was shot on location in Hoboken and it is a wonderful snapshot of the town, with the haunting presence of the Twin Towers just across the river playing heavily in several key scenes. The shot on location look and Alan Metzger's unshowy photography gives VOICES a real authentic feel that plays heavily to its advantage.
The film was not a hit upon it's release. It earned some solid to mixed reviews but didn't make much of a dent at the box office. It briefly appeared on VHS but has otherwise been unavailable for years and fetches high prices on Ebay so I was lucky to be able to finally see it.
VOICES is a sweet film that doesn't overstay its welcome. A couple of flat scenes and some script problems aside, it is well worth searching out for the fine work by Ontkean and Irving and I hope it finds a home on dvd someday.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart at Nostalgia Kinky

My look at one of the most controversial and debated films of Nastassja Kinski's career has begun over at Nostalgia Kinky. I will be posting on Francis Ford Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART (1982) all though this next week with a variety of different posts, vintage articles, photos and more. I have just posted my main review of the film to kick things off. The picture just to the left is Francis, Roman and Sofia Coppola at the ill fated premiere of ONE FROM THE HEART back in 1982. I invite any Moon In The Gutter readers to join me throughout the week over there if you would like. The link is, as always, just over to the right.
My regular Moon In The Gutter posts will begin again tomorrow, thanks for continuing to read and comment.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I'll Give To You A Paper Of Pins

Several months ago I was reading over a film message board and I came across a topic concerning Marilyn Monroe as an actress. I was surprised to see just how many people on the board seemed to have so little regard for her, not only as an actress but also as culturally relevant figure.
I could go into a heavy and long posting on why Marilyn Monroe was, and remains, so important but I thought for now I would just look at one particular performance that I think is so fine that I can't imagine people who have seen it questioning her abilities. I will say though regarding her as a person, and as a cultural significant figure, there are very few people I hold in higher regard than Marilyn Monroe.

After filming THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH with Billy Wilder, Marilyn was under the mistaken impression that 20th Century Fox would immediately start offering her equally challenging roles. She was mistaken as the studio wished nothing more than to continue to play her as a dumb blond sex goddess and asked her to do a series of lightweight films that she rightly felt were underneath her. Marilyn did the unthinkable at this point and just left Hollywood. She travelled to New York to study at Lee Strasberg's famed Actor's Studio and effectively broke her contract with Fox, a move that could have ruined her entire career but Monroe was smart enough to know what she was doing.
Within a few months Fox caved, and in a move nearly unthinkable under the studio system, gave Monroe director and script approval rights. Monroe had imn the meantime been taken under Strasberg's wing and her time in New York is one of the most significant in her life. The Marilyn Monroe that would return to Hollywood in 1956 was a very different one than had left less than a year earlier.

Marilyn's first post New York/Strasberg role was Joshua Logan's BUS STOP, adapted from the William Inge play by George Axelrod. Logan had just come off his wonderful Inge adaption PICNIC (1955) and Axelrod of course had just adapted his play THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH for Monroe and Wilder in 1955.
Axelrod had a tricky time adapting Inge's play but finally he did a splendid job as BUS STOP manages to open the play up but never loses it's sweet if slyly cynical and heartbreaking feel. Logan was the perfect choice and with it's lovely widescreen CinemaScope photography by Milton Krasner and fine supporting cast including the always great Arthur O'Connell and a young Hope Lange, BUS STOP remains one of the most enduring and effective films from Hollywood in the fifties.
The Oscar nominated Don Murray was a well known tv actor and BUS STOP would provide him with his first major film role as the clueless and slightly irritating Bo Decker, a farm boy off to the big city obsessed with finding him a wife. The incredible O'Connell plays his wise uncle Virgil and spends much of the film attempting to rescue Bo from himself. The object of Bo's desires is a nightclub singer named Cherie, a lonely woman whose been on her way to California for years but she is starting to understand that the hardest thing to realize is a dream. Cherie is played in a heartbreaking and fully realized performance by Monroe. A performance that more than twenty years after it's release had a tearful Logan exclaiming, "She WAS Cherie...she was just Cherie."

From her opening scene where she is singing an exciting, funny and tragic THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC, to the film's final moments where she is literally shaking with anticipation, Monroe is everything here her legend has made her out to be. There has never been anyone that can even come close to matching her simultaneous strength and vulnerability on screen and BUS STOP is her major work. It might not be as good of a film as SOME LIKE IT HOT or THE MISFITS but Marilyn Monroe as Cherie is one of the smartest and most effective performances in Hollywood history.

I first saw BUS STOP in my early teens and really just fell in love with Monroe in it. I remember I was so taken with the theme song by The Four Lads that I took one of those small home cassette recorders and held it up to the front of the TV to get it on tape. It is a film that I have watched dozens of times and it never fails to move me and it remains one of my favorite films from the fifties.
Marilyn's best moments in the film are pretty well documented, from her opening musical number to the chase at the bus stop. One scene that hasn't gotten enough attention is one between her and Hope Lange. Lange was making her feature film debut and was just in her early twenties when she got to work with the legendary Monroe. The scene, where they discuss the future and marriage, is a remarkable moment between two really fine actresses at the top of their game. It is also quite moving to see Monroe interacting with a younger woman, you can almost feel the impact she was having on an entire generation of young women who could see how fiercely intelligent and strong she was. Jamie Lee Curtis would once note something along the lines that she didn't love Marilyn Monroe for the dumb blond roles that she played but that she was intelligent enough to play them smartly and with humanity. It was this quality that separated her from the many blond copycats that have followed in her path.

Marilyn Monroe would not get an Oscar Nomination for BUS STOP, in fact she never got an OSCAR NOMINATION nor has she ever been honored with a posthumous lifetime achievement award from them. The film would garner several awards and nominations and would be a solid hit in 1956. Monroe would follow the film with THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) where her increasing naturalness and ease would easily steal the film from the stiff and stately Laurence Olivier. 1959 would of course bring the great SOME LIKE IT HOT where Monroe would again be ignored by the Academy although it's harder to think of a more defining and important performance from the fifties.
I think a lot of younger film fans just haven't seen BUS STOP or I am guessing many Marilyn Monroe films at all so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by the lack of respect from this particular film board. Like Elvis and James Dean, her image has been marketed to the point where her considerable achievements and importance have been nearly forgotten by many people. May I highly recommend BUS STOP for anyone who perhaps only knows Marilyn Monroe through her photographs or imitators. She was a wonderfully warm and effective actress and BUS STOP is one of her most enduring films. It is currently available on a nice Widescreen Fox dvd and can be found for under fifteen dollars through most vendors.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bebe Buell

To a lot of younger people she is probably best known as Liv Tyler's mom (not a bad thing to be known for) but Bebe Buell has had a fascinating life that has included time with some of the most famous rock musicians in history.
I just recently discovered Bebe's fantastic website and wanted to recommend it. It contains hundreds of vintage photos of her, Liv and many of the Seventies best rock icons ranging from David Bowie to Blondie to Stiv Bators. Also on the site are various articles, interviews, music recommendations, Bebe's own music, links and more. It's a really cool site with lots of surprises on it.
The site is located at


It's a good way to pass an afternoon.

I've been fascinated with Bebe for awhile and her autobiography REBEL HEART is an interesting insiders look at seventies and eighties rock music. Bebe's talented, has a cool daughter and inspired Elvis Costello to write some of the greatest songs ever written. Give her site a visit and check out her book if you haven't read it.

Woody Allen Ten Years After The Deconstruction

This year marks the tenth anniversary of one of Woody Allen's fiercest and most confessional films, the caustic DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. I thought that with the recent announcement that he was going to be making another film with Scarlett Johansson, that this would be a good time to look back at one of America's most influential and controversial directors and his much maligned last decade.
1997's DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is one of the great Woody Allen films but it wouldn't be one that would be embraced by everyone. A surprisingly profane and dark autobiographical film that featured Woody working with Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving and Mariel Hemingway among others, DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is, with the possible exceptions of STARDUST MEMORIES (1980) and INTERIORS (1978), the darkest film Woody Allen has ever made. It is also a very funny film and it would get him yet another Best Screenplay Academy Award nomination.
After wrapping up DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, Woody quickly started work on the flawed CELEBRITY (1998). Even though it features a great early performance by Charlize Theron, CELEBRITY remains one of my least favorite Allen films. I just can't warm up to it and the film felt like a major let down after the stunning DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Kenneth Branagh's irritating turn as the Woody Allen like Lee Simon is a real low point in Allen's canon and at nearly two hours the film really drags and it isn't very funny. It's one of the weaker films in Allen's career in my opinion.
1999's SWEET AND LOWDOWN was a real winner though and offered up one of Sean Penn's greatest performances as the jazz guitarist Emmet Ray. This sweet and very effective film would garner Penn a much deserved Oscar nomination and would also contain appealing performances from Gretchen Mol and Woody himself. The film is a real stirring tribute to the jazz music that Woody loves so much and remains one of his best since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Woody's fine screenplay was surprisingly ignored by the Academy that year but the film did get him some of his most solid reviews of the past ten years.
Woody's next three projects are three of the slightest films he has ever made. SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000) is a pleasant little film that has some solid laughs but is never substantial enough to be included among the best of Woody's straight comedies. It was a lot better though than the follow up, 2001's unfortunate CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. Unfortunate, in that it could have been one of the great films but the writing is among Woody's dullest even though Helen Hunt, Wallace Shawn and Chalize Theron give it all they can. The most notable thing about CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION is how good SHOWGIRLS star Elizabeth Berkley is in it. She provides the film with some of its best moments in a winning little performance and it's a shame that it is in possibly the worst film that Allen has ever delivered.
HOLLYWOOD ENDING (2002) feels like a masterpiece compared to SMALL TIME CROOKS and CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION but in retrospect it is just a gag heavy film that is consistently funny if little else. George Hamilton gets perhaps the funniest moments in the film and Tea Leoni is always a pleasure to watch, but the film is ultimately a little too lightweight for its own good.
With these three films it seemed that Woody had hit some sort of creative wall but 2003's ANYTHING ELSE was one of the most surprising films he had made, at least since SWEET AND LOWDOWN. A flawed but engaging film, ANYTHING ELSE tells the tale of a struggling twenty something couple and the neurotic older mentor who attempts to help them through the troubles. Jason Biggs seems a little lost in the film but Christina Ricci is fantastic and in the role of the odd David Dobel, Woody gives his best screen performance since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY.
ANYTHING ELSE wasn't the great film Woody needed at this point but it was a step in the right direction. MELINDA AND MELINDA (2004) though was nearly a masterpiece and is one of the great modern Woody Allen films. Featuring an astonishing turn by Radha Mitchell (one of my favorite performances of the decade) MELINDA AND MELINDA is Woody firing on nearly all cylinders. With it's split narrative and stellar supporting cast MELINDA AND MELINDA is frame for frame probably the best film Woody has made in the past ten years. Mitchell's pitch perfect double lead role performance is one of the greatest in any Woody Allen film, the equal of anything that Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow ever delivered for him which is no small feat.
MELINDA AND MELINDA seemed to re-energize Woody Allen but no one would have guessed his next move. Abandoning New York City for one of the first times in his career and signing on possibly the best young American actress in modern cinema, Woody would travel to London to make a cold thriller about class and adultery that would garner him his best reviews since CRIME AND MISDEMEANORS (1989).

Woody's first collaboration with Scarlett Johansson, MATCH POINT (2005) seemed to split critics and fans immediately. Roger Ebert would call it a masterpiece and label it one of Allen's greatest films while Tim Lucas called the film "bland." I must admit to liking the film a lot although I don't think it is one of Allen's greatest works. MATCH POINT is an incredibly cold film and it does have a certain lifeless quality that Tim seemed to pick up on. Whatever ones opinion of it is though there is no denying that it was a break from the near rut Allen had gotten himself into around 2001.
While MATCH POINT does contain good work from everyone involved, it ultimately belongs to Johansson who has more presence than almost anyone on the screen today. There is a real strange physicality to her deliberately monotone performance in this film. The breakdown she has towards the end, where her perfect calm exterior snaps, is jolting and one of the great moments in both her and Woody's career.
Even better to me though is the much maligned SCOOP from last year. I might be one of the only film fans in the world who prefers this charming old fashioned and warm film to the cold and cynical MATCH POINT. I have watched SCOOP several times since I first saw it last year and it makes me laugh harder than anything Woody has done in nearly twenty years. The film is again shot in London with Johansson and again she makes the film work. Her performance here is the polar opposite of the MATCH POINT, as the neurotic and near sighted young reporter Sondra Pransky, Scarlett is a combination Myrna Loy and Carole Lombard and is incredibly funny throughout the brisk film. I've seen a lot of people question Scarlett Johansson's acting ability, I would suggest watching a double feature of MATCH POINT and SCOOP to see just how diverse and talented this young actress is. While neither match her work in GHOST WORLD or LOST IN TRANSLATION, her films so far with Woody Allen will one day be looked back on very fondly in tracing her career.

SCOOP, for me, returned Woody to the top tier of American filmmakers. While he will probably never again reach the heights of ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN or HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, I think the aging Allen has a few more surprises left up his sleeve.
Up next for Woody Allen is CASSANDRA'S DREAM, another London based film, this time starring Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor.
Even more promising is the intriguing 'Spanish Project' that Woody is cooking up. Working once again with Johansson as well as Allen newcomers Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem and currently shooting in Spain, I have a feeling this will be a very special film in Woody Allen's canon. Of course it could be another CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. Masterpiece or miss, I will be there opening day, cheering on one of America's most iconic, troubling and legendary filmmakers.