Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jean-Claude Brialy (The Director)


Throughout the next day or so I will be paying tribute to the late Jean-Claude Brialy with a series of posts consisting of both pictures and text. I want to celebrate this man's incredible career which consisted of almost 200 films and spanned over fifty years.
A true icon and and a shining light in the films of the French New Wave, the man appeared in so many of my favorite films it is hard to know where to begin. So I thought I would start with a nod to Brialy behind the camera. Starting with 1971's EGLANTINE Brialy directed six feature films as well as an additional 6 television productions. I haven't seen the majority of these so the following details are sketchy at best. I was always blown away by the fact that Brialy, who was so prolific with his acting career, had time for anything else.
Here are some brief notes and images for some of Brialy's work as a director.

EGLANTINE won the Silver Seashell Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and starred the aging French actress Valentine Tessier as a Grandmother who is being visited by her two young grandchildren. This period film garnered some acclaim upon release and signaled Brialy has a talent to watch behind the camera. It was unfortunately never released in Britain or the United States and appears to be out of circulation even in France.

His next film as director, LES VOLETS CLOS (CLOSED SHUTTERS) did apparently receive a brief US theatrical release. The only information that I could find on this film comes from the all movie guide and it states, "Thomas (Jacques Charrier) is a sailor who has deserted from the Navy in this gentle French drama. He has found refuge in a seaside bordello. Romantic difficulties blossom as he and Flora (Catherine Rouvert), one of the house's prostitutes, fall in love with each other. When he hurts her, however, the denizens of the house agree that he must leave."

Brialy was the writer as well as an actor in his next film, the comedy L'OISEAU RARE (A RARE BIRD). This film also featured a young Anny Duperey and focuses on a chauffeur attempting to find suitable employment. The film was well received in Europe upon initial release but has since, unfortunately, follow under the radar.

His next film as director would be his most famous and the one I have seen, although it has been awhile. UN AMOUR DE PLUIE (LOVING IN THE RAIN), which he would also help write and act in is mostly remembered for the great performannce of the lovely Romy Schneider. Brialy and Romy had worked together before and had of course known each other for years. This striking film features Romy at her most stunning and remains the best film Brialy directed as well as the easiest to find. I hope to revisit it soon and will hopefully have more thoughts on it in the future.

After a 1979 television film Brialy the director returned with LES MALHEURS DE SOPHIE, a film that like EGLANTINE would focus on children. This 1981 feature was adapted from a classic French tale and received mixed reviews upon opening but a home video release in France is apparently not hard to find.

A handful of television films would follow but Brialy would return to the big screen just one more time with 1983's UN BON PETIT DIABLE which reunited him with the talented Bernadette Lafont. Lafont and Brialy had both came to fame starring together in Chabrol's classic 1958 film LE BEAU SERGE so this film must have been a nice reunion for them. Brialy again co-wrote the screen adaption of a classic French tale of children and again the film received mixed notices.

While not as awe inspiring as his work in front of the camera, I thought paying a small tribute to Jean-Claude Brialy's work behind the camera would be a different but worthwhile place to start. I would like to have the opportunity to see these someday and hopefully they will eventually become more available. Highly recommended is the Romy Schneider film LOVING IN THE RAIN which showed Brialy as a talented director with a great eye for beauty and composition.

My tribute to the late Jean-Claude Brialy will continue tomorrow.

We've Lost Jean-Claude Brialy


Kimberly over at the mighty Cinebeats has posted the very sad news that one of the great icons of French cinema, Jean-Claude Brialy, has passed away. I will be posting my own tribute to Jean-Claude tomorrow. Kimberly has some very nice thoughts on the great Brialy, some beautiful pictures and some links at her Cinebeats which is linked to the right.
We have lost a lot of great ones already in this still young year, I am very sad to hear this news.

"A pornographic magazine of truly comic-book proportions"


Hal Hartley has encountered a lot of criticism in his 20 year career. Cold, overly intellectual, uninvolving and sloppy are often terms used to describe his body of work. Even acclaimed films like TRUST and SIMPLE MEN often are considered great almost in spite of Hartley. I suppose for many of his films a lot of these complaints are true, especially in the last ten years with very flawed films like NO SUCH THING and THE GIRL FROM MONDAY. I should be seeing Hartley's newest film, FAY GRIM later this week and thought I would post on the one film that really does prove he is one of the most important American filmmakers and writers of the last two decades.
1997's HENRY FOOL is, along with Vincent Gallo's BUFFALO 66 and Sofia Coppola's THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, probably my favorite American independent film of the nineties. It's a big, bold and surprisingly emotional look at art and what exactly defines an artist. While the Indie movement of the nineties often collapsed in a maze of politically correct sentimentality, HENRY FOOL is at times a scatological, ugly and always biting film. It's as bruised and damaged as it's title character. Like Henry says early on, "One of you poor underpaid jerks is gunna have an eye ripped out of its socket. I promise. It's a small thing, perhaps, all things considered. But I will succeed. Because it's the only thing I have left to do in this world."
Hal Hartley was three years past his popular AMATEUR when he premiered HENRY FOOL at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of 97. The film's reception was mixed between critics who praised it as Hartley's masterpiece and others who seemed to take personal offence to it. Roger Ebert would have an intriguing thought in his mostly negative take on the film, "I wonder if the fault is in myself. I don't think this is a bad film, but after seeing it twice I'm unable to respond to it in any clear way." As I am sitting here writing this I kind of feel the same way, I want to write on this film which I love very much but am at a bit of a loss as to what to say about it.
HENRY FOOL centers on two men, our title character and a seemingly dim-witted garbageman named Simon. Much like Terence Stamp's stranger in Pasolini's TEOREMA, Henry appears from seemingly out of nowhere to Simon Grim and his family and turns their world completely upside down. Henry is a great writer, or at least he claims to be, and he weaves great stories about his life and the major work he is nearing completion of. At Henry's urging Simon begins to write down his often angry thoughts and it turns out that he is a truly great writer whose work is soon proclaimed as groundbreaking and important, while Henry is left broken and unknown.
Hartley never allows us to hear any of Henry's work, we are only allowed to hear every one's distaste for it. In their eyes and in the thoughts of many viewers Henry is a total sham, a delusional con-artist, but Hartley is wise enough to let us think that perhaps he is indeed ahead of his time. Perhaps in all the wild tales he weaves and past indiscretions that are discovered does reside a major misunderstood artist. We don't know but, great artist or not, Henry Fool is one of the most unforgettable characters in all of American independent cinema.

Thomas Jay Ryan plays Henry Fool brilliantly, Ryan with his striking hang dog face and sad eyes makes us want to believe Henry even when he is weaving a tale as unbelievable as being nearly murdered by hired killers in South America. Obsessed with beer, pornography and underage girls, Hal Hartley's Henry Fool is as far removed from the safe cardboard characters that have always populated much of American film.
Joining Ryan are James Urbaniak as Simon and in one of her greatest performances, Parker Posey as the sex and attention starved Fay Grim.

Posey is a wonder in this film. Lovely, talented and ultimately heartbreaking Posey injects Fay with the kind of weighted performance that she is rarely been allowed to give. Most filmmakers have used Parker Posey for her quirkiness, but in Henry Fool Hartley uses her for a striking emotional honesty and intensity. Posey is in a class all by herself in this role and whatever failing FAY GRIM might have in store for me, one of them won't be Parker Posey.
Hartley directs the film with his usual Godardian touches and supplies the wonderful score, probably the best he has ever written for a film. His script is filled with the most clever dialogue of his career but more importantly it seems to be the most thought out and fully realized work in his canon. While most of Hartley's films always feel slightly underdeveloped, HENRY FOOL stands as a complete work which is perhaps why the idea of a sequel is pretty baffling.
The last act of HENRY FOOL is Hartley's greatest moment as a filmmaker and writer. Simon has a become an isolated and world renowned literary figure while Henry and Fay have married and have a child. Henry is falling apart and one particularly great scene occurs late when in a bar when Henry drunkenly stands up for the friend who betrayed him. The, should be famous, final shot of the film shows us Henry running. Is he running away or towards something? Is he escaping the law or himself? Along with what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the end of LOST IN TRANSLATION, the last shot of HENRY FOOL is one of the most beguiling mysteries in modern American film.
Hartley's finely crafted and literary script won the best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and the film was nominated for the Golden Palm. It played across America for a brief period in 1998 before landing on video in 99. The current dvd that is out is a disappointing barebones affair that doesn't do justice to this great film. It's apparently become part of an IFC promotion at Target and can be purchased for ten dollars. What an odd place for it to end up but if it allows more people to see it then all the better.


Hal Hartley would follow up HENRY FOOL with the great short THE BOOK OF LIFE in 1998. After that though he began to slip and while NO SUCH THING and THE GIRL FROM MONDAY are well worth seeking out they are ultimately among his weakest works. I am extremely sceptical about FAY GRIM but hope that it turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Ten years after its release HENRY FOOL remains a highwater mark in American independent cinema. Like the works of John Cassavetes, it is a striking example of a singular and unique vision that it distinctly American and defiantly original. Perhaps Henry sums up an artist like Hartley when he says, "We're outsiders. We think and feel too much and too deeply. And the world can't handle that. Our mere existence is a threat to its illusion of security."

For information on Hal Hartley, I highly recommend visiting his official site at:

http://www.possiblefilms.com/

for all your Parker Posey needs stop over at:

http://www.parkerposey.org/

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute: Kate Bush Cloudbusting (1985)


The picture I have of Kate Bush writing 1985's majestic CLOUDBUSTING is her alone and isolated in her private studio. It is 1984 and she is taking a break from recording what would become her massively influential album HOUNDS OF LOVE and reading Peter Reich's A BOOK OF DREAMS. Kate is struck by the book detailing Peter's father Wilhelm Reich's arrest and imprisonment and she sets out to write a song about it, CLOUDBUSTING was the outcome.
Reich's story had also influenced Patti Smith, arguably the only female performer of the last thirty years more influential than Kate. There seemed to be something in his story that artists, particularly an artist struggling with themselves, could latch onto.
Reich had been an influential psychiatrist who, after suffering a reported mental breakdown, had invented what he claimed was a machine that could induce rain by literally splitting open clouds. It was this odd idea and the connection between him and his son that would give Kate Bush the idea for one of her greatest works.
With THE DREAMING album in 1982 it appeared to many people that Kate Bush had created her own Cloudbuster. The utterly brilliant and brave THE DREAMING had baffled most critics and even her most hardcore fans. HOUNDS OF LOVE was the major album of Kate's career, one in which she had to captivate the alienated and yet remain true to THE DREAMING'S innovative and startling ideas.
CLOUDBUSTING closes out Side one of HOUNDS OF LOVE and along with RUNNING UP THAT HILL would be the most successful single off of the album. The startling sound of the album and the CLOUDBUSTING single were showcases for a perfected sound Kate had gotten using the Fairlight CMI synthesizer. This tricky instrument would become one of the most over and misused tools of the period but in the hands of people like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Danielle Dax it could be produce some of the most moving sounds imaginable.
Featuring a stirring string section by Dave Lawson, played beautifully by The Medici Sextet, 'sweeping' is one of the first words that comes to mind when describing CLOUDBUSTING. With the opening passage,
"I still dream of Orgonon.
I wake up cryin'.
You're making rain,
And you're just in reach,
When you and sleep escape me."
Bush begins one of her most iconic and emotional songs that never fails to move me when I hear it. Kate doesn't seem at all phased that she is narrating the song as a young boy and would indeed play one convincingly in the striking video for the song. The songs final moments where we hear the heartbreaking, "I'm Cloudbusting Daddy." followed by the closing, "Your Son's Coming Coming Out" is one of the greatest moments in a career filled with them.


The video, said to be partially created with Terry Gilliam's assistance, would be directed by Julian Doyle and star one of Kate's favorite actors, the unbeatable Donald Sutherland as well as Kate herself. Kate is a well known movie buff and it seems logical that she would have felt a kinship to the star of Nicolas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW. In a world filled with dispensable and disappointing music videos, the film of CLOUDBUSTING is a triumph. It's a rare example, along with the likes of Bowie's ASHES TO ASHES and Bjork's HUMAN BEHAVIOR, of a video that totally transcends the genre. CLOUDBUSTING isn't just a music video, it is a work of art in itself that perfectly compliments and, possibly even, makes an already great song even better.
The underrated BURNING BRIDGE is featured as CLOUDBUSTING's B-side and it continued Kate's tradition of having album worthy flip sides. It is no coincidence that one of the most satisfying albums in Kate's catalogue is the b-side collection featured in the box set THIS WOMAN'S WORK.
CLOUDBUSTING would barely crack the British top twenty and, like the majority of Kate's work, wouldn't make a dent in the U.S. charts. Still it is a fan and critic's favorite, a song that would prove Kate could be commercial while still maintaining the uncompromising stance THE DREAMING had taken.
Kate Bush becomes more and more iconic as each year passes and it is hard to imagine a female artist whose sound has influenced more young women in the rock world. HOUNDS OF LOVE is often cited as her crowning achievement and the extraordinary CLOUDBUSTING is possibly its greatest track.

Reich was said to have seen UFO's in Orgonon, Maine shortly after creating his Cloudbusting machine. Listening to Kate Bush's six minute ode to him I not only believe in his machine but perhaps the things he claimed he saw after he busted his clouds apart.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No Favors: Paul Simon's One Trick Pony


Lately more and more lists have been popping up centering on the very best 'Rock' films in cinema. The usual suspects are typically listed but I rarely see any love or respect given to one of the most honest films ever made on the subject, Paul Simon's brutally penetrating and subtle ONE TRICK PONY.
ONE TRICK PONY was released in late 1980 to poor box office and very mixed reviews. The incredible soundtrack album was released at the same time and remains one of the most under appreciated and poorest selling of all of Simon's works. Despite Roger Ebert's rave review the film quickly sank into oblivion. Very much ahead of its time, I think if the film had been released just five years later it would have fared much better. Paul Simon, who hadn't made an album since 1975's STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, could definitely see something was happening to many of his peers from the 1960's. Simon had the foresight and vision to see and understand just exactly what the dark promise that the eighties held for many of the sixties most promising voices was.

"You always wanted to be Elvis Presley...and he didn't do a very good job with it either."

Elvis Presley's death in 1977 is a subject that is frequently brought up throughout ONE TRICK PONY. It's like a gigantic reminder that Simon's character Jonah Levin's dreams and life haven't worked out the way that he thought they would.
Jonah Levin is well into his thirties as ONE TRICK PONY begins and it's been a good ten years since he had his last hit, the anti-war epic SOFT PARACHUTES. He has recently lost his wife and son in a messy divorce and he spends nearly all of his time travelling with his band from club to club attempting to get across a series of new songs he has written. The band, and Jonah himself, are incredibly talented but they are out of step with the times and ae either opening up for new wave bands like The B-52's or playing to half empty rooms filled with people who only want to relive the past.
A freak oldies gig gets Levin a meeting with a slimy record company exec, played brilliantly by Rip Torn and he suddenly gets the chance to record a new album again. Matched up with a conniving commercial record producer, Lou Reed in an astonishingly knowing performance, Jonah and his band watch as his music is taken away and changed into something nearly unrecognizable. Jonah then has to make a simple choice...sell out or risk fading away entirely.

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"
-Neil Young, HEY HEY, MY MY-

Neil Young was, of course, along with Simon another sixties pioneer who throughout the eighties was subjected to the same sort of changing musical and cultural climate; his audacious THIS NOTES FOR YOU seems almost like some sort of weird continuation to the themes of ONE TRICK PONY. Sell out or fade away...

The most incredible thing about ONE TRICK PONY is just how honest it is. There isn't a moment in this film that doesn't seem real. Critics have pointed out Simon's inexperience as an actor and I suppose that might be a valid complaint but I quite like his low keyed performance. He looks like someone always just on the edge of exploding and I doubt that any trained or experienced actor could have managed to play ONE TRICK PONY'S unforgettable last moment better than Simon did.
To balance out Simon's inexperience director Robert M. Young surrounded him with two of the best younger actors of the period, Blair Brown and Mare Winningham. Both of these two fine actresses really shine in this film and it is a credit to Simon's script that he is able to allow so much complexity in these supporting characters.
The key performances though, along with Simon, rest with Torn and Reed as the representation of everything that had gone wrong in the music industry by the mid eighties. Torn is one of the great actors at projecting an undercurrent of evil. Behind that charming smile always seems to be lurking something slightly sinister. Simon's personal casting of Lou Reed was genius. Simon was aware that there were few artists around as uncompromising as Reed and he also realized that to be that uncompromising Reed had gone through as many obstacles as anyone in the business. Reed portrays the sanitizing producer Steve Kunelian as almost retitle like, he looks like he could shed his skin at any second for a quick buck. The interaction between Reed and Simon during the un-making of Jonah's track ACE IN THE HOLE provides the film with some of its most dynamic scenes.

ONE TRICK PONY'S most moving moments come when Jonah is interacting with his son and band. Unable to ever completely relate or give himself fully to the women in his life, Jonah only really comes out emotionally with the men in his world. One particularly notable scene with his band comes when they are playing 'name a dead rock star'...they go through what seems to be an endless list until finally someone regretfully says, "Elvis", to which Jonah just sighs sadly and says "Yea...he's dead."
The scenes with Jonah and his son are particularly inspired. Any kid who grew up in the eighties with a divorced family will be able to relate heavily to the scene where Jonah takes his son to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or attempts to teach him how to play baseball. These moments have a rare intimate quality that raise the film much higher than most 'rock' films have ever strived for.

"He's got one trick that'll last a lifetime, but that's all a pony needs"

The main thing that sells the film though is Simon's remarkable music. He was entering a very different phase of his career after his incedibly successful chart run of the sixties and seventies. The album ONE TRICK PONY and it's follow up HEARTS AND BONES would find Simon performing the most introspective and at times heartbreaking music of his career. The title track, ACE IN THE HOLE and LATE IN THE EVENING are all rock classics and the band including the great bassist Tony Levin absolutely smoke.


Along with the album's harder songs are a series of slower mournful tracks that are among the best Simon ever wrote and they are all practically unknown. JONAH, LONG LONG DAY, HOW THE HEART APPROACHES WHEN IT YEARNS, GOD BLESS THE ABSENTEE and THAT'S WHY GOD MADE THE MOVIES all feature uncommonly good lyrics as well as some of the most insightful commentary imaginable on failure, separation and loneliness. When Simon asks, "Do you wonder where those boys have gone?" he seems to sum up a very complex question that an entire generation was asking themselves as the eighties were quickly burying everything the sixties had stood for.

"Halfway through, we begin to realize that it's about a lot more things than an aging folk hero. It is also about the generation that was young and politically active in the 1960s and now has been overtaken by the narcissism of the most brutally selfish and consumer-oriented period in American history. Many children of the sixties have been, of course, willing converts to the new culture of the Cuisinart. Others stick to what they used to believe in. In Jonah's case, it's folk music. Everybody's case is different."
-Roger Ebert closing his original 3.5 star review of ONE TRICK PONY-

ONE TRICK PONY remains unavailable on dvd. It was recently included in a list of possible Warner releases Amazon featured that could be voted on for release, but it failed to get enough. It is one of those films that seemed to immediately fall through the cracks, as did it's creator for awhile. After the incredible, but ignored, HEARTS AND BONES, Simon released GRACELAND...a work that lyrically was among the best of his life but seemed to confirm musically that Simon along with a lot of other people from his generation had lost the passion for the rock music that had previously meant so much to them. The last twenty years have seen Simon slowly getting that fire back in his music and his most recent album is his best in years.
Paul Simon rarely revisits many of ONE TRICK PONY'S songs live and the film is mentioned among movie fans even less, but it remains one of my favorites. The film's final images of a man who chooses to perhaps fade away rather than sell out are still as influential to me as they were when I first saw this as a teenager on home video in the late eighties.
Paul Simon is rightfully known as one of the most influential and important figures in rock history, I would say that the unjustly forgotten ONE TRICK PONY is him at his purest, and most challenging.

My Blog Mentioned At Mickey Rourke Walls


Over the weekend I got a nice email from Lashane who runs the great "Mickey Rourke Walls" site alerting me that he had added a link to my tribute to Mickey that I had written in the early days of this blog.
It is always nice to get support from people and I am happy to now play a small part in one of the best Mickey spots around. I feel like my writing has improved a lot just in the past five months since starting this blog and I think several of my earliest posts could be greatly improved, including the Mickey tribute...but I am happy that LaShane found some value in it.
I do appreciate the nice mention and am returning the favor by adding a link to LaShane's great site over in my links section. Anyone who perhaps grew up like I did admiring Mickey's work should visit it, it's a great site.

Adrienne Shelly's Waitress Hits The Top Five


Although it is playing in less than 500 theaters across the country, Adrienne Shelly's final film WAITRESS managed to hit the top five in the box office charts over the weekend. I usually try to not pay too much attention to box office results but I am very pleased to see WAITRESS doing so well amidst such typically heavy studio blockbuster franchises like SPIDERMAN, SHREK and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.
Hopefully Fox-Searchlight will continue to expand WAITRESS to even more theaters in the next few weeks so if it's not playing in your area now it should be soon.


Here is a lovely clip of Adrienne talking about her film, which she describes as a "love letter to my baby."

Mother Of Tears Cut?


Alan Jones has reported over at Dark Dreams that Argento's MOTHER OF TEARS has been granted a 16 and over rating in Italy which apparently means that the film has been cut. He does mention that the footage will be reinstated for the eventual dvd release.
I must say that this is very bad news and I am wondering if this automatically means that the film will be cut worldwide also.
For the brief full quote by Jones head over to the Dark Dreams site linked at the right.
Also here is the newest poster for the film which I like very much, although I am a bit thrown by the way they are spelling SUSPIRIA.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mondays With Jane Birkin


Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot's names are forever linked due to Serge Gainsbourg's JE T'AIME...MOI NON PLUS but unfortunately they only appeared in one film together. Jane was 27 and Bardot had just turned 39 when Roger Vadim's DON JUAN (DON JUAN 73, IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMEN) hit theaters. It would turn out to the final leading role for the legendary Bardot and would open to mostly poor reviews and a slim box office take in late 1973. The film, while not any of the players or director's finest, has surprisingly aged well and the dvd of it features a fine widescreen presentation that remains a great site after years of horribly cropped VHS releases.
While the film's most infamous scene features a rather tame encounter between Bardot and Birkin in bed together I am much fonder of the all too brief moments they shared throughout the rest of the film.

There are much better films to see with these two great icons, but Vadim's DON JUAN will always remain special for the moments when the woman who inspired JE T'AIME...MOI NON PLUS and the woman who made it a legend appear on the screen together.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Louisville's Wonderfest 2007



Today I got to make a quick stop at Louisville's always great Wonderfest. Despite my current limited budget and tight time schedule, I had a great time. The biggest highlight was meeting Tim and Donna Lucas in person. Both were very warm and friendly and it was nice getting to spend a few minutes talking to them. My nervousness caused me to not get a photo which I am kicking myself about now...I did get a few pictures of the event which I will hopefully post at a later date.
Besides meeting Tim and Donna, I did score a couple of pocketbook friendly purchases including a great condition original one-sheet for the 1971 shocker THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (probably a case of a poster being better than the film but I was still pleased to have come across it) and a copy of Enzo Casellari's GREAT WHITE (LAST SHARK). I was particularly happy to come across a copy of this rare film because I can still remember seeing this with my mom in Henderson, Kentucky way back in 1982. I was 9 years old and it stands as the first Italian genre film I ever saw, although I definitely wasn't aware of it at the time. I look forward to revisiting the film after so many years.
Wonderfest happens every year and it is a great event for Louisville and the surrounding area. The website for it is linked below and anyone who hasn't attended before should mark their calenders for next year.

www.wonderfest.com

Adrienne Shelly's Sweet and Moving Waitress


It was an incredibly emotional experience watching WAITRESS over the weekend with a near sold out crowd in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is having a big weekend with a huge Beatles festival, a professional Volleyball tournament, and Wonderfest...add on to that the opening of the new PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and WAITRESS probably should have been playing to a near empty house. And yet there I was sitting in the most filled theater I have been in in a long time.
I am not going to write a full in depth review of WAITRESS, I just wanted to throw my two cents in in and recommend that anyone reading should throw support its way. WAITRESS is an incredibly moving and luminous tribute to it's writer, director and one of it's actors, the late and much missed Adrienne Shelly. I have posted before about my love for Adrienne and how much I have been looking forward to this film. WAITRESS more than lives up to my hopes and it closes out the career of one of the most talented Independent forces that American film had produced in the last twenty years with grace, style and dignity.
Starring Keri Russell, in an Oscar worthy performance, and featuring solid support from the likes of Cheryl Hines and a terrific Andy Griffith, WAITRESS filled the theater with a lot of laughs and not a small number of tears. WAITRESS is one of the best films of the year and the best film that Adrienne Shelly had the chance to write and direct in her tragically short life.

WAITRESS isn't perfect, a few music selections don't totally work and it maybe contains one too many side stories but regardless, this is a wonderfully warm tribute to life and the hope that we can all begin again. Of course with the tragic and monstrous murder of Adrienne Shelly so fresh it is hard to view the film without feeling anger and remorse, but time and the way we will be able to look at WAITRESS will prove to be very kind indeed.
WAITRESS was just the third feature length film Adrienne Shelly was able to complete, after the frenetic and underrated SUDDEN MANHATTAN and flawed but interesting I'LL TAKE YOU THERE. Just a week after Jane Campion lamented that she was the sole female director on the Cannes tribute panel, remember and pay tribute to an artist that was taken away from us all too soon and go see WAITRESS in a theater. Adrienne Shelly has left us with a finely crafted and truly independent vision that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. She is missed and her memory will not fade anytime soon.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Where's The Dvd? Love With The Proper Stranger (1963)


With the rumor of a Natalie Wood box set coming next year a logical question would seem to be where in the world is LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER? Robert Mulligan's film was nominated for five academy awards, two Golden Globes and features two of the best performances of Natalie Wood's and Steve Mcqueen's careers.
The film, with it's striking black and white Milton Krasner cinematography, and great Elmer Bernstein score was pretty controversial in its day and perhaps the abortion topic is causing its delay on disc. Or perhaps, and more likely, it's just another classic film that Paramount is dragging its heals on. Either way it is a moving, well acted and directed film that is ripe for rediscovery.

It would unfortunately be the only time Natalie and Steve appeared in a picture together. These two great icons work wonderfully well throughout the picture and it would be a great tribute to both of them to not only give the film a dvd release but a proper special edition. I have read about and seen bits of various promotional on the set footage that could be included and any current thoughts from Mulligan, or writer Arnold Schulman would be most welcome. Unfortunately producer Alan Pakula who was so actively involved in the creation of this extraordinary picture passed away in 1998.
LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER is currently out of print in all formats and rarely pops up on tv anymore. Used copies of the VHS and laserdisc pop up often on Ebay and Amazon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Failure Of The Mary Tyler Moore Show On Dvd



Recently it was announced for the first time in their history that NBC was not debuting any sitcoms in their upcoming Fall lineup. I realize that everything goes in cycles but for people who grew up with classic sitcoms as a part of their family this news is more than a little shocking.
I have been meaning to write on THE MARY TYLER MOORE show for awhile since it is a real favorite of mine and because I am frankly mystified by its failure in the dvd market.
Few shows in history were more critically acclaimed or loved by its fans than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. While never being a number one hit, the show consistently received solid ratings in it's initial run from 1970-1977. It won many awards, was successful in syndication and for the millions of people who fell in love with Mary and the crew of WJM, it became part of our lives.
Along with a handful of other shows from the early 1970's THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW broke major barriers in the way people viewed women and minorities on television. The importance of Mary Tyler Moore, the person and the character, Mary Richards, she played shouldn't be underestimated in modern culture. Equally important were Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern as well as the often overlooked Gordy the weatherman played by John Amos. Here was a show that presented people of different color, sex and religion joined together in work and friendship; the show showed it was possible they could love each other and we loved them. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was amazingly progressive and groundbreaking in the way that it presented real people instead of typical stereotypes.
The show was also important in the way that it presented friendship between women. The early years are particularly moving in looking at the way Mary and Rhoda related to each other. Bonds between women in early tv often focused on the men in their lives, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW presented two extremely independent women who loved each and felt a kinship that didn't center on men, and this dynamic would have a huge effect on countless shows after. Also the handling of the work place and the surrogate family Mary forms there has been copied over and over again, but it would never feel as real or as endearing as it does in this show.
Still none of that would mean much if the show hadn't succeeded as a situation comedy, but the fact is that it did and continues to. This is an incredibly funny show, and there isn't one episode I can think of that doesn't at least make me laugh at loud a couple of times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns managed to create a show in 1970 that featured a group of the best actors, writers and directors in the business and from the beginning it always seemed a step above all the others.
Within the past few years a statue has been erected in Minneapolis celebrating Mary's iconic hat being thrown in the air, CHUCKLES BITES THE DUST was voted the greatest episode in television history by a panel of critics and fans and the show is still considered one of the best examples of how good tv can be...so why has it failed on dvd?

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW premiered on dvd in late 2002. The first season box was an elaborate affair featuring all of the initial episodes, commentaries, rare promo spots, Emmy award clips, a booklet, a deluxe box and a very detailed 90 minute documentary. The studio obviously felt like it had a major winner on its hands and wasn't skimping on it. As further evidence of their belief in it the supplements were specific to Season One with hints that each season would feature the same elaborate extras. Also the first season came with a card promising the second season in March 03. It was released to much acclaim as one of the best presentations of a tv show yet on the format...and nobody bought it.

I remember getting the set the day it came out and being floored by all the extras and the opportunity to watch the show in order. It also got me excited at the prospect of it's spin-off shows, including the landmark RHODA and LOU GRANT series as well as PHYLLIS, also being released. I pictured the young decade as being a time when I would be able to revisit all of the great shows from the MTM family.
I hadn't read about the poor sales but remember around Christmas time of 02 being in a local Best Buy and noticing that there seemed to be the same copies of the box on their shelves that had been there months before.
Soon Amazon removed Season Two from it's pre-order page and March of 03 came and went and the second box was no where to be seen. So what happened?
The main problem was in a bad pricing scheme that I think has damaged the entire series on disc. The original season was marked at nearly three times the cost of other shows coming out. This huge difference really hurt it. The only reason the second season eventually did get released is that the studio finally lowered the price of the first. This marketing error destroyed the momentum the show had in 2002. It had just come off a successful syndicated tv run, a Reunion show had been aired to high ratings and it was honored in grand style at the TVLand awards. It was a perfect moment to release the show but a sixty dollar tag on it pushed away any potential new or curious fans. I think to this day people still don't have any of the season's because they remember that initial high price and have never thought to revisit it.
Season Two was released 3 years after the first in a slimmed down set with just a few extras. It sold even less than the first season. Seasons Three and Four were released in 2006 just six months apart from each other. The extras had been completely dropped by this point and sales plummeted even further. To date Season Four (one of the funniest years of any sitcom ever) has sold less than 75,000 copies.
Late last year Twentieth Century Fox announced that due to poor sales the final three seasons of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW have been shelved. There is an online petition to get them out but it is doubtful that it will happen anytime soon. With TVLand getting further and further away from classic tv it looks like these last three seasons might be missing in action in any format for quite a while.

Of course it can't all be blamed on a once high price tag. There just seems to be something in the air this decade that is about as far removed from the seventies' positive role models as possible. After all this is a decade where Paris Hilton is considered a role model by many young girls so what place could Mary Richards hold right now?

Like I said though at the beginning of this...things go in cycles and this show will return. Quality lasts long after the cloud of what is fashionable passes.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW lasted for 168 episodes, it one nearly thirty Emmy's and three Golden Globe Awards. Its ceator has since gone on to win several academy awards and its writers contributed scripts week after week that that featured situations and ideas that are more than just a little relevant to this day. The cast featuring Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Gavin Macleod, Cloris Leachman, Goergia Engel and Betty White were among the finest actors the Seventies had to offer.
And it was always very, very funny.
For an entire generation that grew up with this show, it is still proof positive that we can indeed make it on our own...it will return.

Cruising Hits Cannes



Last night the new version of William Friedkin's CRUISING hit the Cannes film festival. A first hand account of the screening is being discussed over at the dvdtalk forum. Here is the link for anyone interested:

http://forum.dvdtalk.com/showthread.php?t=410508&page=2

Friedkin was on hand to introduce his controversial 27 year old feature starring Al Pacino, Karen Allen, Paul Sorvino and Joe Spinell. It sounds like several minor things have been reinstated and the disclaimer at the beginning has been dropped. I am very curious to see the new title sequence as well as the reinstated footage.
Tarantino was also present which I guess seals the deal that he is indeed a fan of this film, something I suspected after he used CRUISING'S closing credit song in his own recent DEATH PROOF.
The new version of the film does not include the forty plus minutes Friedkin had to cut out after studio and ratings board pressure back in 1980. Whether these scenes will be on the upcoming special edition remains to be seen as many contradictory statements have been released concerning them. Most recently Friedkin mentioned in a interview that they have been lost or destroyed but apparently there is a bootleg underground print circulating that does contain them.
The new dvd should be a winner with or without the elusive 40 missing minutes. Friedkin has already recorded a commentary and with Laurent Bouzereau in charge of the bonus materials we should get a solid documentary.
Friedkin's newest film BUG is getting mixed reviews but it is still one of his best received, and most talked about, films since TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A..

I will look forward to reading more about CRUISING at Cannes so if anyone has any further links please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bjork On The Fountain


While I am attempting to formulate a halfway intelligent post on THE FOUNTAIN I thought I would share a couple of quotes from Bjork on the film. I came across these on a great discussion going on about the film over at the Criterion forum. One is from a Stylus magazine feature and another is from an interview with Aronofsky at The Guardian. Links for both interviews will be provided below. Apparently Bjork really took the film to heart and it influenced her newest album, the very fine and exciting VOLTA.

Question (Stylus): "You’re clearly an “artist” as much as a musician—what are some of the more affecting pieces of artwork or film or design or theater you’ve seen in the past few years that might’ve given Volta some of its shading?"

Answer (Bjork) "I was really impressed with [Darren Aronofsky’s film] The Fountain. It was refreshing to see someone expressing visually their inner spirituality without it being full of organized religion. There was more personal spirituality, which is how I feel we are all on the inside."

Then the added thoughts from The Guardian:

Björk says: "With Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, maybe it was a relief to see him portray a spiritual world that was so idiosyncratic at a time when I feel so overwhelmed by religion. It's so strange that the inner- most secret place in a person is their spiritual belief, and something as mass-produced as organised religion can just storm in there. The Fountain is not Christian or Jewish or Muslim -it's areligious; not against or with it. It's just alternative."

...
The spirituality in THE FOUNTAIN is one of the main things I respond to so it was really nice to see an artist I respect as much as Bjork express these thoughts.

Finally in an interview with New York magazine Aronofsky listed his own personal influences in making THE FOUNTAIN. They are:

David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”

Comic artist Moebius’s 40 Days in the Desert

The Popol Vuh (The Mayan sacred text)

Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain

Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s “Memory of Fire” trilogy

Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain

Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America

Early hip-hop group E.S.G.’s “U.F.O.”

Diego Velázquez

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt recognize some of my favorites are on there. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN connection seems pretty obvious but I was very thankful to see ONCE UPON IN AMERICA pop up. This isn't a connection I would have made but the structures of the films are similar in the way that the past, present and future are all closely connected, plus the main characters sense of guilt and memories of a lost love.
I hope to be posting my own thoughts of THE FOUNTAIN soon, it is a film that I am feeling very close to so I don't want to throw out just a casual post on it.

The discussion at the Criterion forum shows perfectly just how much this film is dividing people and it is extremely interesting reading.

Here are the Stylus and Guardian links:
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,2065823,00.html
http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/interview/bjork.htm


Bjork's new album is now available and is a fine addition to one of the most innovative catalogues in popular music.

Zulawski's The Third Part Of The Night On Dvd


Andrzej Zulawski's 1971 feature TRZECIA CZESC NOCY (THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT) has been released in Britain on dvd. I have always wanted to see this film and am excited to hear that it has resurfaced.
Zulawski has been one of my favorite filmmakers for the last ten years or so but many of his films have been particularly hard to track down so this is very welcome news.
Here is a link for a review of the disc:
http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=64915
They give the disc and film a good rating and they have several intriguing screen caps.

Thanks to Martin Brooks over at the Mobius forum for posting this important news.

The disc is available from Tony's always fabulous Xpolited cinema for a very good price. The link to his site is over to the right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Argento's Take Over Cannes



Here are a few shots, from the always great and exhaustive Ode To Azia website, of Dario and Asia just a few days ago at the Cannes Film Festival. They are attending the premiere's of the newly restored SUSPIRIA as well as one of Asia's newest films.
Asia has an incredible four films premiering this year at Cannes with a fine slew of directors including Dario, Abel Ferrara, Catherine Breillat and Olivier Assayas.
I must say that after their much publicized troubles it is great to see these two looking so happy together and supportive of each other. Is there a cooler father and daughter team on the planet?
I haven't heard how the reception to SUSPIRIA went or what exactly is restored about it but I can't imagine anyone seeing it on the big screen and not being totally blown away.

Of Asia's four new films, I believe Assayas' BOARDING GATE and Breillat's UNE VIEILLE MAITRESSE are in official competition while Ferrara's much anticipated GO GO TALES and secions of Dario's MOTHER OF TEARS are screening out of competition. I might have that a bit backwards but I think that is the set up. Either way it is a great thing to see Asia in four high profile films by respected director's at an otherwise pretty dull, from what I have heard, festival this year.
Many more pictures from Cannes over at Ode To Azia which is linked to the right.