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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.

Shooting Kinski #7: Vittorio Storaro

To paraphrase one of Nastassja's later film, talking about the work of Vittorio Storaro is a bit like dancing about architecture. Some things have to be seen to be believed and Vittorio's greatest works for directors like Bertolucci, Argento, and Coppola have some of the most amazing photography you will ever see in cinema.
Halfway through the shooting of ONE FROM THE HEART, with everyone's nerves near shot Nastassja and Vittorio blew up at each other in a moment of frustration that has been well documented in many interviews over the years. Nastassja would speak of the incident to a British journalist over a decade later while promoting ONE NIGHT STAND. She would say, "I saw the rushes and I looked terrible, the lighting was so dark and the camera was the wrong angle. I said, how can an audience believes this guy sees me and goes crazy for me? And Vittorio Storaro said, 'You! I thought you were an actress! You're like all the other stupid people who only care about how they look.' And because he is so great you're not supposed to say anything. But I told him, 'Wait a minute. This situation demands I look great. Excuse me.' He never forgave me."
Regardless of the problems the two had together, Storaro's photography in ONE FROM THE HEART is one of its most lasting assets and in the final product Nastassja does indeed look great. Coppola gave him an incredible difficult assignment and Storaro managed to deliver a film that looked like no other.
Storaro was born in Rome in 1940. His father was a projectionist and he began studying photography before he was even in his teens. In his early twenties he got some work as an assistant camera man including what would prove to be a life altering job on Bernardo Bertolucci's BEFORE THE REVOLUTION in 1964.
He began his work as a cinematographer right around the time of his work on BEFORE THE REVOLUTION and shot a handful of films before ending up photography Dario Argento's first feature, the legendary BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PlUMAGE(1969). The wondrous work he did on that and his friendship with Bertolucci led to THE CONFORMIST (1970), a masterpiece that would cement his position as one of the most striking photographers in the world.
He would continue to do astounding work with Bertolucci on the films, THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM (1971), LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), 1900 (1976), LUNA (1979), THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), THE SHELTERING SKY (1990), and LITTLE BUDDHA (1993). Throughout his career he has also worked with a variety of directors and photographed some of the world's most beautiful women including Stefania Casini, Laura Antonelli, Charlotte Rampling, Florinda Bolkan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Adjani, and currently Paz Vega in the upcoming DARE TO LOVE ME.
Francis Ford Coppola greatly admired Storaro's work with Bertolucci and hired him for his 1979 feature, the masterful but nightmarish to shoot, APOCALYPSE NOW. The film would be the first of several he would photograph for Francis and they included, along with ONE FROM THE HEART, TUCKER, THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), and LIFE WITHOUT ZOE (1989) from NEW YORK STORIES. ONE FROM THE HEART and APOCALYPSE NOW remain two high points of originality and perseverance for the talented Storaro.
There are many pages dedicated to and interviews with Storaro online so here are a couple of links for those interested.

It is a shame that Nastassja and him had their falling out on ONE FROM THE HEART as they have never worked together again. She is as magical looking as the film's much heralded set design and stages. Storaro's painting with "light AND motion' suited her and Coppola's film very well, I am willing to bet their falling out was due more to damaged nerves more than anything else.

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"

Soundtrack #4. One From The Heart (Tom Waits)

Even though he scored a much deserved Oscar nomination for the film's music, Tom Waits ONE FROM THE HEART is often overlooked not just by his own fans but also film lovers in general.

ONE FROM THE HEART represents Waits at a real turning point in his career. It is the last album he recorded before his audacious SWORDFISHTROMBONES record in 1983, an album that would set the experimental tone for the rest of his career. HEART ATTACK AND VINE(1980) had proceeded ONE FROM THE HEART and it had already shown Waits getting away from his more piano based music of the seventies, so ONE FROM THE HEART closes a real important chapter in Waits career.

Waits' singer partner on ONE FROM THE HEART was a surprising choice. Crystal Gayle was a popular country singer in the seventies, known for her smooth voice and incredibly long hair. Waits had originally wanted the sassy Bette Midler for his partner as the two had already done a memorable duet on his fantastic FOREIGN AFFAIRS album in 1978. Midler wasn't available in time for Coppola's film so Waits chose the softer, but no less accomplished, Gayle to accompany him.

Waits' soundtrack for Coppola's film works incredibly well as not only a musical companion to the film but also as a solid lp on its own. ONE FROM THE HEART might not be in the same class as SMALL CHANGE (1976) or BLUE VALENTINE (1979) as my favorite early Waits record but songs like BROKEN BICYCLES, LITTLE BOY BLUE, and especially THIS ONES FROM THE HEART belong in any music lovers home. Equally fascinating are the tracks that bookend the album, the OPENING MONTAGE and the quite astonishing PRESENTS that wraps things up.

Produced by Bones Howe and featuring some of the most straight jazz oriented material of Waits career, ONE FROM THE HEART might be an ideal introduction to Waits for someone who isn't perhaps prepared for the manic intensity of SMALL CHANGE or the more abrasive sounding BONE MACHINE. ONE FROM THE HEART might well be described as the most easy listening album of Tom Waits career, but that doesn't make it any less valuable.

Tom Waits of course would soon become well known as an actor as well and he has a memorable cameo in ONE FROM THE HEART. His first role, for Sylvester Stallone's PARADISE ALLEY (1978), would show Waits as being as charismatic on the screen as his unmistakable voice was on vinyl. Coppola would cast him in several more films of his including RUMBLE FISH and THE OUTSIDERS (both 1983) and THE COTTON CLUB (1984). He would unfortunately never score another one of Coppola's films again though.

ONE FROM THE HEART is available in a beautifully remastered gatefold edition cd with bonus tracks. Unfortunately Nastassja's infectious take of LITTLE BOY BLUE remains unreleased and the film is the only way to hear it.

Waits would lose the Oscar for ONE FROM THE HEART but it remains one of his most important albums if just for the door it closed for him. He was getting ready to, along with his new bride Kathleen Brennan, make a series of bold recordings that would cement his status as one of the most important musical figures on the planet. ONE FROM THE HEART is well worth grabbing for soundtrack fans and popular music lovers in general.

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.

7. One From The Heart (1982)

There are very few films that can accurately be described as being unlike anything other. Francis Ford Coppola's challenging 1982 film ONE FROM THE HEART is one of those few films. The feature was one of the most notorious failures in screen history when it struggled to play in just a handful of theaters in 1982 but it has since undergone some critical and popular rethinking. ONE FROM THE HEART would all but destroy Francis Ford Coppola's desire to have his own group of players in his own self contained studio system, and it would finally bankrupt him financially but not artistically.

ONE FROM THE HEART is a tough film to write about. It is a flawed film that can't truly be considered among Coppola's greatest films but the work has to be admired for just how brave and uncompromising in its vision that it is. ONE FROM THE HEART is part old fashioned romantic comedy part old Hollywood musical but built, by 1982's standards, out of the most progressive shooting methods ever employed for a film. Coppola's shooting and editing style on this work (chronicled in the dvd's amazing supplemental section) was over a decade before its time and would influence countless filmmakers. The film remains a clear example of one that has to be seen, reading and writing about it can't really come close to describing its many charms and weaknesses. So the following should be looked upon as maybe some scattered notes rather than a full review of the film.

ONE FROM THE HEART'S plot is remarkably simple. A couple, Hank and Frannie, have a fight on their fifth anniversary and split up. On the night of their break up Frannie meets the suave waiter Ray, and Hank meets the mysterious Leila and the film follows the four of them as they recount their dreams, disappointments and desires. Hank and Frannie are played by Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr while Ray and Leila are played by Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski.

After the gruelling four year long ordeal that had been APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), Francis Ford Coppola wanted very much to create a simple old fashioned love story that would be filmed entirely on stages at his Zoetrope studios. Nothing is ever simple with Francis Ford Coppola though and the production of ONE FROM THE HEART became its own particular apocalypse. Dogged by financial difficulties, a massive and overwhelming set and stage scheme, crew walkouts (although at one point the majority gallantly worked for free), leaked press reports damning the film before anyone had ever seen it and a director that was falling apart trying to keep it all together, it is a miracle that ONE FROM THE HEART managed to get completed at all.

The film's virtues are easy to point out. The sets are stunning, with special mention going to the brave work of Production designer Dean Tavoularis. The music by Tom Waits is lovely and haunting as is the cinematography by legendary Vittorio Storaro (with assistance from Ronald Victor Garcia). The acting is uniformly good with special mention going to the young Raul Julia and Nastassja. The lead work by Forrest and Garr is fine but both of them at times feel slightly miscast (something I will get to in a second). Finally the direction by Coppola is always solid and at times what is wrong with ONE FROM THE HEART?

The main problem I see with the film is that stylistically it is so inventive and so progressive that it frankly overwhelms Coppola's extremely slight screenplay. Add on the decision to set the film in modern times, even though the studio scenery and full frame photography all suggest old Hollywood and you've got an oddly disjointed film. Garr and Forrest are excellent in the lead roles but Coppola has the characters so underwritten and normal that his astonishing set simply buries them. Kinski and Julia come out better because they are more exotic and are allowed to not simply fade into the background. Nastassja's Leila is one of her most haunting, if smaller, roles and her performance of LITTLE BOY BLUE is one of the unquestionable highlights of the film, as is her final monologue about the art of disappearing.

Most of ONE FROM THE HEART'S fault indeed does belong in Coppola's script which he wrote with Armyan Bernstein with additional dialogue by Luana Anders. Bernstein was an inexperienced screenwriter and it shows as ONE FROM THE HEART'S storyline and dialogue always feels a little hollow. Anders, who did such great work on films like SHAMPOO (1975) and PERSONAL BEST (1982), probably gave it some flair but I think the script of ONE FROM THE HEART needed an entire makeover to make it the equal of Coppola's magnificent creative achievement.

Problems aside, I like ONE FROM THE HEART. I admire it and always like revisiting it. There was always something touching about it and when one views the documentaries on the film it feels simply revolutionary. It is also apparent from the dvd extras that this film never stood a chance as the press seemed absolutely obsessed with destroying Coppola and his dream studio..

I wish ONE FROM THE HEART had been a success as I have always loved the idea Coppola had for Zoetrope. It was to be not only a place where he could shoot his own films without studio interference and with his own actors but also a place of learning. Talented young actress Rebecca De Mornay is one of the films many 'understudies' and one of the most stirring aspects of the documentary is the shot of children coming to visit the set to see how a film is made (including Coppola's own children Sofia and Roman, both of who would attend the premiere with him and would later become accomplished writers and directors in their own right). Coppola's films are often centered around family and his movie company would have been as well.

Had ONE FROM THE HEART succeeded there is no question that Nastassja's career would have turned out differently. Coppola had planned on making her one of his key Zoetrope players and the two got along well during the shooting of the film. The film's crushing failure made this impossible though and the two never worked together again, although on the film's great audio commentary Coppola says that he would like to.

ONE FROM THE HEART is among the key films of the eighties and it is a work that visually is pretty untouchable. Its faults and failures perhaps make its sweet and sentimental tale of a love that is vanishing all the more poignant. It is currently available in a two disc set from Fantoma, featuring a group of extra features that are among the best ever offered on the home video market.

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.