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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt


The rounded down musical remake and homage of8½, Nine, has been released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. As an attempt to be a boxoffice hit or attract year-end awards, the 2009 feature was a disaster almost from its inception, having the audacity to copy the Federico Fellini masterpiece shot for shot in some places, and then tack on both musical numbers and a sensible, ‘happy’ ending, dumbing things down the way almost all musicals do. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film is specifically a remake of a witty Broadway musical that had the opposite accomplishment-it took on an ‘impossible’ subject and made a real musical out of it, using to its advantage the simplification that the stage enforces to present a series of impressionistic interludes in which a successful but frustrated film director muses over the various women who have been in his life. But to then reintroduce the verisimilitude of film upon the musical’s narrative generalizations loses both the intricate psychological and thematic detail of the original movie and the conceptual power of the stage production, leaving you with a wishy-washy version of 8½ that has some hummable tunes and a few attractive players. It is something that the general public has no interest in whatsoever and even movie lovers would be justified in dismissing. But it is not a ‘bad movie,’ by any reckoning. With a script from Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, outstanding cinematography that is way better than the work done on several movies that were nominated for an Oscar in that category (Nine was not), and with Marshall’s experience in adapting Broadway musicals into movies, it has a solid foundation. So perhaps it wasn’t the best movie of 2009, however more irresistible and satisfying it is than The Hurt Locker, but it is, without a doubt, the best Guilty Pleasure of 2009. It is overloaded with groovy actresses, includingJudi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren and, in a part that feels like it was written for Britney Spears, Kate Hudson. It almost seems like Nicole Kidman was thrown in as an afterthought. If the stars thrill you, the movie may, as well, but it is basically attractive to people who love Italian movies from the early Sixties and Fellini movies in particular. When a black-and-white scene comes on that imitates a sequence from 8½ almost precisely, where some young boys offer their loose change to a mad woman living on the beach, only to have Fergie step out of the concrete bunker in the place of Edra Gale, it is intellectual camp of the highest caliber. When, at another point, the black-and-white explodes into color (and then later in the same number, when the camera angle changes to a wider lens), it is a dazzling wish fulfillment of the highest aesthetic order, and when Daniel Day-Lewis whisks around as an Italian, oozing suavity, but with just a touch of an accent, it is transcendent revisionism. We don’t want to relive the past as it actually happened, we want to relive our memories of its best parts. That was one of Fellini’s own primal themes, and that is what the movie will do for you, if you have those same fond memories of its sources. Indeed, it is also how you will think of Nine itself, a little bit after it is over.

It was Fellini’s La Dolce Vita that was shot in 2.35:1, while 8½ was, deliberately, made in 1.85:1, so it is inevitable that Nine would go with the legend rather than the truth. The letterboxing, in 2.35:1 with an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback, is highly gratifying, particularly during the musical numbers, which are superbly blocked and framed. The color transfer is also bellissimo, though one would expect no less. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has limited rear channel activity, but the front mix is fully dimensional and packs a decent punch. There are optional English subtitles, 11 minutes of music videos that essentially let you live through three of the numbers again, and 51 minutes of good production documentaries that include a lot of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage. (Talking about the conclusion of her big dance number, Hudson explains, using the family giggle, “I’ve never had that feeling before, and there’s nothing better. I’m sure it’s like hitting a home run with the bases loaded, you know. I say that because I have all brothers.” And you think, ‘Sure, hon’, A-Rod is the furthest thing from your mind.’) Marshall and producer John Deluca also supply a commentary track, talking about the casting process, the story, shooting the film in Italy and London, what they hoped they were accomplishing, and how enjoyable it was to work with the cast and the music regardless of what they accomplished.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon