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Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Heading up at some ungodly hour to Sundance, tomorrow morning.

Have noticed that there are three films playing at the festival this year that I’ve seen already, and I thought all three of them happen to be utterly worth seeing.

Sympathy for Delicious is the directorial debut of Mark Ruffalo from a script by the film’s star Christopher Thornton. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Mark and think he’s a terrific guy but that is emphatically NOT why I like this film as much as I do.)

Starting off with a convincing depiction of the homeless community in downtown LA and focusing on one particularly bitter guy (Thornton) whose poverty is compounded by his being confined to a wheelchair. We’re also introduced to a compassionate priest (played by Ruffalo) who tries to make sure the community gets fed. The story seems to be a pretty worthwhile, if familiar, piece of social realism for awhile. Then it makes a dangerous and difficult swerve you don’t see coming:


‘Delicious’ Dean O’Dwyer displays healing powers. He fixes people, but not himself. The priest tries to get him to channel this gift in constructive ways, but O’Dwyer harbors a passion to make rock-and-roll music—and he’s not above using this new power in manipulative ways to advance his career.

One of the many complicated ideas this film gets at is that having a gift doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to be a better person.

The film makes a dizzying and largely successful turn toward social commentary and religious allegory, always done with a mixture of realism and dark humor worthy of some of the most interesting movies written by Paddy Chayefsky, like Networkand Altered States.

What’s mainly amazing is how skillfully Ruffalo is able to represent rise to glory and fall from grace of this character on a tiny budget.

What’s not amazing perhaps, given Ruffalo’s background, is the uniform excellence of the cast. Thornton is restrained and persuasive in what is clearly the role of his life…Juliette Lewis is spunky and sad as the rock chick who reaches out to help him,…. Laura Linney, Ruffalo’s acting partner from the much-loved You Can Count on Me, is both funny and scary as a rapacious showbiz attorney…

But the real revelation is Orlando Bloom as a rock-and-roller with the ego to be Mick Jagger but not quite the talent. Bloom is so utterly into this part that for a long time I couldn’t recognize him. The talent that seemed exclusively limited to and defined by the Pirates of the Caribbean andLord of the Rings movies flourishes again here in this completely fresh and unexpected setting and Ruffalo deserves great credit for seeing and believing that Bloom could do this.

The first step in Mark Ruffalo’s career as a movie director, and the artistic rebirth of Orlando Bloom’s acting career could make Sympathy for Delicious one of Sundance 2010’s upbeat stories.

The other two movies that I want to very much recommend are French films I saw last year at Cannes, A Prophet and Enter the Void. (New chief Cooper’s decision to show stuff from other festivals is worth some discussion… personally, I’m for it.) More on them a bit later. We have to pack.



Larry Gross is a 25 year screenwriting veteran and Winner of Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his most recent release, We Don’t Live Here Anymore.


Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Sundance Institute announced today the lineup of films selected to screen in the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

December 02, 2009. PARK CITY, UT – Sundance Institute announced today the lineup of films selected to screen in the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. In addition to the four Competition Categories, the Festival presents films in five out-of-competition sections to be announced on December 3. The 2010 Sundance Film Festival runs January 21-31 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The complete list of films is available

As previously announced, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival features several changes including a new section devoted to low- and no-budget filmmaking and Sundance Film Festival U.S.A.- a one-night only event when eight filmmakers from the Festival will visit eight cities nationwide. In addition, the Festival will break tradition by foregoing the conventions of one opening night film and instead focus on launching the total program: one narrative film, one documentary and one shorts program will play the first Thursday (January 21), beginning the roll out of the competitions.

“Being a seasoned programming team and having the support of a healthy organization afforded us the ability to take risks and re-think all programs this year so we chose to do some things a little bit differently,” said John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival. “We believe this makes for an exciting festival that responds to both artist and audience, one that will invigorate the independent film community.”

“One of the founding values of Sundance Institute is that artistic excellence should never be gauged in terms of marketability,” said Robert Redford, Sundance Institute President and Founder. “Our mandate is to support the independent artist and celebrate originality, creativity and compelling storytelling. It is not our place to decide what will be shown a year from now in theatres. Our place is to shine a light on the art of film. This year’s program shows integrity and a willingness to move beyond preconceived ideas about what our Festival should be.”

For the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, 112 feature-length films were selected representing 38 countries by 43 first-time filmmakers, including 24 in competition. These films were selected from 3,724 feature-length film submissions composed of 1,920 U.S. and 1,804 international feature-length films. 79 films at the Festival will be world premieres.

This year’s 16 films were selected from 862 submissions. Each film is a world premiere.

Bhutto (Directors: Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O’Hara; Screenwriter: Johnny O’Hara)—A riveting journey through the life and work of recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister and a polarizing figure in the Muslim world. World Premiere

CASINO JACK & The United States of Money (Director: Alex Gibney)—A probing investigation into the lies, greed and corruption surrounding D.C. super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies. World Premiere

Family Affair (Director: Chico Colvard)—An uncompromising documentary that examines resilience, survival and the capacity to accommodate a parent’s past crimes in order to satisfy the longing for family. World Premiere

Freedom Riders (Director: Stanley Nelson)—The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South. World Premiere

Gas Land (Director: Josh Fox)—A cross-country odyssey uncovers toxic streams, dying livestock, flammable sinks and weakening health among rural citizens on the front lines of the natural gas drilling craze. World Premiere

I’m Pat _______ Tillman (Director: Amir Bar-Lev)—The story of professional football star and decorated U.S. soldier Pat Tillman, whose family takes on the U.S. government when their beloved son dies in a “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan in 2004. World Premiere

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (Director: Tamra Davis)—The story of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work defined, electrified and challenged an era, and whose untimely death at age 27 has made him a cultural icon. World Premiere

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Directors: Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg)—A rare, brutally honest glimpse into the comedic process and private dramas of legendary comedian and pop icon Joan Rivers as she fights tooth and nail to keep her American dream alive. World Premiere

Lucky (Director: Jeffrey Blitz)—The story of what happens when ordinary people hit the lottery jackpot.
World Premiere

My Perestroika (Director: Robin Hessman)—Intimately tracking the lives of five Muscovites who came of age just as the USSR collapsed and are adjusting to their post-Soviet reality, My Perestroika maps the contours of a nation in profound transition. World Premiere

The Oath (Director: Laura Poitras)— Filmed in Yemen, The Oath tells the story of two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a course of events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the U.S. Supreme Court. World Premiere

Restrepo (Directors: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)—Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s year dug in with the Second Platoon in one of Afghanistan’s most strategically crucial valleys reveals extraordinary insight into the surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie as the soldiers painfully push back the Taliban. World Premiere

A Small Act (Director: Jennifer Arnold)—A young Kenyan’s life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founds his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received. World Premiere

Smash His Camera (Director: Leon Gast)—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sued him, and Marlon Brando broke his jaw. The story of notorious, reviled paparazzo Ron Galella opens a Pandora’s Box of issues from right to privacy, freedom of the press and the ever-growing vortex of celebrity worship. World Premiere

12th & Delaware (Directors: Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing)—The abortion battle continues to rage in unexpected ways on an unassuming corner in America. World Premiere

Waiting for Superman (Director: Davis Guggenheim)—Waiting for Superman examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories—from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. World Premiere

This year’s 16 films were selected from 1,058 submissions. Each film is a world premiere.

Blue Valentine (Director: Derek Cianfrance; Screenwriters: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis) —A complex portrait of an American marriage, Blue Valentine charts the evolution of a relationship over time. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Doman. World Premiere

Douchebag (Director: Drake Doremus; Screenwriters: Lindsay Stidham, Drake Doremus, Jonathan Schwartz and Andrew Dickler) —On the verge of getting married, Sam Nussbaum insists he escort his younger brother, Tom, on a wild goose chase of a journey to find Tom’s fifth grade girlfriend. Cast: Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicius, Amy Ferguson, Wendi McClendon-Covey. World Premiere

The Dry Land (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Piers Williams)—A U.S. soldier returning home from war struggles to reconcile his experiences abroad with the life and family he left in Texas. Cast: America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael, Melissa Leo. World Premiere

happythankyoumoreplease (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor)—Six New Yorkers negotiate love, friendship, and gratitude at a time when they’re too old to be precocious and not ready to be adults. Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri. World Premiere

Hesher(Director: Spencer Susser; Screenwriters: Spencer Susser and David Michod; Story by Brian Charles Frank)—A mysterious, anarchical trickster descends on the lives of a family struggling to deal with a painful loss. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch. World Premiere

Holy Rollers (Director: Kevin Tyler Asch; Screenwriter: Antonio Macia)—A young Hasidic man, seduced by money, power and opportunity, becomes an international Ecstasy smuggler. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A. Abeckaser, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs. World Premiere

Howl (Directors and screenwriters: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)—A nonfiction drama about the young Allen Ginsberg finding his voice, the creation of his groundbreaking poem HOWL, and the landmark obscenity trial that followed. Cast: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels. World Premiere

The Imperialists are still Alive! (Director and screenwriter: Zeina Durra)—Juggling the sudden abduction of her childhood sweetheart as well as a blooming love affair, a French Manhattanite makes her way as an artist in an indifferent, sometimes hostile world. Cast: Élodie Bouchez, José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh Karolina Muller, Marianna Kulukundis, Rita Ackerman. World Premiere

Lovers of Hate (Director and screenwriter: Bryan Poyser)—The shaky reunion of estranged brothers takes a turn for the worse when the woman they both love chooses one over the other. Cast: Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green. World Premiere

Night Catches Us (Director and screenwriter: Tanya Hamilton)—In 1978, complex political and emotional forces are set in motion when a young man returns to the race-torn Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement. Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Jamara Griffin. World Premiere

Obselidia (Director and screenwriter: Diane Bell)—A lonely librarian believes love is obsolete until a road trip to Death Valley with a beguiling cinema projectionist teaches him otherwise. Cast: Gaynor Howe, Michael Piccirilli, Frank Hoyt Taylor. World Premiere

Skateland (Director: Anthony Burns; Screenwriters: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman)—In the early 1980s, in small-town Texas, dramatic events force a 19-year-old skating rink manager to look at his life in a very new way. Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, A.J. Buckley, Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, Ellen Hollman, Heath Freeman. World Premiere

Sympathy for Delicious (Director: Mark Ruffalo; Screenwriter: Christopher Thornton)—A newly paralyzed DJ gets more than he bargained for when he seeks out the world of faith healing. Cast: Orlando Bloom, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, John Carroll Lynch. World Premiere

3 Backyards (Director and screenwriter: Eric Mendelsohn)—A quiet suburban town becomes an intense emotional terrain for three residents over the course of one curious autumn day. Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Danai Gurira. World Premiere

Welcome to the Rileys (Director: Jake Scott)—On a business trip to New Orleans, a damaged man seeks salvation by caring for a wayward young woman. Cast: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo. World Premiere

Winter’s Bone (Director: Debra Granik; Screenwriters: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)—An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan. World Premiere

This year’s 12 films were selected from 782 international documentary submissions.

A Film Unfinished / Germany, Israel (Director: Yael Hersonski)—Film reels uncovered in Nazi archives reveal the mechanisms used to stage Warsaw Ghetto life–images which have shaped our view of history. World Premiere

Enemies of the People / Cambodia, United Kingdom(Directors: Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath)—A young journalist whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge befriends the perpetrators of the Killing Fields genocide, evoking shocking revelations. U.S. Premiere

Fix ME / France, Palestinian Territories, Switzerland(Director: Raed Andoni)—When Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni gets a headache that won’t quit, he seeks out help and insight in different forms in his hometown of Ramallah. International Premiere

His & Hers / Ireland (Director: Ken Wardrop)—Seventy Irish women offer moving insights into the relationships between women and men. North American Premiere

Kick in Iran / Gemany (Director: Fatima Geza Abdollahyan)—The first female professional Taekwondo fighter from Iran to qualify for the Olympic Games struggles for recognition in a society where women still play a subordinate role. World Premiere

Last Train Home / Canada (Director: Lixin Fan)—Getting a train ticket in China proves a towering ordeal as a migrant worker family embarks on a journey, along with 200 million other peasants, to reunite with their distant family. U.S. Premiere

The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel) / Denmark (Director: Mads Brügger)—A journalist with no scruples, a self-proclaimed spastic, and a comedian travel to North Korea under the guise of a cultural exchange visit to challenge one of the world’s most notorious regimes. U.S. Premiere

Russian Lessons / Georgia, Germany, Norway (Directors: Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov)—An investigation into Russian actions during the 2008 war in Georgia, revealing the little known story of the ethnic cleansing in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. World Premiere

Secrets of the Tribe / Brazil (Director: José Padilha)—Is the academic Anthropology community capable of generating real knowledge about mankind? The scandals and the infighting regarding the representation of indigenous Indians in the Amazon Basin seems to indicate that the answer may be a resounding no. World Premiere

Sins of My Father / Argentina, Colombia (Director: Nicolas Entel)—The life and times of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are recounted through the eyes of his son, who fled Colombia to move beyond his father’s legacy. North American Premiere

Space Tourists / Switzerland (Director: Christian Frei)—A humorous and laconic view of the way billionaires depart our planet earth to travel into outer space for fun. North American Premiere

Waste Land / United Kingdom (Director: Lucy Walker)—Lives are transformed when international art star Vik Muniz collaborates with garbage pickers in the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. World Premiere

This year’s 14 films were selected from 1,022 international narrative feature submissions.

All that I Love / Poland (Director and screenwriter: Jacek Borcuch)—In 1981, during the growing Polish Solidarity movement, four small-town teenagers form a punk rock band with the hope of playing at a local festival. Cast: Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Jakub Gierszal, Mateusz Banasiuk, Olga Frycz, Igor Obloza. North American Premiere

Animal Kingdom / Australia (Director and screenwriter: David Michôd)—After the death of his mother, a seventeen year-old boy is thrust precariously between an explosive criminal family and a detective who thinks he can save him. Cast: Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville. World Premiere

Boy / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi)—When his father returns home after many years away, 11-year-old Boy and his little brother Rocky must reconcile reality with the fantasy dad they created in their imagination. Cast: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone. World Premiere

Contracorriente (Undertow) / Colombia, France, Germany, Peru (Director and screenwriter: Javier Fuentes-Leon)—An unusual ghost story set on the Peruvian seaside, a married fisherman struggles to reconcile his devotion to his male lover within his town’s rigid traditions. Cast: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona, Tatiana Astengo. North American Premiere

Four Lions / UK (Director: Chris Morris and screenwriters: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain)—A comedy tour de force about a bunch of self styled British jihadis. Cast: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak. World Premiere

Grown Up Movie Star / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Adriana Maggs)—After her mother runs away, a teenage girl, determined to grow up fast, is left to care for her hopelessly rural father. Cast: Shawn Doyle, Tatiana Maslany, Jonny Harris, Mark O’Brien, Andy Jones, Julia Kennedy. U.S. Premiere

The Man Next Door (El Hombre de al Lado) / Argentina (Directors and screenwriters: Mariano Cohn and Gastón; Screenwriter: Andres Duprat)— A small incident over two neighbors common wall sparks a conflict which affects the intimacy of the view over the chimney; the protagonist sparks a conflict and with paranoiac obsession destroys everyday life. Cast: Rafael Spregelburd, Daniel Aráoz, Eugenia Alonso, Inés Budassi, Lorenza Acuña. International Premiere

Me Too (Yo, También) / Spain(Directors and screenwriters: Álvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro)—A 34-year-old college-educated man with Down syndrome and his free-spirited co-worker forge an unconventional relationship. Cast: Pablo Pineda, Lola Dueñas, Antonio Naharro, Isabel Garcia Lorca, Pedro Alvarez Ossorio. International Premiere

Nuummioq / Greenland (Directors: Otto Rosing and Torben Bech; Screenwriter: Torben Bech)—A young man’s journey through the exquisite natural landscape of Greenland allows him to piece together elements of his past and move on with his life. Cast: Lars Rosing, Angunnguaq Larsen, Julie Berthelsen, Morten Rose, Makka Kleist, Mariu Olsen. World Premiere

Peepli Live / India (Director and screenwriter: Anusha Rizvi)—A satirical look at the predicament of a poor farmer who creates a media frenzy when, beset with debt, he announces that he will commits suicide so his family can receive government compensation. Cast: Omkar Das, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raghubir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Farukh Jaffer World Premiere

Son of Babylon / Iraq (Director: Mohamed Al Daradji; Screenwriters: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Jennifer Norridge, Mithal Ghazi) In the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a young Kurdish boy and his grandmother venture through Iraq on a quest to find the remains of their missing father/son. Cast: Yasser Talib, Shazda Hussein, Bashir Al-Majid. International Premiere

Southern District (Zona Sur) / Bolivia (Director and screenwriter: Juan Carlos Valdivia)—In La Paz, Bolivia, in a villa surrounded by beautiful gardens, an upper-class family experiences final halcyon days of luxury as social change penetrates their bubble. Cast: Ninón del Castillo, Pascual Loayza, Nicolás Fernández, Juan Pablo Koria, Mariana Vargas. North American Premiere

The Temptation of St. Tony / Estonia (Director and screenwriter: Veiko Õunpuu)—A mid-level manager who develops an aversion to being “good” finds himself confronting the mysteries of middle-age and morality as he loses grasp of what was once his quiet life. Cast: Taavi Eelmaa, Rain Tolk, Tiina Tauraite, Katariina Lauk, Raivo E. Tamm. World Premiere

Vegetarian (Chaesikjueuija) / South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Lim Woo-seong)—A young housewife, finds herself having strange dreams that make her disgusted by meat, leading to trouble with her meat-loving husband and attention from her artist brother in law. Cast: CHEA Min-Seo, KIM Hyun-Sung, KIM Yeo-Jin, KIM Young-Jae. International Premiere

LAFF 2009 Wrap

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

The stars and film fans were out in force for the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, whose slate included indie fest circuit faves, arthouse foreign fare and mainstream popcorn flicks. Fun at the fest ranged from Johnny Depp and Christian Bale on the red carpet for Public Enemies, to transforming robots in summer tentpole Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, to the anime brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki in the Americanized version of Ponyo. Here’s a wrap of reviews of some of the diverse films from the fest.


I realize that American audiences often find subtitles difficult to swallow, and further realize that in trying to market Miyazaki’s films to younger audiences, studios are targeting a demographic that might not be able to read subtitles anyhow, so I appreciate the necessity of dubbing Miyazaki’s films for this market. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the end result, although I can hope that seeing dubbed Miyazaki might eventually serve as a gateway of sorts to encourage older kids and adults to explore Miyazaki’s work in the original Japanese.

Weather Girl

Weather Girl is looking to explore larger issues around women past their early 30s begin to be perceived as running out of time, both in careers and relationships. Faced at the age of 35 with having completely start her life over at a time when YouTube has made her outburst about Dale’s affair fodder for public amusement and mockery (and, in the process, made a mockery of any serious job prospects for her), Sylvia’s at first at a complete loss for how to move forward. A date with a dorky accountant (Jon Cryer) pretty much lays out Sylvia’s situation: she’s past the age of being able to afford to be too picky, and her life has now been reduced to the possibility of considering a business-like relationship with guys like this. Or is it?

Mid-August Lunch

This is a simple, charming film that relies on human emotion and interaction rather than slapstick comedy, and it generates more smiles and chuckles than belly laughs, but Gianni and his elderly charges are funny and human, and the way the film deals with aging, and the respect and care afforded elders by their children is enough to give pause to audiences in America, where we keep our lives so perpetually busy that there’s little room in them for us to do anything with our own aging parents but tuck them away into “retirement” homes.

West of Pluto

Unfortunately, once it breaks away from the mockumentary style it begins with into attempting to construct an actual plot for the teens to follow, the film devolves into a not-terribly-interesting storyline that includes all the usual suspects of teen bad behavior: cruelty to peers, sibling battles, hormones, unrequited adolescent love, rudeness toward the ‘rents, and a birthday party that goes out of control. (In other words, everything we’ve seen teens do in just about every teen film ever made.)

We Live in Public

Harris was right, mostly, about what would happen within the model of this very public community setting; for his next project, “We Live in Public,” Harris and his then-girlfriend became the subjects, living their lives completely on-camera, online all the time, while the people who followed the site commented on what they were doing at any given moment and took sides in the couple’s increasingly frequent fights. Eventually Harris’s girlfriend left him and his own mental stability collapsed along with the dot com boom. He lost most of his money and ended up moving to Ethiopia to hide from creditors.


With remarkable access behind-the-scenes (particularly given the security concerns), Schack and his team capture the human moments behind the convention machine: the young reporter assigned for her first-ever political beat to cover the convention; the editorial and writing staff of the Denver Post, working their asses off to capture this historic occasion happening in their own backyard while struggling to keep up with and compete against all the journalists from out-of-state; the city officials charged with organizing things at their end while coordinating with the team responsible for the convention itself, and a merry band of protesters there to remind those watching that the first step toward losing your freedoms is failing to use them.

Public Enemies

Is Public Enemies (A) an astute exploration of the mind and soul of one of the century’s most notorious bank robbers; (B) a Robin Hood tale about a legendary folk hero/outlaw; (C) a good/evil story about an outlaw and the law man who brings him to justice; or (D) None of the above?

Transformers 2

It’s not so much that the story is inherently bad; it’s more that it seems no one bothered to put one in at all, and worse, that no one seems to have cared — which is all the more surprising given that two of the screenwriters involved also penned the new Star Trek, which had a storyline that was actually interesting. This film, though is two-and-a-half hours of special effects masturbation that didn’t need to be longer than 90 minutes, max.

DVD Review: The Mindscape of Alan Moore

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

One of the biggest creative talents behind Zack Snyder’s new movie Watchmen is absent from the credits: Alan Moore, the author of the original graphic novel on which the film is (by early accounts, faithfully) based. Moore, who also penned V for Vendetta, From Hell andThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,is the visionary often credited with changing the face of comic books.Over the years he’s become disdainful of celebrity and dismissive of movie adaptations of his work. A new 2-disc DVD set,The Mindscape of Alan Moore –billed as “a psychedelic journey into one of the world’s most powerful minds”–is an engaging introduction to the colorful recluse and his artistry.

Not a documentary as much as an evocative monologue stylishly filmed by director DeZ Vylenz, Mindscape quickly and neatly covers Moore’s youth in the working class section of the British city Northampton (where he still lives) and his early embrace of literature, mythology, science fiction, and comics. When he moved on from a local grade school to a posh institution of higher learning, the former star pupil found himself outclassed by his more privileged classmates. He acted out, was expelled, and seemed doomed to a series of menial jobs when he began writing and drawing for U.K. comic publishers.

“Quitting my job and starting my life as a writer was a tremendous risk. It was a fool’s leap, a shot in the dark,” Moore says, his eyes locked to the camera. “But anything of any value in our lives–whether that be a career, a work of art, a relationship–will always start with such a leap. And in order to be able to make it you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding.”

His early underground comics in the late 1970s led to a weekly newspaper strip, and as the Eighties progressed, his work reflected the anxious climate of the Reagan-Thatcher era and he became more overtly political. He abandoned drawing to concentrate on writing for increasingly wider audiences. The dystopian Watchmenseries was his breakout work, and “also grew out of the politically shadowy landscape of the 1980s, when the Cold War was probably at its hottest in 20 or 30 years, and when nuclear destruction suddenly seemed a very real possibility,” Moore recalls. “Watchmen used the clichés of the superhero format to try and discuss notions of power and responsibility in an increasingly complex world.”

Partly because he saw movies as part of the dominant power structure’s mass marketing apparatus, Moore devised his comics to be “un-filmable,” as he told Terry Gilliam back when Gilliam was being considered to direct a movie version of Watchmen.

As entertaining as such backstage anecdotes are, far more hypnotic are Moore’s riffs on magic and spirituality, the relationship between alchemy and science, the mechanization of society that began with the Enlightenment, and the disastrous triumph—as he views it–of the culture of information. He’s as potent a wordsmith on camera as he is off, his flamboyantly be-ringed fingers and wild shocks of shoulder-length hair adding to his intensity. Director Vylenz illustrates Moore’s wide-ranging reflections on mysticism and post-industrial anomie with cutaways to tarot cards, antique Kabbalah charts, dreamy reenactments, and, less successfully, a low-tech pulsing “brain” meant to symbolize (I’m guessing) Moore’s notion of an “idea-scape” (itself essentially a variant on the Jungian concept of a collective subconscious).

The DVD extras on Mindscape include an interview with Dylenz, a native of Surinam now working in the Netherlands, whose University of Amsterdam thesis was on Watchmen. The second disc is devoted to interviews with those who know Moore well, including his Lost Girlscollaborator and second wife, Melinda Gebbie; publisher and graphic novels expert Paul Gravett; and illustrator colleagues David Lloyd, Kevin O’Neill, Jose Villarubia, and Dave Gibbons.

Watchmen’s Gibbons describes how he would have to pare down Moore’s densely detailed scriptsbefore he could begin drawing (“I think the first page of Watchmen ran to four or five typescript pages”) and opines that no matter how “fantastic” a film adaptation of a graphic novel may be, something is likely to get lost in translation, and “it will be a different thing than the comic book.”

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but judging from the photos of Gibbons on the set that are included prominently in Peter Aperlo’s gorgeous new book, Watchmen: The Art of the Film,it would appear that Snyder and company deemed it very important to court the artist’s approval and support. How closely the movie follows the book we all will soon see; in the mean time, The Mindscape of Alan Moore is likely to please the prolific author’s fans and create some new ones.

– Andrea Gronvall
March 3, 2009

Andrea Gronvall is a regular contributor to the Chicago Reader, a frequent speaker for Harlan Jacobson’s Talk Cinema, and teaches film at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies.

Sundance Review: Daddy Longlegs

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

By Kim Voynar

Daddy Longlegs, written and directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, and ostensibly from memories of their own experiences with their father when they were growing up, reminded me a lot of another Sundance film from a couple years ago, Azazel Jacobs’ simultaneously irritating and enchantingMomma’s Man.

Both movies are filmed in a verite style that slams the viewer directly into the experience of the protagonists, and both films feature men who haven’t quite grown up. Consequently, the main characters in both films annoyed the hell out of me,and yet I found the stories around them compelling and fascinating. InMomma’s Man, Mikey (Matt Boren) has come home to his parents’ loft in New York for visit intended to last a few days, which ends up stretching into weeks as he reverts to a weird sort of late-life adolescence, avoiding returning home to the grown-up responsibilities of his wife and infant.

The man-child in question in Daddy Longlegs is Lenny (Ronald Bronstein, who hits every discordant note perfectly), a perpetually distracted, hyperactive, boy in a man’s body who nonetheless has occasional responsibility for the well-being and safety of his two young sons. I have no idea just how autobiographical the screenplay really is, but obviously, the Safdie brothers did manage to survive the time they spent with their dad when they were growing up. As I was cringing through much of the film, though, I began to suspect that if there is such a thing as guardian angels, they most have been working overtime protecting these kids from their father’s endless string of poor decision-making.

What’s most interesting about Daddy Longlegs is the question it posits: What makes a good parent? Is it enough to be fun, to be creative, to make your kids laugh, to play with them as if you are one of them? That can be fine and dandy, sure, but it can also be disastrous, and the Safdies show both sides of being a child dependent on a child-like, irresponsible parent. On the other hand, it could be argued that their time with their dad, so different from the structured, regimented routine of their regular life with their more responsible mother, directly influenced and informed the adults they grew to be. Perhaps they are able to tap wells of creativity and energy that otherwise would have remained dormant without the off-the-wall unpredictability and craziness of their time with their father.

And perhaps the film exaggerates those memories, and it wasn’t quite as insane as what we see onscreen. Lenny, as written for the film, is completely clueless as a parent, however much it’s obvious he adores his sons and loves spending time with them. This is the kind of dad who perhaps would have been more suited to only having to be responsible for the life and safety of young children two evenings a week for a few hours, not two weeks at a time.

This is an inconsistency in the setup of the story that bugged me: the parents obviously live in close enough proximity that they can both make it to their sons’ school, so why wouldn’t they have a more reasonable custody arrangement that would give their dad regular time with his sons without him having to be responsible for them completely for two weeks at a time? And why would the boys’ mother, who’s otherwise portrayed as a responsible, structured parent, allow her sons to be put into such a dangerous, uncontrolled predicament for two weeks at a stretch, apparently without even checking on their well-being?

Because I’m not talking your average questionable decision-making here, I’m talking about a man who can barely take care of himself, much less two young kids, a man who makes a series of questionable parenting choices that finally culminate in a decision that borders on criminal, with a consequence that could be tragic. Lenny drove me so insane that I wanted to turn the film off at times, and I found myself talking to the movie as I watched it, interjecting comments like, “Are you kidding me?” and “Where the hell is their mother while this is going on?” (One of the advantages of watching a Sundance film on screener is that you don’t bother anyone but yourself when you get irritated and start talking to the film while you’re watching it.)

And yet, for all that I couldn’t stand Lenny as a character, I quite liked this film. Sage Ranaldo and Frey Ranaldo, as the two innocents caught in their father’s hurricane of instability, deliver remarkably solid performances (but boy, would I love to see some of the outtakes that didn’t make it onscreen). The film raises thoughtful questions about what it means to be a parent and about the nature of parent-child relationships. Lenny, for all that I viewed him as a dangerously incompetent parent, has his moments of likability and, more to the point, moments of deep connection to his sons; those moments, bookended though they were by the moments of sheer stupidity, showed the value of the father-son relationship, in spite of its flaws and foibles. Can a person be both a good parent and a bad one at the same time? InDaddy Longlegs, the answer is, unequivocally, “yes.”

(Daddy Longlegs is one of three “Sundance Selects” films chosen this year to be a part of a collaborative effort with the Sundance Institute, which made the films available through video-on-demand the same day they premiered at the fest.)

Sundance Sales Chart 2009

Saturday, January 24th, 2009
Today’s Top Five
Brooklyn’s Finest
Gere, Cheadle, Hawke, Snipes, Barkin and “Training Day” director doing what they’ve done best: cop drama With all these surefire elements, why does it need a Sundance rampup to sell? 1/16, 6:15p. Eccles
Gigolo satire from sexpert helmer of “Young Adam” How many good Ashton Kutcher or Anne Heche comedies can you name? 1/17, 9:15p, Eccles
I Love You Phillip Morris
A Carrey/McGregor prison romance from writers of “Bad Santa” First-time helmers tackle subject matter that could go very wrong in the wrong hands. 1/18, 9:30p, Eccles
Other Narratives In Play
Dr Comp
Sometimes humorous, very topical struggle of Palestinian mom on West Bank
No stars, Iraq war backdrop… it better be great
1/17, 12:15p, Eccles
Cold Souls
Giamatti, Strathairn, Watson, Ambrose in a unique “metaphysical tragi-comedy”
A metaphysical tragi-comedy
1/17, 5:15p, Racquet Club
Arlen Faber
Dr Comp
Daniels, Graham, Pucci in romantic tale of reclusive author
Might be too navel-gazing or quirky for its own good
1/18, 5:15p, Racquet Club
Big Fan
Good buzz on sports fanatic spoof directed by “The Wrestler” scribe…
…who also wrote “The Onion Movie.” Star Patton Oswalt an unproven commodity
1/18, 8p, Racquet Club
Black Dynamite
Blaxploitation satire with potential for cult following
Too culty for its own good?
1/18, 11:30p, Library
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Dr Comp
Hot star John Krasinski directing, starring and adapting from David Foster Wallace novel
Adaptations are tricky, and not every sitcom star is Zach Braff. Slot after heated sales lineup weekend
1/19, 3:15p. Eccles
Sex-charged teen romance featuring Emmy Rossum
Supporting cast (Gasteyer, Cumming, Bernhard) from many an indie stinker
1/19, 5:15p, Racquet Club
Don’t Let Me Drown
Latino high schoolers in post-9/11 romantic drama
No stars, depressing premise
1/18, 12:15p, Eccles
An Education
World DrComp
60s coming-of-age romance from scribe Nick Hornby with Sarsgaard, Molina, Thompson and a breakout Mulligan
Subject matter too familiar and trite if not done right
1/18, 3p, Egyptian
Good cast (Hurt, Ejiofor) in South African apartheid thriller
CNN currently chock full of other real-life political thrillers
1/18, 6:16p, Eccles
Five Minutes of Heaven
World DrComp
Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt and director of “Downfall”
Violence in Northern Ireland. Good times.
1/19, 6:30p, Egyptian
World’s Greatest Dad
Robin Williams in another dark comedy from “Sleeping Dogs Lie” writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait
Williams sometimes a selling point, sometimes a liability
1/18, 5:30p, Library
The Greatest
Tearjerker with Brosnan and Sarandon called “as fine a debut as we can present”
Son dies in car accident, for those who didn’t get their fill in “Revolution Road”
1/17, 3:15p, Eccles
Ashley Judd sinks her teeth into bipolar role
Mental illness, depression… Lifetime movie?
1/16, 8:45, Library
Straight best buds link for gay porn; getting great buzz
Will need great buzz to overcome no stars, and a premise not for the squeamish
1/16, 12:15p, Eccles
In The Loop
James Gandolfini in satire of war and politics could be a sleeper hit
Small, filled with unknown Brits
1/19, 11:15a, Yarrow
The Killing Room
Psychological thriller with compelling premise and solid indie cast
Possibly just a pretentious “Saw”
1/16, 11:30a, Prospector
Mary & Max
Opening Night
Quirky Aussie claymation from Oscar-winning director good enough to attract Hoffman and Collette
Too quirky for many at the opening night screening, garnering mixed to negative reactions
1/15, 6p, Eccles
The Messenger
Talented scribe Oren Moverman’s directing debut
Another Iraq war drama; Foster, Harrelson have spotty track records
1/19, 9:30p, Eccles
The Missing Person
Contemporary film noir with welcome return of Amy Ryan and breakout star Michael Shannon
Too arty for its own good?
1/16, 6p. Library
Harried-mom comedy with Thurman, Edwards, Driver
Urban anxiety can make for anxious audiences
1/21, 9:30p, Eccles
Mystery Team
Potential sleeper with foul-mouthed teens; could hit right chord…
…or extremely wrong one. Online trailer looks iffy; no-name cast
1/17, 11:30p, Library
Paper Heart
Two words: Michael Cera. Possibly offbeat hit
Muted response to screener making rounds
1/17, 8p, Racquet Club
Peter & Vandy
Some good buzz behind Manhattan romance with Sundance “Teeth” award-winner Weixler
Stage adaptations risk being stagey; Star Ritter must live down last year’s “Good Dick”
1/19, 8p, Racquet Club
“In Treatment” has proven the appeal of therapy dramas
Spacey’s star power has shrunk; Hollywood inside baseball?
1/18, 11:15a, Yarrow
Toe To Toe
Complicated relationship between two female high school teammates; interracial issues a hot topic
Virtually all unknown cast; tough sell
1/16, 3:15p, Eccles
The Vicious Kind
Tough portrait of emotionally damaged father
See “Pros”
1/17, 8:30p, Library
The Winning Season
Female “Bad News Bears” centering on high school basketball team
Sam Rockwell films sell big at Sundance, buthaven’t performed
1/19, 8:30p, Library
Push: Based on the
novel by Sapphire
Audacious portrait of abused girl; vivid performances by Mo’Nique and wacky supporting cast (Mariah Carey, Sherry Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz)
From the man who brought you “Shadowboxer”; could be too over the top
1/16, 8p, Racquet Club
Other Documentaries In Play
Art & Copy
Doc Comp
Ad industry study getting good word of mouth
Risks being too academic
1/16, 5:30p, Prospector
Big River Man
World Doc Comp
Slovenian man’s attempt at record swim could be Michael Phelps meets “Grizzly Man”
Drowned by competition?
1/16, 3:15p, HV4
Good Hair
Doc Comp
If every black hair magazine reader buys a ticket to producer/star Chris Rock’s comic, celeb-filled take on the topic, it’s a hit.
Interest in niche topic could be hair today, gone tomorrow
1/18, 9p, Temple
Passing Strange
Spectrum: Docu Spotlight
Spike Lee filmed this unconventional, Tony-nominated musical, and both names will help sell the project
Must prove worthy of life beyond PBS
1/16, 2:30p, Library
No Impact Man
Spectrum: Docu Spotlight
Family undertakes controversial experiment to live a year with no carbon footprint; could tap “An Inconvenient Truth” audience
Another inconvenient truth: many socially conscious docs have no theatrical impact
1/16, 11:30a, Library
Doc Comp
A New York Times reporter’s valiant attempt to put an African crisis on the map speaks volumes about the state of journalism today
Most political docs have had a tough boxoffice ride
1/16, 9:30P, Temple
The September Issue
Doc Comp
Rare inside look at the alleged inspiration for “The Devil Wear’s Prada,” Vogue’s Anna Wintour
Won’t be in vogue if it’s as cold as its subject
1/16, 6:30p, Rose?
We Live In Public
Doc Comp
Stranger than fiction dot-com boom art experiment from Web entrepreneur
Must rise above Discovery Channel audience interest to sell
1/19, 6p, Temple
The Cove
Doc Comp
Fascination with dolphins may propel sale of this dark tale
Animal Planet shows wade in similar waters
1/18, 3p, Temple
When You’re Strange
Doc Comp
Indie vet Tom DiCillo unveils all-original footage of The Doors
Video sales assured, but will it break on through to theatrical?
1/17, 9p, Temple

Lorem ipsum (Sample Alliance Women of Film Journalists Article)

Thursday, December 11th, 2008
..Alliance of Women Film Journalists
..MCN Reviews

by Adipiscing Elit

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Cras tincidunt felis non mi. Nullam egestas dui quis ante. Morbi lorem neque, tristique at, hendrerit sit amet, adipiscing id, sem. Praesent ultrices sodales urna. Suspendisse vel turpis ac tortor cursus aliquet. Donec eget justo vitae diam volutpat ornare. Morbi aliquet bibendum eros. Nunc posuere ligula vitae purus. Proin a ipsum. Praesent bibendum orci congue augue. Sed justo dui, viverra vitae, malesuada id, venenatis eget, mi. Nulla sit amet metus. Pellentesque sed pede. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Donec semper augue at libero.

Ut venenatis quam. Morbi sed arcu. Pellentesque vel turpis quis ipsum porttitor viverra. Phasellus mollis, lorem eu mollis feugiat, libero diam aliquet justo, tempor gravida velit nulla ac est. Maecenas nec velit vitae risus sagittis ullamcorper. Pellentesque et est eleifend sem condimentum fermentum. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Aenean pellentesque mauris faucibus orci. Praesent id metus. Sed auctor, massa ut convallis imperdiet, nisi nibh condimentum ligula, sed molestie velit dui id leo. Aenean metus ante, faucibus ac, rutrum in, sagittis in, lorem. Mauris congue vulputate eros. Praesent volutpat rhoncus nisl. Nunc sed odio. Aenean et risus. Nam enim lorem, laoreet id, tristique et, varius a, lorem. Suspendisse iaculis tincidunt quam. Etiam nec velit.

Nunc pretium. Phasellus tempor. Proin porttitor dictum velit. Aliquam justo arcu, congue vel, mollis a, adipiscing ornare, arcu. Sed lacinia sem ut neque. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Donec tempus ultricies lectus. Sed malesuada placerat libero. Maecenas tortor. Morbi non tellus a neque cursus blandit. Quisque eget mi ac ipsum dignissim lacinia. Nullam rhoncus tortor nec metus pretium mattis. Aenean tempor semper erat.

Aenean in dolor in pede porta ultrices. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Praesent ullamcorper lobortis quam. Morbi in justo. Vestibulum felis nibh, rutrum in, tristique a, vulputate a, ante. Mauris porttitor, dui a faucibus venenatis, eros ante venenatis pede, ut imperdiet purus ante et elit. Vivamus eros risus, vestibulum quis, auctor id, tempus vitae, sapien. Donec erat. Integer pellentesque sodales felis. Nam pulvinar suscipit sapien. Cras egestas posuere lorem. Nam iaculis tincidunt tortor. Integer mauris. Cras ut elit. Suspendisse tempus porta dui. Vestibulum pellentesque.

Nunc mi lacus, pulvinar a, malesuada eget, pharetra ac, metus. Praesent ultricies interdum odio. Donec pellentesque sapien quis velit. Nulla facilisi. Morbi tincidunt. Ut sit amet enim. Suspendisse sollicitudin lectus ac arcu. Suspendisse convallis urna vel diam. In sed tortor. Nam justo purus, aliquet eu, dictum nec, vulputate at, sem. Pellentesque aliquet congue dolor. Cras nunc ante, condimentum ut, hendrerit nec, laoreet vel, purus.

TEN BURNING QUESTIONS With Sabine El Gemayal (Niloofar)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

A young Lebanese girl begins to discover her potential through education when her father delivers his own lesson in how their society judges a girl’s worth by “trading” her to a local sheik for a parcel of land. However, the title character in Niloofar does not go quietly as the genie has already been let out of this particular bottle.

Sabine El Gemayal’s directorial debut is an assured piece of filmmaking that has as much on its mind as Niloofar does – questioning, dreaming for something better, and refusing to take a well-worn route to the point it is trying to make. What makes El Gemayal’s film soar is that she refuses to demonize the men (as well as the women who serve as their accomplices) even as they do and plan to do their worst. She simply holds them up to the harsh light of day in comparison to those that refuse to accept an unkind fate being handed to them without question.

1 Niloofar’s happiness comes from the books she is learning from and the new world of possibilities that promises her. Those same things directly threaten the tenuous hold the men in her village have on that very same world. Does the film reflect what you see as a tide that continues to rise in the favor of education and the independence of women in that part of the world?

In a way it is an encouragement for girls to seek education and personal freedom but there is still a very long way to education becoming a right.

In Iran, like in Iraq, almost all villages have elementary schools. The difficulty in remote areas is for secondary schools. For instance the small city nearby will have an elementary school for boys and girls. However, this would require the girls to take the bus to school. And that is the problem because girls become exposed to others and their honor might be soiled. So parents who disagree with their teenage daughter pursuing her education are actually acting from a place of wanting to protect their daughter from predators or unforeseen events that would soil their honor and prevent them from getting married. Girls also face the prospect of early marriage and once married their chances for education and independence decreases.

Poverty is the other reason for lack of education; all family members are expected to do what they can to bring home an income – so this means that children are often taken out of school. Girls must do the household chores and look after younger siblings while boys run errands and do odd jobs to earn money. As a result of poverty, education is considered a luxury.

No wonder getting an education is more interesting than house chores!

As a teenager, the forbidden becomes an irresistible desire and girls want to get educated, ask for it and have pleasure just by getting it even if they end up staying home. In the upper class society this happens too in a more subtle way. Girls graduate because education is a sign of wealth but many get married and end up staying at home raising their children. I guess this is why motherhood is valued in a beautiful and respectful way in the Middle East.

As traditional attitudes start to change, fathers will start to see the value of education and will agree to their daughters’ (pursuit of an) education.

2 What are some of the challenges you faced as a woman directing a film in Iran?

The challenge of making a film in Iran came more from being a western woman more than being a woman. Educated women in Iran have powerful and significant job positions. It may not be as easy as a man to get these positions but it is certainly much easier than in other countries such as Saudia Arabia, Afghanistan and so forth. As any first time director, the crew tests the director’s knowledge and limits and once his/her skills are established and respected, the crew dedicates itself to the project and the director. In this case, the fact that I lived in Hollywood gave me an immediate respect that I maintained because I knew what I was doing so they embarked in my journey. I was respectful of the crewmembers’ work and have a respectful way of working so we had a great relationship and the male crewmembers acted like my bodyguards against the villagers who were fascinated and intrusive to have a foreign blonde woman with blue eyes in their rural environment. They were protective as if I was their sister of something in some cases!

The news portrays a negative image of the Muslim world so the Iranian authorities were concerned that a woman foreigner like me might give a negative image of their country where in fact there is no crimes of honor in Persian population. There are some in Kurdish, Balushestan and Arab communities based in Iran. So I had to convince them that the film was a humanistic film and a universal story.

I couldn’t travel alone for location scouts because women cannot get hotel rooms without their husband’s, father’s or male authority figure’s authorization. I was always depending on a man because of that and also because of the language that I didn’t master at first. Although I am familiar with that cultural co-dependency, it was hard for me at times.

3 Describe some of the other gender issues you experienced on the set and how you overcame them to make the film?

The significant gender issue that comes to my mind is directing actors as a female. I don’t think a man in such a country would have been able to get the performance I got from the girl because as a woman, as a mother, I was able to create a special relationship with Mobina and talk about womanly issues. The crew was amazingly open to shoot some scenes that could be uncomfortable for men like the birth scenes. The difficulty lied in working with the girl for her to be natural in theses scenes. A lot of times, I asked to have a closed set so there would be less people and we could be more intimate.

Another gender issue was that men were in one hotel and women in another 45 minutes away. My DP and my first AD stayed in my hotel for three weeks but then it became too difficult for them to not have a social life and be confined in a hotel room so they moved to the men’s hotel. Then I had no creative interaction with them. Most of my interaction was with men so it was difficult for me to be in the women’s hotel. The boy’s acting maybe wasn’t as strong as it might have been, in my opinion, and I partly attribute that to the logistics since I physically was not able to spend time with him to get him more comfortable with his body in front of the camera. When it came time to rehearse with Shahab Hosseini (Uncle Aziz) and Amir Aghai (Sheikh Abbas), I had to go to the men’s hotel. The management was against it so the receptionist asked if I could come only at certain times so he wouldn’t get in trouble. He did that not because of me but because of Shahab Hosseini’s notoriety!
4 What is the best thing about having your film at AFI FEST?

On a personal note, I live up the road and I don’t have to travel. I am a mother of three young children so any traveling arrangement for the film is a challenge emotionally and logistically.

I have been attending the festival for the last 8 years. A film I edited, The Olive Harvest, screened at AFI FEST in 2003. Over the years I find that the festival is getting better and better. It is a festival with a good selection and is well attended by locals. The fact that AFM is at the same time gives a unique opportunity to filmmakers to make industry related connection. In fact, AFI FEST offers fantastic opportunities to filmmakers in that sense through their Connect program.

5 Niloofar’s mother tells her “All you need in life are your hands and your intuition.” You have three children. What would you tell them that would be equivalent to that statement?

Trust yourself. You need to Be to find the answers within you.

6 What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?

You get to a point when you shoot where, because of time or money or any number of reasons, you are forced to cut scenes out that you thought were essential to the story. As you direct the other scenes, you realize that the information has passed and may become redundant. So I would suggest to know in advance the scenes you can compromise before you shoot but don’t say it to anyone whether it’s your AD or your producer because then they would cut the scene out before you even get a chance to think it through. Know your options so when you have to make a decision, you don’t make a hasty one but a well thought out one.

7 Much of the plot mechanics of the film turn on the concept of “honor.” In fact, the sheik that has been promised he would marry Niloofar has a true moment of introspection over the fact that traditionally they place the idea of honor over that of someone’s life. Was there a temptation to go another more “black and white” route with how the men deal with this concept early in conceiving this story?

At that moment, the Sheikh says: “I still don’t know if it’s better to end a life for honor’s sake or live with dishonor”. I believe nothing is black and white in real life. Most people even if they commit this kind of crime go through an emotional turmoil and choose to do what they believe is the right thing in their cultural environment. But there heart might tell them another thing. They are bound by tradition and what is expected of them. I believe most have doubts about such an act at one point or another but they don’t allow themselves to express it. The dominant paradigm is that men are not supposed to be emotional so they act as if they aren’t. I am fascinated by the world of emotions and I wanted to show that every human being regardless of their gender are emotional beings. I didn’t want this film to be a feminist film with no regards to men because in the same way that women’s rights are a constraint, men’s right are as well. They are forced to behave a certain way and grow as unemotional perpetrators of old traditions… In the same way I didn’t want women to be victimized as they often seem to be in the media so I had the mother in the film be a strong headed women who is actually supporting the concept of honor in a more verbal way then her husband who loses his means.

8 If you couldn’t make films, what would be your second career choice?

Humanitarian / charity work out on the field.

9 What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly from Julian Schnabel
I’m not a comedy fan. The last film that made me smile was Les Ch’tits, a French film.

10 Popcorn or candy?



You state that it took 53 days to shoot the film in Iran when it would have only taken 35 days to shoot it in France or the U.S. What’s going on with the concept of time in the Middle East?

The Middle East doesn’t have the same concept of time. They surrender to how the day goes by. It is much healthier from a spiritual standpoint because they go with the flow of life or God’s will, for some. It is embedded in the culture. From a business standpoint it is sometimes unsettling because in the West, Time is Money. In the East, Time is just Time. It is certainly less stressful and more enjoyable.

In regards to the shoot, the crews are smaller and some crewmembers have more than one responsibility. The Gaffer was also the 1st AC and the focus puller. But the main difference is that they don’t really have a production manager or coordinator that focuses on only managing the set. It is the line producer who was also location manager and the first AD who managed it. But because they are busy with their own job responsibility and don’t have a coordinator some essentials are disregarded until it is too late and the set is on hiatus until whatever the need is, is provided or fixed.

NILOOFAR screens at 9:30PM November 1 @ ArcLight 9, and 12:00PM November 3 at ArcLight 8.
Sabine El Gemayal will attend both screenings and will participate in a Q&A afterwards.

Filmmaker’s Corner With Jared and Brandon Drake (Visioneers)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
..AFI Fest Coverage
..MCN Critics Roundup
..MCN Review Vault

The majority of us have had a moment (or possibly several of them) where we confront the possibility that our lives are essentially meaningless. That moment is seized upon by the filmmaking brothers Drake – Jared directs and Brandon writes – in their debut film, Visioneers. Office drone George Washington Winsterhammerman (played knowingly by Zach Galifianakis) and his wife (with an equally vivid, yet lived in performance by Judy Greer) live in a world where 1984 meetsOffice Space. But the Orwell/Mike Judge mashup doesn’t simply coast on bizzaro funny ideas like co-workers casually flipping each other off as a matter-of-fact greeting or having a corporate ladder system where your success is marked by what level “tunt”, you are. They actually have the ambition to challenge us to consider a world where people’s dreams – just the fact that they actually have dreams – could be so unsettling and disconcerting that they would actually explode. Literally.
From the world around us, from wanting to achieve our dream of making movies while being faced with the alternative. We know how it feels to almost explode, just as people stuck in jobs, stressed about the economy, stressed about relationships, stressed about their boss, etc…also know. In many ways, this is a true story. In fact, we often thought about putting that at the beginning of the film.

He shifted, then blew us a kiss and said we could touch his beard, and that about did it. We were sold. He also has a lot going on beneath the surface. You can’t miss it. He can do nothing and still be very interesting and conflicted. But really it was his beard.

She shifted, then blew us a kiss and said we could touch her beard. She’s a very unique person with lots of quirks and a big heart. You can’t do better than Judy for a role like this. She was our number one all along. Unfortunately, we had to shave her beard for the role. She wasn’t happy about that.

Level Seven. Most people don’t even know it exists. It’s kind of like the fourth dimension, and is really hard to explain to normal people.

For the most part. Anybody who has waved good morning to their boss or their co-worker who just can’t avoid smelling like fish every morning — and really didn’t mean good morning — knows where we are coming from.

Grover Cleveland. Cleveland had these really messed up dreams, according to his unofficial biography, of which we have a copy. Cleveland lived in the 19th Century, but dreamed of flying cars where passengers served drinks and had to stand in line to use the bathroom. Visions of the future — much like Zach in the movie.

We would make a movie called Visioneers that would screen at the Arclight on November 1st and 3rd at AFI Fest presented by Audi and everyone would come and cheer it on and some Tunt that doesn’t like it would explode in the back before he has a chance to write a bad review. Then someone would hire us to make another movie, but we would hit our heads and forget all our story ideas. Kind of like the character in that Simpson’s episode who drives around and
bitches about the traffic, only to realize he has nowhere to go.

VISIONEERS screens 9:45PM November 1 @ ArcLight 10 and 12:30PM November 3 @ ArcLight 14. Jared and Brandon Drake will attend both first screenings and participate in a Q&A afterwards.

TEN BURNING QUESTIONS With Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

At one point in Not Quite Hollywood,Mark Hartley’s primer on the history of Australian exploitation films or Oz-ploitation, Quentin Tarantino states that if you grew up watching some of those films that you would believe that there was a desert everywhere and that those deserts were filled with marauding packs of bullies in cars they could never afford just looking for women to rape and guys to beat up.

Whether you know first hand what Tarantino is talking about or whether this is all shiny new information, Hartley’s film is just a flat out fun ride. Soft core films like Australia After Dark matched local box office totals with Jaws, films like Next of Kin, Patrick, Long Weekend, and Mad Max inspired more than a few members of the next wave of filmmakers, and the stories of how those films were made will often leave you astounded that several stunt people didn’t lose their lives in the process. But the proof of Hartley’s convincing “argument” as to the viability of the genre is this: you can not help yourself but make a mental list of film titles to add to your movie library while watching the film. It’s Not Quite Hollywood, but it’s more than entertaining.
1. Why did you feel the 40 year history of Ozploitation films deserved such a thorough and arguably “loving” documentary?

Mark Hartley: It seemed to me that this was really the last bastion of genre cinema in the world that hadn’t been explored in any way. We’ve had fevered examinations of genre films from many other countries – American Grindhouse, English horror, Italian Giallo etc… but “Ozploitation” had never been documented because I don’t think anyone – within or outside of Australia – had ever connected the dots and realized that a wealth of genre films had been made down-under by a select number of prolific individuals (including Brian Trenchard-Smith, Antony I. Ginnane, Richard Franklin and John Lamond).
2. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Greg Mclean, James Wan and Leigh Whannell speak enthusiastically about the influence films like PATRICK, LONG WEEKEND, ROAD GAMES and MAD MAX had on them and their films. Was there someone you spoke to that surprised you with their reaction or even respect for those films?

The thing that I think is really interesting is that in Australia the general public never heard about the success of our genre films because they we’re considered “American Films” and embarrassments to our film culture. We heard about Picnic at Hanging Rockreceiving a standing ovation in New York – but what we weren’t told was that Picnic was screening in one cinema and Trenchard-Smith’s The Man From Hong Kong was screening in the same city on 15 screens! So, it was important in Not Quite Hollywoodto have people like Tarantino inform us that these films found enthusiastic audiences all around the world. It was also important to hear from Whannell, Wan, McLean and Jamie Blanks that these films were inspirational to their generation of Australian filmmakers (maybe more so than our more lauded big screen exports like Picnic at Hanging Rockand Breaker Morant).
3. What is the best thing about having your film at AFI FEST?

It will be great to introduce Hollywood to group of maverick gonzo antipodean filmmakers who followed their insane instincts, broke every rule in the book (even though at the time there was no book – or no rules!) to get their own style of high-energy (and high-risk) entertainment on the big screen. These guys are the film industry’s best- kept secret and it’s time to acknowledge their undeniable passion for film, gung-ho approach and startling results. But, is the AFI FEST audience ready for 100 minutes of non-stop cinematic money shots? I believe so.
4. In your opinion, what is the most singular contribution Australia has made to the cinematic art form: The vomit shot or the nuns on fire shot?

I think it’s the mouse in the werewolf fetus suit. To understand what I’m talking about, people will have to see the film.
5. Let’s pretend you’re directing the movie about a comatose guy with evil telekinesis powers. Are his eyes open or closed while he controls objects in his vegetative state?

Screenwriter Everett DeRoche and Director Richard Franklin decided that they should be open when they made Patrick (1978) – the Italians obviously agreed when they made their own unofficial spaghetti sequel, Patrick is Still Alive (1980) – so who am I to argue with visionaries of their caliber!
6. Would you agree that a young Nicole Kidman “isn’t werewolf enough?”

I think the key word here is “young”. Our Nic (as Aussies affectionately like to call her) is so versatile now that she’s added rubber noses to her repertoire that I’m sure she could play a werewolf in her sleep (but possibly quite easier, a Vampire!).
7. What should every director remember to do before it’s too late?

Set him/herself on fire to prove to your lead actor that he/she should do the same for the sake of your film… and cast Ozploitation’s greatest heavy, Roger Ward, in your film.
8. Of the various legends of Oz-ploitation you spoke to (John Lamond, Anthony I. Ginnane, Brian Trenchard-Smith, etc.) Who was the most entertaining interview for you personally?

To be honest, all of the interviewees were entertaining. Certainly the most emotional interview I conducted was with director Richard Franklin (Patrick, Roadgames). I first met Richard soon after he directed Psycho II. I was in my early teens and I invited him to give a talk at my high school. I stayed in touch and we became friends. Richard was incredibly supportive during the 10-year period it took to get Not Quite Hollywoodfinanced. Just after we finally raised our money he told me that he had cancer. He said that he would not live to see my film – but he would not let me down. True to his word, Richard allowed us to interview him. He was paralyzed from the waist down and in excruciating pain, but he put on a brave face and struggled through his final on-camera interview. Sadly Richard passed away less than three weeks later. It was at this point I realized that Not Quite Hollywood was more than a rag tag bunch of maverick filmmakers telling funny anecdotes – it was going to be the final word on this extraordinary period of filmmaking in Australia told by the guys (and girls) who were there in the trenches. Not Quite Hollywood is fondly dedicated to Richard.
9. Tarantino says that, “No one shoots a car the way Aussies do.” Why would you agree with that statement?

If you look at the car chase films that were coming out of Hollywood at the time of MAD MAX and MIDNITE SPARES they were slapstick demolition derby pictures like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and THE CANNONBALL RUN. The Australian car chase films certainly were more dynamic – tougher, grittier and I imagine a helluva lot more dangerous in their derring-do stunt work. The cars were shot wide angle with the camera close to the ground and with the lens inches away from the bumper. Throw in a hostile environment like the outback and you have an iconic shot that Australian cinema can proudly claim as it’s own.
10. Popcorn or candy?

Hot dogs.
11. Since you are now as much of an authority of Ozploitation as anyone after completing the film: Name your five favorite films in that genre and explain why.

Asia’s Steve McQueen, Jimmy Wang Yu, and Australia’s very own James Bond,George Lazenby, go head to head in director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s down-under kung fu classic. I dare any audience to find a car chase with more camera rigs or a martial arts sequence with more kicks to the groin!

A bickering couple on vacation discover what happens when you disrespect the Australian bush in this taut, atmospheric “mother nature goes ape-shit” thriller from prolific Ozploitation scribe Everett DeRoche and journeyman director Colin Eggleston.

MAD MAX (1979)
Doctor turned amateur filmmaker, George Miller, battled a non-existent budget and a weary non-believing crew on the outskirts of Melbourne to bring his post apocalyptic revenge thriller to the drive-in screen. On release, cars quickly became stars – and in my humble opinion, the level and style of automobile action featured in MAD MAX has never been equaled.

Rear Window set in a truck! US imports Stacy Keach and Jamie-Lee Curtis play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer across the desolate Nullarbor desert in this smart, suspenseful and finely crafted thriller from director Richard Franklin (affectionately dubbed by Curtis “Australia’s Alfred Hitchcock”).

What started out as a serious (but action-packed) Orwellian cautionary tale was pushed into high-camp overdrive by director Brian Trenchard-Smith and producer Antony I. Ginnane when a large chunk of change vanished from the financing a week before shooting. “Stunts are expensive – but blood is cheap” – so Turkey Shoot transformed into a blood and thunder splatter spectacle that 25+ years later still has to be seen to be believed.
Not Quite Hollywood screens at 7:10PM November 1 @ ArcLight 14
Mark Hartley will attend the screening and will participate in a Q&A afterwards.

AFI Movie Reviews

Friday, October 31st, 2008
Paul Newman brought a new, casual intelligence to male stardom in the 1950s and ’60s, a sensitive tricksterism versus Brando’s and Dean’s wounded inarticulation; David Thomson wrote that Newman “seems to me an uneasy, self-regarding personality, as if handsomeness had left him guilty.” As Fast Eddie, the talented pool player who lacks the self-esteem, focus and drive to win, Newman’s performance in THE HUSTLER (1961) was his first major critical and popular breakthrough. (It was such an iconic role for the enduring star that he would win his first and only Best Actor Oscar for playing Eddie again in the film’s (AFI no no) 1986 sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY.) Frequenting dimly lit New York pool halls, captured in moody black-and-white by European cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) and rhythmically edited by Dede Allen (BONNIE AND CLYDE), the film is an absorbing psychological drama that effectively subordinates plot to character exploration. In addition to Newman, the film boasts several other remarkable performances, including the steely George C. Scott as a pitiless gambler and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, Eddie’s ultimate adversary; both actors were nominated for Oscars for their memorable contributions.

Fox has struck a new print of the film for this screening.

(USA, 1961, 134 mins)
Screenwriter(s) : Sydney Carroll, Robert Rossen
Directed By: Robert Rossen
Cast: Paul Newman, Jacki Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick,
Murray Hamilton, Michael Constantine
Producer: Robert Rossen
Director of Photography: Eugen Schuftan
Editor: Dede Allen
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Production Design: Harry Horner

Charlton Heston may be fondly remembered for his larger-than-life personifications of conquering heroes, but in a few striking examples, such as Sam Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE (1965) and Orson Welles’s TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)—both of which were severely edited against their directors’ wishes, defended by Heston and partially restored in recent years—he proved he was perfectly willing to tackle material that questioned the limits of power. After the wide acclaim of his second feature, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962), Peckinpah envisioned MAJOR DUNDEE as an ambiguous morality play with equal parts John Ford and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). A Union officer demoted as a prison warden in New Mexico rallies together Confederate prisoners to pursue a marauding Apache in Mexico. With its themes of loyalty, risk and obsession, it seems like a practice run for issues that would preoccupy the director of THE WILD BUNCH (1969) for years to come, and Heston’s iron screen persona deliciously intensifies the film’s ambiguities. After Peckinpah went over budget and was fired, producers cut 20 minutes from the film, and distributors cut another 14. This partial restoration includes 11 minutes unseen for decades and a new score by Christopher Caliendo that’s closer to the filmmaker’s intentions.

(USA, 1965, 134 mins) 35mm
Screenwriter(s) : Harry Julian Fink Jr., Sam Peckinpah, Oscar Saul
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, James Coburn, Michael Anderson Jr., Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens
Producer: Jerry Bresler
Director of Photography: Sam Leavitt
Editors: William A Lyon, Don Starling, Howard Kunin

Famously holding the record for the most number of Oscar nominations (nine) that didn’t include Best Picture, Sydney Pollack’s 1969 adaptation of a Depression-era Horace McCoy novel packs a timely punch today in the midst of the financial industry crisis. Jane Fonda plays Gloria, a bitter Dust Bowl evacuee and aspiring actress who enrolls in a Los Angeles dance marathon hoping for fame and fortune. Dance marathons began in the Roaring Twenties but by the time of the Depression attracted masses of unemployed workers and greedy promoters who capitalized on their contestants’ mental and physical exhaustion; marathons could last weeks or months, offering a kind of “reality entertainment” with strict rules that narrowed the survivors. Marathons were symbols of desperate times and a system that treated people like animals. “There can only be one winner, folks,” says one promoter. “But isn’t that the American way?” In films like TOOTSIE (1982) and OUT OF AFRICA (1985), Pollack established a reputation for romanticism, but this earlier effort offers a hard-edged allegory. He claustrophobically traps the viewer within the dance hall, achieving a heightened sense of terror with long tracking shots and handheld cameras.

(USA, 1969, 125 mins) 35mm
Screenwriter(s) : James Poe, Robert Thompson, Horace McCoy
Directed By: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Gig Young, Red Buttons, Bruce Dern
Producers: Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff, Sydney Pollack, John Green
Executive Producer: Theodore B Sills
Director of Photography: Philip Lathrop
Editor: Frederic Steinkamp

Shorts … and to the Point: Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre (Passages)

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Marie-Josee’s short animated film,Passages begins like an etch-a-sketch primer on the beauty and awe of bringing a new life into the world. Unfortunately, just as everyone who has gone through the experience will tell you – over and over and over again – that’s just the beginning. And for Marie-Josee, thanks to what may be the most thorough collection of incompetent people gathered under one roof to care for the ill and infirm – it nearly became the end for her child. But the film is not simply an indictment on one particular hospital or one woman’s harrowing nightmare of a birthing experience gone horribly wrong. It manages to aim for and hit a trickier target – the wonder and fear, then fortitude and fighting spirit of a new mother and her newborn child.
The film begins as an ode to the wonders of being pregnant and then descends into something of a cautionary tale. Did you originally have an idea to “illustrate” your experience of being pregnant with your daughter as an artistic exercise or were you inspired to make the film after your terrible experience with the St. Luc Hospital?

Saint-Pierre: Yes, I started to work on the film when I was pregnant with Fiona and I wanted to make an animation on motherhood and how it changes your life to have a baby.

Then, when I almost lost my little angel, I could not pass up this opportunity and make a film about it. I am lucky that I am a filmmaker and I have to the tools (filmmaking) to express myself and communicate my story. I am aware I am not the only mother who experienced such birthing difficulties and a brush with an incompetent health care system. This film is for my daughter and all of those woman and their babies that have experienced similar nightmare scenarios.
The story of your experience is told largely through animation with the insertion of the images of your baby or yourself after her birth. Why did you choose not to animate those particular images?

I feel animated documentary is a genre of filmmaking that allows you to tell a story from a different angle. It truly recognizes that the information is manipulated and told through the director’s eyes. Those personal images, to me, give a real feel to the story and a place a human face on it. I also did not want to share real images of our life before a certain point in the film where the audience would really engage and care for us. I have to tell you I do not have a lot of images of us in the hospital because we were so out of it. I wanted to share the photos with the audience in a way that would touch them. Those photos are very special to me and they are a glimpse into my real life. That is why there are only animated lines over them.
Which is worse – Automaton nurses, clown residents or wolf doctors?

All of the above. Making this film has been a battle with the system in the sense that the Error and Omission Insurance was really hard to get. At the end of the animation process, no one would insure the film and wanted me to modify about half of it. My lawyer, Zenaide Lussier did an amazing job at convincing the right people to let me do this film the way it had to be done. No one could be identified or recognized. But at least the institution, the St. Luc Hospital, can be named.

What is worse? An overworked nurse that follows orders and does not really want to be there? A resident who is chewing gum constantly, has no respect for you and sees you as a scientific experiment? Or an indifferent doctor that thinks you are complaining for nothing, that you are young and healthy, and that your baby and you can take (the pain)? I let the audience decide what is worse but to me, one thing is sure, the three of them together are a recipe for disaster.

When things looked their worse, you prayed to your deceased grandmothers to intervene and save the life of your child. Why not ask your grandfathers as well? You didn’t think they could be bothered? You didn’t think they’d be available to lend a hand and help out?

This is strictly personal. I have always prayed to my grandmothers for personal things in my life. I truly believe they saved our lives. This is the first segment that was animated for the film as a thank you to them. This has nothing to do with a negative feminist point of view. To be honest, I ask my grandfathers for help with my filmmaking career and so far they have not let me down at watching over me with Passages and my first professional short film, McLaren’s Negatives.

It seems absurd that the only response you could get (really) was a recommendation to simply not have a baby in July because that’s when most of the doctors are on vacation. Did you ever receive any type of payment or apology from the St. Luc Hospital for their incompetence?

NO!!! I never was offered an apology, any type of payment or any form of follow up for my daughter. It seems we are just numbers and all they want is to get you out of the door ASAP. But to be honest, the only thing that really matters to me is that my daughter Fiona is alive. It is hard to look at her and think I almost lost her.

Yes, this is absurd. This is why I made this film. I could not tell you how angry I was to speak with such an indifferent clerk in charge of investigations at this hospital. But honestly, this is a David and Goliath scenario and I am not able to confront this machine. I am a woman whose only weapon is filmmaking.

What will happen in the feature-length sequel to Passages? Twins? And natural child-birth?

I am in Japan right now for a three-month artist residency in Sapporo, making a short animated film on a Japanese calligrapher named Gazambo Higuchi. I already had my own personal sequel to Fiona with a second daughter, Chloe, who was born in March 2008. Of course, (I gave birth) at a different hospital and, believe it or not, she came out in less then five minutes with three pushes. And yes, there is a feature-length sequel to Passages as I am writing an animated documentary film called Femelles(Females) that documents women in their 30s, from the X generation, who have babies – and how this changes their lives.

PASSAGES screens as part of SHORTS PROGRAM TWO-ADULTS ONLY CARTOON SHOW 3:15PM November 4 @ ArcLight 13 and 9:45PM November 5 @ ArcLight 13.

Shorts… and to the Point: Joey Garfield (Ex-Bully)

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Joey Garfield’s comedy short Ex-Bully is as quick on its feet as anyone who had to navigate and negotiate their way through school around the bigger kids and bullies just to survive to the next grade. It’s funny, but better yet – it’s shared experience funny. Ex-Bully works because the majority of us did have to walk a minefield of mean-spirited doofuses (or is the plural, doofi?) and dullards that populated our youth. And if we admitted it to ourselves, we all likely would have a personal hit list of people from our school years that not-so-arguably deserve some payback. And not all of us can be Bill Gates, if you know what I mean…
What inspired EX-BULLY?

I was bullied when I was young and some of the scenes in the film are true events like the Twister board scene. That incident has been on heavy rotation in the back of my mind since I was little. Now I have a chance to get it out of there and maybe connect with other folks.

Is your version of Fight Club for grown up nerds?

I’m not going to give away anymore than you just did by mentioning that …nerd.

But there is an element to sites like Facebook and My Space that puts a positive/happy spin on getting in touch with people from our past. I think there also exists a darker side to that notion.

Seriously though, some kid’s cassette tape did make for awesome dental floss during the 80s, right?

Yeah, mix tapes work the best like Slow Jamz or Poppin’ Fresh Mix. Cassettes like Howard Jones or the St.Elmo’s Fire soundtrack are too soft and not effective. The stylist brought J.Geils Band’sFreeze Frame, but that fortunately ended up in my car where it hasn’t left.

In the extended cut, does ‘Byron’ actually get to deliver a beatdown?

My producer Jon Singer would like to take this moment to express the following “The only beat down Byron gets is from the producer because he busted the door of the Lincoln Towncar by jumping through the window.”

Aaron Alexuk gets an apology from you during the acknowledgments. Was it for something that happened during filming or was it a wedgie you perpetrated on him in junior high?

I messed with his mental game, which I think is worse. He was a kid who, if you pushed the right buttons, would fly off his handle and I knew that and used that against him…and what was lamer is that I saw other kids do it to him so that’s why I did it…how lame is that? By high school we were cool but that incident kept popping up in my mind as I made the film so…

What will happen in the feature-length sequel to Ex-Bully?

Funny you asked that because we have been developing the story a bit. They get better at getting back that’s for sure. I got a talented cast of goofballs, a 1976 Lincoln Towncar, and today’s technology so I’m good to go. The bully list is long and we know how to find them.
EX-BULLY screens as part of SHORTS PROGRAM FOUR – AMUSE BOUCHE 9:50PM November 6 @ ArcLight 10 and 12:30PM November 7 @ ArcLight 10.

Joey Garfield will be attending both screenings and will participate in the Q&A afterwards.

Actor’s Corner Vinessa Shaw (Two Lovers)

Monday, October 27th, 2008

You have seen her opposite Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut and Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda. She has done admirable time in both Westerns (3:10 to Yuma) and Horror (The Hills Have Eyes). And while she may not have immediate name recognition to the average filmgoer, Vinessa Shaw does have name recognition to people with names like Woody Allen, James Mangold, Kathryn Bigalow and (the late) Stanley Kubrick. James Gray joins that grateful group of directors having utilized Shaw’s talents in Two Lovers. In the film, she plays the third member in a love triangle that includesJoaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. While they may have the more showy sides in the tormented romance triad, Shaw once again delivers a spot on performance as the proverbial beautiful forest that Phoenix’s character can’t see for the trees.
How did you become part of Two Lovers – through an audition or were you approached outright for the role? What drew you to want to play this particular character?

I was actually very fortunate with the whole casting process for the film. The way James hired me was not in a typical Hollywood fashion. Apparently, he had spoken with the producer, Donna Giolotti about finding a young Claudia Cardinale-type for the role of Sandra. I think it was a week or so later and Donna told James she found the young Claudia in 3:10 to Yuma. He then went to the premiere of the film and within a few days I had read his amazing script, met him at a nearby pizza place and said I would be honored to do this film. This scenario rarely happens and I couldn’t believe it happened to me.

What drew me to Sandra was her purity and honesty. I especially liked how she relates with ‘Leonard’. She had a wonderful combination of being shy, yet direct. She is upfront with how she feels about him without being too pushy. Amazingly, she never judges him when he’s being so clearly unavailable. She’s even-tempered, very compassionate, and kinda awkward too!
Did you have any awkward experiences getting fixed up on dates from your past that you could draw on for your initial scenes with Joaquin Phoenix?

Unfortunately, I’ve only had bad dates, not awkward ones. I never really liked nor understood the idea of dating. Either you like somebody or you don’t. Dating itself is awkward
What is it about films you do that are set in New York (Two Lovers, Melinda and Melinda, Eyes Wide Shut) that make it necessary for your hair to go darker?

Ha! Ha! Well, actually, my hair was blonde in Eyes Wide Shut! For Melinda and Melinda, Stacy was supposed to be sexy and mysterious which makes it funnier when she flips out in the end. It was all about the character not being quite who she seems. For Two Lovers, I think James wanted Sandra to be less glamorous, simpler, and an obvious contrast to Michelle.

This was not only reflective in her hair color, but also in her make-up and clothes. Sandra is just a more earthy and grounded character, which in essence matches her look.
To date, you seem to be putting together a somewhat eclectic filmography spanning all genres and choosing roles that seem to place a considered distance between the character in your latest film and the character you played in the film prior. How much forethought and strategy has gone into those choices?

All I really can do is be the kind of actress that I want to be. There’s no stability in the film business, so no one can ever truly strategize. I like challenging myself. I want to play characters who have something to say about humanity and can actually teach me something in the end. I choose the characters I play without judgment. I don’t care where she comes from or if she’s evil or good. Just as long she grows and I grow by the end of the film. I think because of that, the roles I end up playing are from all different genres and all walks of life.
Your mother was and is an actress who has been successful and worked consistently through the years. What was the key lesson she taught you about navigating your way through the industry?

She taught me that acting is what you do; not who you are. I didn’t know what she truly meant by that until I rode the ups and downs of this business. I think it’s so easy to get confused with work being your identity.

It’s important to have a deeper sense of self and understanding of life so that you don’t get swept up by the disappointments nor the successes. Because I was twelve when she first told me this I don’t think I possibly could’ve understood. I didn’t have experience as an actor yet. I think now I see how right she was.
Be honest here. In the real world – who is Joaquin going to choose? You or Gwyneth?

Gwyneth, of course!!
Two Lovers screens 7:00PM November 1 @ ArcLight 10 and 3:30PM November 6 @ ArcLight 10. Vinessa Shaw will attend the first screening and participate in a Q&A afterwards.

Part Ten: 46… 47… 48… -30-

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

August 2, 1982

Redoing Nick’s side of the conversation on the phone to Elaine.

Walter’s lack of interest in certain kinds of inferiority, leads him to have characters repeat themselves.  Of course in the correctly woven fabric repetition can be sublime.

Walter friendlier again today.

When he lets an actor buddy come on for an extra days pay I tell him how nice a thing that was of him to do.

“I’m a nice guy” he says “despite what you think.”

“I never thought you were not a nice guy” I  practically scream.

“You’re sure you haven’t had enough of this abuse.”  He wonders

“It’s a question of whether you want someone around like me who inspires this much abuse.”

It’s the first day of the last week on studio sets.

We start out at the interior of Torchy’s which is now referred to as “The Country Western Bar.”

The set gets noisy as several other quick things have to be picked up.  Besides redoing Nick on the phone, there’s a brief scene of Eddie bidding Candy, the girl he met at Vroman’s, goodbye after spending the night with her.

Sozna asking for quiet: “Jokes later folks, News at eleven.”

We’re sitting waiting for them to finish lighting, Walter, Joel, and I.

A girl passes by and Joel mutters “She’s built like a glass shithouse.”

“It’s a brick shit house Joel” says Walter…

I ask Walter how it’s going.

“It’s going slow, we’re grinding,” he replies, then after a pause, “It always goes slow…anything worth doing is slow.  I hate movies.  How did I get into this.  It’s so slow,”  this all said in a  low comic pell mell rush as if  a wave were rolling over his head.

An actor named Peter-something who Walter will use as the bartender in the country western bar scene, comes to hang around the set a day before he works.

Peter tells of working with Orson Welles and can’t resist trying to imitate him.  He goes on to talk of his own past as a sloppy drunk.

“That was a different me,” he murmurs with quiet insistence.

“The old Peter,” Walter says, both supportively and maintaining a soupcon of doubt that there are any different selves or variegated persons within the self.

“I was a sloppy drunk, and some people didn’t care for me and I didn’t even know it, but then I was too drunk to see.”

Walter nods in agreement.

“Some of us were there, Peter,” Walter comments mildly, “We remember this.”

Overhearing Larry Gordon barking over the phone… “…It’s reached the point of stupidity…” He’s being kept on hold on a call to Sherry Lansing, who is a production executive over at Fox:  “Can’t get Sherry Lansing on the phone?  What, has she only got one line?”

August 4 , 1982

Eddie’s moment in the Country Western Bar scene.  This was the one thing he was excited about getting a chance to play the first day I met him.

Walter watches Eddie roust the rednecks at the bar.  He turns to Joel at the end and says of this “money” scene, simply, “I’m rich.”

Much of Eddie’s improvs are wonderful here.

Walter really warm today.  He senses that the strategy of waiting and keeping this scene till the end of the shoot when Eddie is a million times more confident has paid off.

“I gotta get busy and get this scene done so this kid can jack up his price.”

We go over to the editing room and see the scene between Eddie and the girl cut together.  He’s not satisfied.  I beg him not to think of cutting it.

He points to the boxes of film that sit over Freeman’s shoulder.

“What you don’t understand is, it’s not a theoretical decision. By the time the decision is made, if the scenes are out, you will want them out.  You don’t really make the film back on the set, you make it in here with those hundred or so white boxes. The film is in there in those boxes somewhere, and its gotta be what they tell ya it is.”

August 6 , 1982

(GROSS NOTE: Poltergeist And E.T. Have Dominated The Summer Box Office So At Times Doing A Police Thriller Has Seemed Irrelevant.)

Walter on Speilberg:  “Speilberg likes making films about kids and aliens, and ghosts, and I like to make ’em about men.  He’s probably the smart one.  Audiences seem to agree with him.”

“Victor makes films where boys are boys and men are boys.”

Walter and Joel both enthuse, “I love that we call him Victor.”

Ric Waite pretends doing a redneck teasing Debbie Love.

Last night after dailies  Walter sighs… “I’m done in boys.”

“Only half an hour more” Joel says.

Walter says to me “You’re supposed to stay watch these and learn.”

I say to Walter “I need a ride home more.”

Joel remarks, “He doesn’t want to learn what he learns from walking all the way home.”

Walter and I stop off and have a drink at the Improv.

August 8 , 1982

Watched on the Kem, bits of Vromans and the punchout in the alley between Nick and Eddie.

Later in the day, drinks with Eddie, Baird, Donald, Bairds friends, Baird’s wife at Eddie’s palatial estate.  It’s only with a bit of a shock that I realize how rich Eddie Murphy is when the kid’s only like twenty one or something.  It’s just not a bad life being a twenty one year old t.v. and movie star.

August 10, 1982

History is nothing but a dialogue with special cases.

Special cases reveal the nature of norms. Or perhaps norms are illusory and there exist only more and less emphatic instances of special cases.

August 12, 1982

Fourth night shooting in Chinatown.  Watching Nick attack Margot Rose on her way up to her place.  And then all the mechanics of finally killing Ganz.

Larry Gordon brings a lot of chinese food back for the crew to snack on after eating lunch at one of these places with Joel.  As typical, Joel’s eating habits come in for drollery.  There’s Larry’s eating to avoid a heart attack and Joel, from Larry’s point of view, overeating.

“The guy running never saw a check that big in the history of the restaurant…he just couldn’t get a load of Blutto over there…he was always coming over to us, going ‘Maw?  Maw?”

Later watching all the moves of Remar going around corners gunning for Nick and Eddie:  “Always remember.  You must improvise.”

At the beginning of the night before shooting starts, Walter presents me with a page of notes he’s prepared for a new script.  It will be the first in a series of adventures of an action hero he’s had it in his mind to create for a long time.  The character’s name is Tom Cody.  And Walter has it in his head to create a franchise about him…introducing him as The Stranger.

He asks me if I’m interested in writing the script with him…I ask him is the Pope Catholic?  Larry and Joel would be along on this ride.  Suits me.


Sexuality is that violence, and the escape from it, the force more powerful than violence–that violence is suppressive, rejecting yet produces fragments breaks things up.  The force that rejects violence, the force that overcomes violence, the force that transcends violence.

“You mustn’t stop.”  Mrs. Freud helping Siggie, a moving scene.  No matter unpleasant the discoveries you are making are you have to continue trying to make them.

As if the “whole way” was simple and straight forward.  As if only straight forward effort was required–as if the quantity of effort was identical with its result.

“The time comes when one must give up all ones fathers and stand alone.”

This is the key line of Freud’s played brilliantly byMontgomery Clift, living with the fear of his discoveries is forced by his discovery of the oedipal climax, to say.  I weep.  I think of my own reluctance to elude or escape or reject my own father, who I love so much.

You can see in this scene and throughout , traces of Sartre’s conceptions of authenticity and bad faith, in the drama of Freud’s evolution, he’s the person who did the first draft of the screenplay.



Stand alone in accepting something as well as rejecting something.

It gets later and later.  The time for my trip grows later and later.  The time to see these people.

When you know yourself.  The notion that outside forces “beyond our control” are forces within us–is ultimately a service to vanity rather than a rebuke to it.  Whatever widens our power over that which had hitherto been beyond control makes us greater.  The ego conserving Freud.

The other Freud is the student of our dispersal, the analyst of our self-misinterpretation, the way we misconstrue our identity,  the prophet of the fact that we can never be with ourselves…the story of Freud is the story of his differentness from his father-mentors and his children–patients…his “standing alone” is his non-identity with these groups, his being-himself is his not-being, someone to other.

August 18 , 1982

The last night–around twelve shooting days later than expected. Or originally scheduled.

The movie has had good luck throughout and continues too — dawn shot done at dawn, gets lucky darkness lasting long enough for six takes.  The freeway lights go on when needed

Joel responding to inquiries from me a  in a manner a little more hostile than usual: “Get outta the business — just go into another profession.”

The essence of Joel, is that he remains, at all times and all costs unconscious of his own aggression.

My friend  Corrine, who originally introduced me to Walter about seven months ago,  sends a “cookiegram” to the set, a fabulous giant cake–cookie, with Walter, Nick, Eddie, Larry, Joel and me depicted.  Corrine’s conception of the movie gives me a prominent place in it.  You know.  From her mouth to God’s ear.

Now we go to our last night:  The “tag” is what we’re shooting…Nick and Eddie coming away from the girl’s apartment and then discussing what they’re going to do with the money.

At lunch, the cast and crew picture.  I ask Larry Gordon how everything’s going.  He gives his stern indifferent look, “Everything’s normal.”

Katzenberg shows up to shake Walter, Nick and Eddie’s hand. Suddenly everyone wants to be Eddie’s friend.  That whole situation has turned around totally.  I ask Katzenberg what Paramount has coming up. He mentions An Officer and a Gentlemanwith Richard Gere which he describes as a coming of age story, “I’m very proud of it.”

As we’re preparing to do some of the last shots, I sit with Walter.

I comment on the fact that the studio is starting to seem more confident about the film.  That of course doesn’t reassure him in the slightest:

“I worry that this thing is gonna be called ‘two guys in search of a story.’  I know that barely worries you at all.”  Then he sighs.  “Six movies…it takes a lot out of ya.”

Sometimes during in this process Walter was irritated at me as at someone there to take things out on.  Sometimes he simply ignored me, because he was busy, tired or had more important things to do than explain whatever moves he was making to me.  Then he sometimes, out of left field, wanted to announce conviction about a scene.  There were still other times when he wanted, from me, a sort of gestalt view.  The whole of how I looked at things, since I had the luxury of not having to be on the line to make choices every six seconds.  Walter would, under these circumstances, lose interest in his superiority to me in movie politics or the detail of filmmaking and ask questions of a speculative kind — the arena in which we were more equals.  “Whaddya think” he would ask, and I wold start shooting my mouth off which is basically what I’m good at.

Of course we often talked about whichever girls he found attractive on the set, wondering aloud if I did as well.  We had talks about girls that were retrospective, speculative and competitive.

August 19 , 1982

People ask if this is my first film.

I explain it isn’t really “mine” — it’s been in development with Walter  in form or another since l973, the draft he did with Roger, was finished in l976…and that I was hired only three weeks prior to production commencing.

Will it be my first credit they ask?  I don’t even know if I’ll get credit.  The Writers Guild credit process is so screwed.  I’ve been gypped out of credit on a number of things I worked on that got made where I was sure I deserved it…the whole credit deal for rewriting scripts is just completely illogical.

Walter and I amidst our discussions of work on The Stranger, talked about credit.  He suggested, we identify ourselves as a writing team, Walter Hill & Larry Gross, that that would increase my chances of getting credit.

It was exceptionally generous of him.  As a first writer his sole credit was a lock…but by putting himself with me, he was risking his own position in the credits…this is all too arcane and weird to explain but I composed this letter a few nights ago to the Writer’s Guild.

This was the first draft of a letter I wrote to the Writer’s Guild asking for credit on the movie:

To Whom It May Concern:
I worked on the script of this film everyday from About April 25 through postproduction…it is hard to disentangle my contribution to the script from that of Walter Hill, since he revised, rewrote, and added to and improved everything I did.  Some of what he did, has become half mine.   Everything of mine is at least half his.  If any other writer other than Walter gets credit than I deserve to as well.  That’s a fact but I know facts never enter into these deliberation.

(GROSS NOTE: Eventually The Writer’s Guild Assigned Screenplay Credit To
Walter Hill, Roger Spottiswoode. Myself And Stephen De Souza.

In December Of 1982, The Film Opened To Generally Favorable Reviews And Decent Business That Hung On Through A Significant Part Of The Next Year. The Film Was Perceived To Be A Hit

In February Of 1983 Universal Bought The Script That Walter And I Had Begun In August, Now Entitled Streets Of Fire. With Joel And Larry We Were In Production By March Of 1983.
But That, As They Say, Is Another Story)

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published October 2, 2008

Toronto International Film Festival: The Fact Sheet

Monday, September 15th, 2008

(Numbers in parenthesis are last year’s statistics)

312 Films: Features – 249; Shorts – 63 (352 Total: Features – 261; Shorts – 91)

237 Features that are world, international, or North American premieres: 116, 29, and 92 respectively (234: 101 world; 25 international; 108 North American)

75% Feature-length films that are world, international, or North American premieres (85%)

4209 Total Submissions: International –3445, Canadian – 764 (4156: International – 3415, Canadian – 741)

64 Countries (55)

61 First Features (71)

36 Screens Used (29)

17 Programmes (17)

20,693 Minutes of Film (29,764)

262′ Longest Film: (540’)

3′ Shortest Film: (2’)

29 Canadian features, including co-productions (41)

38 Canadian shorts, including co-productions (54)

18 Canadian features making their world premiere, including co-productions (22)

7 Installations mounted in venues across the city as part of Future Projections

340,000+ Admissions annually, both public and industry.

Bell Lightbox
Currently under construction in downtown Toronto, Bell Lightbox is soon to be the world’s leading destination for film lovers. This major new cultural institution on the Canadian and international landscape will be structured around five state-of-the-art cinemas celebrating film from around the world. Bell Lightbox programming will give context to films through innovative cross-media exhibitions, lectures, and film-related learning opportunities for all ages. Designed by innovative architecture firm KPMB, Bell Lightbox’s fluid design encourages exploration, movement and play within its soaring atriums.

The campaign to build Bell Lightbox is generously supported by founding sponsor Bell. The Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario each have contributed $25 million to realize Bell Lightbox. A gift of more than $22 million has been confirmed from the Reitman family – acclaimed filmmaker Ivan Reitman and his sisters Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels – and The Daniels Corporation, who together form the King and John Festival Corporation. The project is also supported by RBC as Major Sponsor and Official Bank, Visa†, Copyright Collective of Canada, NBC Universal Canada, The Allan Slaight Family, The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, CIBC, and many other individuals and corporations. The Board of Directors, staff and many generous individuals have also contributed to the campaign. The total amount raised to date is $147 million, three quarters of the total campaign of $196 million. For more information on the Bell Lightbox campaign, visit

We are a charitable, not-for-profit, cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through film. Our vision is to lead the world in creative and cultural discovery through the moving image.

Confessions of a Festival Junkie: Dayzzzzzz

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Following the flood of weekend movie junkets, it seemed an apt time for some serious business. There had been speculation that Steven Soderbergh’s Cannes premiered Che had finally made a deal for North American distribution rights but all players involved kept their cards very close to their chests.

There were other murmurings and speculative questions that swirled around Che. The most obvious asked whether the filmmaker had done a significant re-edit following what was a heated but predominantly negative tilting response from the critical community. I was told by someone obviously not in the loop that the Toronto version was radically different from the May debut in the French festival’s official competition.

However, after its press screening the word circulated that no more than a few minutes had been trimmed and Soderbergh’s primary focus was in working on color timing and issues of the sound mix.

The other great question mark hovering over the film is just how it will be screened to the public. The filmmaker has stated a preference for a single screening (with intermission) in its present form though he hasn’t ruled out the prospect of staggered releases of the separate parts that focus on both the Cuban and Bolivian episodes of his revolutionary life. He’s even suggested a willingness to create an abridged version that combines footage from the two films that presumably more shave an hour off of its current four hour plus running time.

The latter scenario seems a bit far fetched if for no another reason than the fact that the two sections were filmed in different aspect ratios. The first shot in widescreen while the second is in the slightly more intimate 1.85 aspect ratio and marrying the two is a time consuming process technically that additionally would require a total re-think to create a seamless narrative arc.

The first part opened commercially in Spain last Friday at that top of the charts with a very sturdy $9,000 per engagement average. However, that experience is in no way an indication of how it will be presented elsewhere – a determination to be made by the distributors that pre-brought the film many years ago.

I first heard about a Che project 20 years ago from the late producer-writer Barry Beckerman. He was enthused by several books including the icon’s diaries and was undaunted by the 1969 movie that starred Omar Shariff and then as now remains a hallmark of kitsch cinema.

The current incarnation began as a project for Terrence Malick following his return to active directing with The Thin Red Line. Malick had begun scouting location with cinematographer Emmanuel Lebezki when he informed the financiers that he’d like to do another film (The New World) prior to taking on Che. It’s fair to say that the news set off a seismic response with the prospect of millions of dollars in pre-sales being put in jeopardy and placing the company into potential bankruptcy.

Hoping to stave off catastrophe, they moved to secure another filmmaker to placate investors and buy some time. It’s at this point that Soderbergh entered the scene and in the course of developing his version of Che decided it should be made in two parts and filmed in Spanish. While his budget was in line with the single picture plan, the initial idea had been to shoot in English and there was concern how a Spanish-language film might affect a U.S. sale down the line. Nonetheless no one could afford to change horses once again and filming proceeded with Benecio Del Toro in the title role.

The Cannes screening was down to the line with festival officials informed that the second half might not be completed in time. In that event it would be withdrawn as Soderbergh was unwilling to show only the first part. Fortunately, for the event, it was completed to a point acceptable to the filmmakers and Del Toro emerged from Cannes with the best actor award.

But the strategy to secure an American distributor for a rumored $10 million asking price failed to coalesce. Scuttlebutt swirled that Warner Bros. had been willing to acquire the film prior to Cannes sight unseen but its sales agent, Paris-based Wild Bunch, preferred to keep its options open which may have been a misstep in retrospect. There were also reports of interest from the Weinstein Company following the screening and others and the unstated understanding that the price had been lowered with the understanding that significant money be spent on the release and promotion of the film for an Oscar run in 2008.

The North America deal was apparently sealed just prior to Toronto by IFC. Unconfirmed reports are that the price tag was $2 million plus an undisclosed amount for prints and advertising.

All that said, it’s easy to see why the film itself has confounded distributors. The first part is a compelling, panoramic look at Che’s Cuban period that spans his first meeting with Castro in Mexico City in 1955 through the triumphal entry into Havana following the fall of Batista in 1959. Interspersed is black and white recreation of Guevara’s trip to New York for a United Nation’s address in 1964 as a senior official in the Cuban government.

The film has a deliberate, authoritative and absorbing quality that underline’s Soderbergh’s ranking as a first tier filmmaker. It’s also exquisitely crafted with Del Toro anchoring the drama with a determined, spare evocation of the character.

The Bolivian period is considerably more problematic. There is an open ended aspect to the conclusion of the first part that suggests a resolution not to be found in the second that jumps ahead to 1965 with only reference to his involvement in campaigns in Africa and Venezuela.

While there’s much to applaud in the latter section, the context is more difficult to embrace. The politics of the region, the guerrilla organization and the sheer lack of fervor are evident without the requisite connectivity that will lead to fiasco and tragedy. It’s more ruminative (intentionally) and curiously uncomplimentary to the accompanying film. It’s probably best to separate the two parts of Che as a result. Seeing them back to back is a jarring experience because of extremes in tone and approach that separate rather than bond the films.

I’ll quickly note that The Wrestler was quickly acquired by Fox Searchlight and that Summit stepped up for Kathryn Bigelow’s unusual Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker. With the event rapidly coming to a close the prospect of wrapping it into a tidy bow is going to be daunting.

– Leonard Klady

Part Nine: Real Men Love Smoke

Monday, August 25th, 2008

July 17, 1982

Today, we’re seeing strung together footage of almost what should play as at least half an hour of the movie.  Probably more.

The big problem is when does the movie begin…what should Annette’s role be…

Some scenes that I classified as “mine” especially scenes between Annette and Nick are gone.

(Gross Notes: One Long Take Dialogue Scene Was Reinstated For The T.V. Version When We Had To Make So Many Cuts Because Of Bad Language.)

So my presence in the film is more diffused, in glints, hints, nudges, the aura of it, I’m present but not present.  I’m freed of my some of my sense of  responsibility for the movie, while having a hand in some of its good stuff.  My accomplishment is pleasanter but more trivial.

When you want to want success a great deal…it’s not fair or appropriate to want what success will “get you” more.

…the real things you want.

Reading Nathaniel West’s unbelievably great “Miss Lonelyhearts” …

“He stood greatly against a wall, trying not to see or hear.  Then he remembered Betty.  She had often made him feel that when she straightened his tie, she had straightened much more.

Her world was not the world and could never include the readers of his column.  Her sureness was based on the power to limit experience arbitrarily.  Moreover, his confusion was significant, while her order was not.”

Our lives.  Us losing our soul.  The loss of it.  Giving our souls up.  Losing.  Submitting to Fascism.  Submitting to terror.  Everything given up.  Flying from our hands unreachable.

Going wrong.


Our lives.  The trashing and twisting of the nice things. The nice things don’t seem as durable or as survival oriented as the shitty things that bend and mutate to meet the onset of crap.  Are nice people intrinsically weaker than shitty people?  If so, how to live?

Relentless noise and light. Our city straight streets interesting with movies of our city streets.

Devilish development.

July 19, 1982

Sozna gets to boss one hundred peole working as background at the music club, Vroman’s…he’s in heaven.

An awful orange stickum pertains to the afternoon.  Sunset, formerly the province of elegiac feelings and utterance, is nothing other than the descent of this shit.  The eyes go filmy.  Citizens, guys, people-in-cars, seem to move in a soggy slow motion.

At Vroman’s, we have five days of filming, a blackrock group singing over and over again, a song called “The Boys are Back in Town.”  Eddie has dialogue with a number of people on this set.  And he dances.

Walter is happy here.

They pump endless amounts of that b-smoke that makes the set more interesting to photograph.  Extras complain about how it makes it hard to breathe.

Sozna replies through his bullhorn, “Call your congressmen folks, real men love smoke.”

July 20, 1982

Sozna organizing dancing in Vroman’s.

“Jokes are great, but when I’m not permitted to hear them, I know they’re hot.”

Walter Hill expressing interest in a book I brought him, Blue City.

Hill blistering me for taking a long lunch.

Much dancing.

Walter does his own country-shuffling-dancing feet number.  “I used to win dance contests,” he says with some pride, “I got ribbons to prove it.”

The montage possibilities for this swirl of colors and bodies is quite wonderful.

All of us white guys tap our feet on the key bits.  The cliché term “infectious” applies.

Performances and details, whether they survive in the film, follow the aegis of a tonal determinant, intuited by the director.  Those choices are what filmmaking is.

Directorial personality is the cohesion of this thematic authority, this dominance of a distinctive tone, and whatever complexity it can achieve.  That which governs choices in art works must some combine variety and complexity, unity and force.

Authorization by tonal dominance has been purchased at times by narrowness in Walter’s case, in the past.  He has won authority, unity, and cohesion, but lost on palpable multiplicity of content, therefore the excellence of his films as made objects has run the risk of irrelevance.

Sometimes the films seem to have been about little other than his skill in making them.  It’s possible that I’ve had some part in enriching the nature of the dominant themes in this particular film, but the will to accept or use that contribution, is a choices that is all his. And finally, Walter is like anyone else in that personality ultimately has the will to be itself.

July 21, 1982

Walter says he’s going to date GB

“Who?,” Joel asks perking up, turning from his entertainment page of the LA Herald Examiner.

“Don’t tell Joel, he’ll twist, burn and fry up.” says Walter laughing.

“Who? Tell me,” Joel says.

Walter walks away.

I smile and say nothing.

“Tell me who.  Tell me who it is” Joel says repeating, “Tell me who.”.  thirty times.  “You want to tease old Joel, huh?  You like to tease old Joel.  You’ll never work in Hollywood again, I’ll tell ya.”

“It’s no one, Joel,” I say, “just someone Walter’s someone going to dinner with.”

I have been annoyed at Joel for days for no particular reason, just a general feeling of being slighted, which he is always good for inspiring if you like feeling it.

“You don’t understand,” he insists, “I wanna know ESPECIALLY if it’s unimportant. ”

Walter drifts back.

We watch the crew push lights around.

“It’s nothing Joel.”

Joel is giggling now.

“So you wanna tease old Joel.  You awaken a sleeping giant at your peril.  Don’t wake a sleeping giant.”

Later he refers to the DWTSGC — Don’t Wake The Sleeping Giant Concept.  He says that this follows my not having understood STBP, See The Big Picture.

Walter on the phone while they set up an insert remarks to me “You do it, direct the shot.”

He means I get to call action and cut.

I do it.   Rick Neff, the operator, kids me later for not looking through the lens.

Kim, the Busboys manager, (The Busboys Are The Group Performing The Musical Number At Vromans), my tongue is on the floor for her.

I say to Joel, “Will you take me to N.Y. on the publicity for the film if I tell you who the girl Walter’s dating is?”

‘You got it,” he says.

“In that case you should tell him,” Walter says.

Oh boy what a deal.

Today my friend Henry Bean’s novel “False Match” is reviewed in California Magazine. By Greil Marcus. A rave review.  Stark shot of jealousy cuts through me.  I have not the discipline Henry had to nurse his obsession.  So whether I remotely have the talent doesn’t even arise as a question or a possibility.  I feel poised in the middle-mediocrity–between whoring and artistry.  Not committed to a single identity supporting an extreme.  The appetite to transcend a tag is part of greatness but so is coalescing into that mold.  Settling.  Settling as the imprimatur of discipline and form, it is of course the imprimatur of tragedy and failure–reduction.

July 22, 1982

Nick and Eddie and Olivia in the sweating crowds at Vroman’s.  One of Eddie’s very very best improvisation moments.  “Lack of pussy make you brave!”

Extremely difficult for Walter and Sozna to match backgrounds.

Gary Franklin comes to cover the movie for CBS T.V.

Walter pretty unreceptive today.  When I praise the bedroom sequence we cut out between Annette and Nick, he claims it was a bunch of crap.

I awake with a headache, I think a cold.  Ugh.  A summer cold is an ugly animal.

Walter makes a demand of  a member of the camera crew, “Get me a still of the club as seen from the stage…”

Then he sits back and gives a very interesting account of why he’s enjoying this location,

“Smoke and backlight are friends of the director.  In addition, stairwells, corridors, trains, mirrors, staging things in these places you are hard put to put the camera in a bad place.  Remember always to stage in depth.  Foreground pieces and tight overs are preferable to closeups  for this reason.  They always involve composing shots in depth.”

This place gets very warm.

Later lunch at Martoni’s in Hollywood.  So New York in décor that my heart did contractions of nostalgia and remorse. The people who entered seemed to have souls and bodies changed the moment they entered the joint.  Remade instantly into New Yorkers.

July 23, 1982

Wrap up Vromans.

They have to reshoot the shot I suggested because of poor lighting.

“Everything in life for power, isn’t it Joel?,” I say to him, appropos of something.

Joel stares, a little puzzled. “Of course” he says quietly as if he couldn’t quite understand why I asked the question, or rather curious as to how it could be that I didn’t know the answer without having asked.

We have to overcome the vanity of our separateness, to do this takes the maximum presence of the will we generally associate with vanity. It takes special strong and terrible will to give up the cheap gains which they can grant.

The creative terror a man finds when he descends into himself is not a terrfic tool for taking with him. When he beats a man up in a negotiation…it is not like the literal terrors of poverty, war or jil–but it isn’t deforming or terrifying terror either–the terror you create binds death to life and leaves you free to relate to entirely fresh and unpredictable combinations of meaning that arise truly in life.

Vicious powerful men, hardened on actual cruelties done to them and done by them, have it over imaginative men in many situations.  But mentally they are muscle-bound, locked in what they know, forced to force everything in to their narrow box of suffering and victimization and aggression.  There are grim times when life is nothing but that box, and the most ruined of those men, with a grain of imagination do function very effectively in those times.  Whenever life reduces freedom, those used to being unfree feel comfortable with it, fare better.  But of course the minute some freedom comes back, that limited perspective goes back to being a diminution of life.

Actually everyone has been brutalized once and has an instinct for returning to the scene of the trauma and submitting everything to its map or rules of order.  The people who  have really been fucked over feel the compulsion to impose this order on others.  The artist has the same will to impose as the victimized cruel man, but weirdly what he wants to impose is exaclty opposite–he wants to instill the subversion of orders and the recovery of the sense of ongoing complete unpredictability.  He wants an order that is a release from order, a form that routs form.  An artist takes a left turn from the labyrinthe of cruelty he must be second to no one in taking orders from.

July 24, 1982

I can only impress other fakes like myself.

The impossibility of loving an artist, the drama of trying to love an artist.

I see you failing me:  How am I going to get you to take me seriously, even the whole institution of being taken seriously is no longer serious.

Things you’re not supposed to know crowd up around you and abolish the whole school of certainties you’d been lead to.

The things you don’t know about me…

The ways I disappoint myself…

A whole life crowds around a point of pressure, usually revealed to have been absent.

The light, paler in the back of the room, here bleeding up to brighter.

I can’t describe the moves light except from more to less, from there to here, duller to brighter, further away to closer.

Walter Hill said, “We’ve gotta turn this kid into a famous writer.”

Fame is nothing, fame is lies.

You have to know what you mean and who your responsibility belongs to.

Everybody belongs to someone.

The eyes break.  The window break in sympathy with the eyes that can suddenly not see through them.  The light changes into a strange language.  Stay here and be deceived.  Be estranged and blinded as you actually are.  Listen to the way mistakes are made and then systematized into real life.

Life is erosion–all you are doing is fighting to make Something life conspires to unmake.

This right now might be confused ambivalent moment where I see it clearly for the firs time.

I might have the nerve to see everything as it really is with all divergent trips of intelligence in play at each other’s throats, competing for life, producing life, screwing it up making it possible it might be right now I might be at the height of my powers.

I can remember how at the beginning of filming, all the moves Nick and Annette made in their scenes and how some of them were right, but ultimately it didn’t make a bit of difference.

I could be seeing everything as it really is.

Now, for the first time, the world might be coming into view.  As some arty queer might say, “The whole mad whirl. ”  Maybe I’m supposed to be that arty queer in this or another life.  The ghosts of earlier periods of fragmentation absorbed magnanimously:

We want the whirl and we want it now.

Some us have made a whole livelihood out of disappointment.

You think grimly of what you haven’t had.  But was what you sacrificed that which you feel bad about having missed.  If you hadn’t given up what you did, wouldn’t you still feel that you’d missed something essential?

July 27, 1982

Sometimes it seems like you have to consent to becoming inhuman, insensitive, in order to survive.

Certainly you have to be interested in cruelty if you want to say something true to the nature of this world.

The feeling more and more powerless

Fifth and Broadway, downtown LA at Night. In front of Torchy’s. The generic name of every rough Walter Hill bar.  There was a Torchy’s in The Driver, and there will be more Torchy’s if Walter gets to make any more urban thrillers.  When we first met, his first expressed regret at Hollywood was that they weren’t making westerns any more.  But now he’s decided, he’s said, that he can put all the things he liked in western’s into urban thrillers.

We’re not quite in the pits of skid row, but close.  And it’s the middle of the summer, so crowds of bored, sad street people stand glued to us and our somewhat awkward work.

People go to bars to do what people go to bars to do.

Overheard on the set, “Even though she’s right she’s wrong.”

Sozna sits next to Gene Levy.  I ask him what’s gong wrong and he says it’s too technical to explain.

Then he adds, “The only way to make this film was if we could start with more weeks prep (I protest that I understand this) so we couldn’t come here and prepare this street and be all set to deal with it.”

Eddie sitting waiting.  Tells me he fucked five girls this weekend.

“Pussy is pussy” he says, “except for one girlfriend.”  He pauses and thinks back nostalgically to the weekend, “She’s got a special sorta pussy.”

“Do all these girls feel bad about not being our only girl?” I ask.

“They don’t know,” he says.  “Five of em,” he adds.  He’s impressed himself. “Hope I don’t get no diseases.”

A rough night on the street. Sozna and the sound guy are elsewhere.

People start talking to me so naturally I start lying to them. It’s spontaneous. I don’t’ see why I can’t step boldly from lies to intimacy.

July 28, 1982

Extraordinary flash of neon sign arrangement on an alley between Spring and Broadway.

Earlier, Eddie had to throw his gun away in disgust after Nick removes the clip.  Craig Raiche: Propman’s job is to catch the gun when Eddie tosses it, so it won’t break and have to be replaced when it hits the ground.  Guns are costly.  Craig wears a baseball mitt to do it and we all cheer when he catches it.

Bruce Feirstein, Friend of Joel’s, a writer, author of the bestselling humor book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche…appears on the set as Joel’s guest.  Big admirer of Walter.

Usual comic quarrel between Joel and Walter.

Walter claims Joel is responsible for the commercial disaster that was Xanadu.

Joel points out that Walter’s last movies have been commercial failures.  “Bomba-bomba-bomba” he chants mockingly.

The debate that is also going on now is how hard is Katzenberg trying to squeeze us, on budget issues…he’s been president of  production for about a month now and he seems to be getting pissed at our bookkeeping tactic   of asking for money than what’s in the budget and calling that “negotiated overages.”

“AO” is Joel’s other phrase, “Approved overages.”  Which is a brilliant piece of paradoxical or oxymoronic language, I guess, you know like a married bachelor or a legal crime, or a truthful lie, or I don’t know…

The controversy such as there is, deals with how much trouble this form of tampering with the budget is going to get our film into.

“You don’t know.  You don’t understand,” Joel nearly shrieks at Walter.  “This kid is crazy.”  The kid being Katzenberg.  “Michael loves him.  He’d love to shut us down.  He’d love to prove how tough he his.”

What we have known from day one is that the boss of the studio Barry Diller spends a minute of every day eyeballing budget reports and insisting that movies have to and can be done cheaper here, and that enraged demand gets passed along to Eisner who passes it along to Katzenberg.  Larry has warned us of this.

“He’s not going to shut us down,” says Walter, “We’ll refuse to promote the movie.

“Just now, he says no to a band at Torchy’s and that’s it…” Joel is listing his latest triumphant battle, “I got him to give us back a band, but he says twenty five hundred bucks is all you’ve got.”

Joel’s unique ability to find a source of drama in any detail of his life.  There’s always some arena of intrigue in anything he puts his attention to.

Watching Bruce McBroom, the production photographer, set up his camera so that he can press the button on the shot from a safe  distance.

Walter describes this procedure as “Discretion before dishonor.”

July 30, 1982

Walter about his own ambitions to innovate:  “I thought I invented some shots on The Driver but it turns out the camera man tells me, they’ve been doin’ ’em since 1915…it’s awful hard to invent something…I always thought you could have a tremendous impact on showing a fight by a lateral movement of the camera to the side of the action, joined with a zoom in…you need very large objects in the foreground or background for that to work.”

“Maybe it’s real hard to invent things,” I remarked back, “all you can do is make original combinations of old things.”

July 31, 1982

Many guests on the set, last night.  Mysteriously, a more relaxed and festive mood starting to appear.  Maybe as a movie comes closer to completion people get more sentimental about each other.  Also, mysteriously, the studio’s opinion of our film has started to rise.

Walter’s completing the fight in the alley between Nick and Eddie.

I met a publicist from New York, who has gone to work with Spielberg, named Peggy Siegel.

Joel is suddenly under a lot of pressure from the music department of Paramount, a man oddly namedJoel Sill.  He’s being hit about overages on the money spent to get certain “Busboy” tapes.

Roger Spottiswood, who edited Walter’s first film and co-wrote the first draft of this film, visits with his girlfriend, Holly Palance, who it seems has a part in the next film he’s making.

“What,” says Walter, “Is Roger casting with his cock?”

“Of course,” someone says.

“That’s one thing I never do,” Walter says.

Joel bursts into peals of ironical “oh no?”‘s… I have to join.

Walter blushes and says, “Fuck you guys. I can’t forgive you two for getting me on that..”

“There was Frizzy,” I point out.

“She was perfect for the part.”

I offered my opinion.

“When you nail the lead actress it’s cause you’re crazy for her, when it’s bits, that’s what casting with your cock is.”

It’s bad when the girls at the bar can’t get the words to R-E-S-P-E-C-T right.

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published August 25, 2008

Part Eight: Lesbians, Lindsay & Leather

Friday, August 8th, 2008

July 7, 1982

It’s the costumer Dan Moore’s birthday party thrown by the crew.  He’s a smart, thoroughly Irish guy, so I buy him some Irish whiskey. He got  a graduate degree in literature and did his thesis on Joyce!  The people who stumble into the movie business!  Also I keep pressing him if one day he could let me have one of the doubles for the hat Ganz wore in one shot, a brown felt hat I’m crazy about.

July 8, 1982

Dan Moore got his bottle of whiskey from me but he barely he had time to notice, because his crew mates doused him with meringue pie.

He retreated to one of the trailers to recuperate.

July 9, 1982

Celebrations at the studio continue:

Ric Waite’s birthday- The camera crew with Baird in command, gets him a chocolate cake.  Sculpted onto the cake, is a cinematographersetting up a shot in the jail.  Rick’s backlit shot of Nick and Eddie quarreling in the prison, was superb, his finest hour yet, three days ago.

Printed on the cake a statement attributed to Ric.

“Does it have to be this hard?  Yeah, so it can be this much fun?”

Denise Crosby (Bing’s granddaughter) and Margot Rose (a woman I briefly nearly dated more than two years ago) play the two girls Eddie and Nick question looking for Billy (Sonny.)  We refer to them as the two dykes.

Walter invents a bit for Denise to do with a baseball bat, hitting Eddy, that improves the scene.

When we get to the hit, Eddie is comically fearful.

“I’m not gonna hit you” Denise promises urgently.  “I’m not worried about you, it’s your arms holding the bat that worries me” Eddy moans.

Eddie for the fourth day in a row is quite good, about a thousand percent improved on the early scenes in San Francisco that worried the studio.  The proverbial chemistry between Nick and Eddie together in scenes has taken a mysterious quantum leap.  Basically they’ve gotten to like and trust each other in “real life” and it affects their scenes.  I don’t know who wouldn’t become a better actor opposite Nolte, and Eddie said the same thing.   He shook his head a couple of days ago and he said, “Nolte, man…he makes you act.”

But what exactly is the reason for the huge improvement?  There’s Nick, there’s Walter’s prodding, there’s the studio’s pressure… and there’s simply Eddie’s raw talent urging him forward.  You can see him get more into it moment by moment.  It reminds me that he’s a comedian and with comedians on stage, they sometimes hit a groove where they become confident of their rapport with the audience and suddenly the littlest thing they do works and is funny and extends their control of the audience.  Eddie’s at least glimpsed that groove, or else he’s hitting it.

Walter and Joel and Larry have started to completely change their tune about worrying about Eddie or what the studio thinks of him.  Whatever problems we face suddenly Eddie is ceasing to be one of them

Walter’s concentrated attention pays off.

Margot Rose turns to me and expresses amazement at Walter’s “guidance.”

Today on set a big moment for me.

Craig Raiche, the prop guy whose domain it is, had, for me, made a chair with brown leather backing and my name on it.  The absence of this had helped me appear and be treated as silly for some time.  Had made me the butt of countless jokes, plus snarls when I sat in people’s chair.

(Luca had been particularly annoyed at finding me in her chair.)  Not being involved in the Chinese laws of Court Etiquette I’d been slow to grasp the significance of people’s chairs.  But gradually I got the message.

So getting this is a big thing.

I had walked into being made to feel silly yesterday when Dan Moore got me the ganz hat I had been bugging him about.  Three days ago, when I asked him about it the last time, it was at a bad time in the middle of working to fix Nick up during a difficult long take.  Dan embarrassed me effectively by pretending he should stop what he was doing, postponing the doing of his job, because I was asking him to sluff purely for the purpose of dealing with my trivial request.

I wanted to cut my tongue out.  I did not make my request vehemently or harshly enough to quite merit the ripping Dan Moore gave me but I was insensitive to his ego about his job, I later realized.  I made it seem like I thought my trivial requests for a favor was more important than his job.

At Ric’s cake ceremony, Nolte shouts, “Bring on the transvestite!”

The other day, at Dan Moore’s more orgiastic birthday celebration, a stripper gave him a strip-o-gram.  Huge blow-ups of her, her huge tits and ass, were posted on the outer wall of the dykes apartment set.

There is much infantilism, obviously, among film people. It is the synthesis between razor sharp workaholism, the pressure of so much daily rigor, the need to escape all that, and claims of simple egocentric vanity.  These traverse and contradict each other’s claims to produce “antic disposition.”

Today Walter, Joel, and Larry lunch with President Katzenberg.  The gist of their discussion is, “if it’s necessary to spend a lot more money to make the ending spectacular, spend a lot more money.”

Hilariously, six weeks earlier I had been assigned the job of creating a cheaper ending, which moved it to the roof of the Dyke’s apartment.  Now that’s not considered elaborate enough.  Walter is emboldened.  The studio is hungry to spend more money.  They like what they see

Walter, today, unhappy with me.  Why?  No particular reason.  Some days Walter is happier with me than others.  Grim truth?  I’m less exciting news to him that I was.  My promise is no longer unlimited.  We know a bit more of each other’s frailties and vanities.  The moment Walter discerns a man’s weakness, limitation, he experiences a bit of disappointment.  Why not he’s only human.  Disillusioned idealist, a name for all directors I suspect.  I stress both sides.  The fantasy and the girl awareness of how the fantasy suffers perpetual defeat.


Got a chance to see Fassbinder’s In a Year of Thirteen Moons, a film he made apparently as a rapid response to the fact of his own lover committing suicide.  The central character is a transsexual who commits suicide at the end of the movie.

It’s a film which fuses an “abstract” and “personal” character study, where a soul is studied in its idiosyncratic and culturally typical forms, where every attempt at understanding are further examples of the cruelty which the story attempts to understand.

The sadomasochistic topic reveals itself formally in the aggressive or coercive relationship between the story and language.  Everything in Thirteen Moons is a blatant case of something being forced upon us, everything is bout the inner heterogeneity that constitutes it.  The relation of narrators, a nun, a mystic weird with candles, Elivira in the slaughterhouse to what is narrated is sadistic.

The slaughterhouse scenes takes out of the realm of psychological consistency into the realm where symbolic content manifests the violence of its distance to what it refers to.

The problem of authorial distance and point of view is emblem of a conception of disassociation, discontinuously and strangeness within the dimension of personal identify involved first with Elvira’s sexual doubleness and then related as well to the progressively  more inconclusive relationship between victim and victimizer.

Elvira’s distinction is that he undermines the extreme simplicity of the power set-up he never less can never cease to be the emblem of.

Thirteen Moons like Artaud speaks in egotistic voice to abolish a sense of the survival of ego, mixing an obsession with violence and purity  establishes an extreme disjunction between sound and image, present activity and past determination.

In thirteen moons everything has already happened before the movie’s action starts.  Elvira’s marriage has failed, his relationship with the guy who suggested he become a woman, has happened, and failed, and another relationship is ending…choices, catastrophes have already happened.  The chaos of discursive rationalization attempts to unify the bloody active past with the exhausted impotent  and incomplete present.  The present is nothing but its deteriorating crumbling complicity with the past violence that engendered it.

I saw this film last night for the second time, became further convinced it’s one of the great works of narrative cinema, of our time.

July 13, 1982

Today, visitors to the set, Tracy Tynan, an old friend of Walter’s, who is now going out with a director I know slightly named Jim McBride. I had met them awhile back through my friend Evelyn Purcell.  Another friend of Walter’s I knew vaguely, a woman namedBrooks Riley.  Like Audie Book, she does subtitles for foreign films.  I had once had a meeting with her in New York when she was working at Film Comment magazine.

Unformulated moments of social consciousness are more accurate than more clearly formulated intended ones.

A visitor to the set I am awed to be introduced to, the great English Director Lindsay Anderson.  (His This Sporting Life,  If, and Oh Lucky Man were among the first  films that  made me care about movies when I was a teenager.)

(GROSS NOTES: Years Earlier I’d Been Invited To A Screening Of A Short T.V. Film Anderson Had Directed And Had Come To Introduce…And I’d Noticed Walter Hill Was There. Subsequently Walter Had Quoted Lindsay’s Opinions On The Subject Of John Ford, Who Anderson Had Written A Book About.  Walter Had A Great Enthusiasm For That Book, Enjoyed Quoting It, And Felt It Was The Best Thing Written About Ford. And I’d Seen A Postcard From Anderson That Walter Kept On Prominent Display On His Desk. One Of The Many Surprising Terrific Things I Had By Now Learned About Walter Is That He Had Many Friends Among Quiet Intellectual Often Politically Left Wing Brits — The Fact That These Guys Liked His Films A Lot And Saw The Connection Between Walter And John Ford Meant A Great Deal To Walter. But Only A Short Time After Walter Introduced Me To Lindsay Anderson, I Could Tell They Had A Terrifically Sincere Closeness That Went Further Than Their Mutual Professional Respect.)

Lindsay Anderson watching Walter shoot, and I’m actually instructed by Walter to be his guide around the set and make sure he has someone to talk to.

I commit a horrible blunder by misnaming his newest film, Brittania Hospital, referring by mistake to the title of another smaller film on the same subject, The National Health…Anderson corrects me in an acidic tone of voice…it would be the same as if I insulted Walter by confusing The Warriors with The Wanderers.

Wrong, faux pas.

Lindsay Anderson

Anderson is a short egg shaped man round around the belly but not fat sensing because of the tautness of his eye and the sharpness of his long beak like nose.  The comfortable power of his glance makes the term “intense” misleading if inevitable to describe his way of looking his manner.  But he has none of the juvenility, none of the uncertainty that one usually equates with the term “intensity”.  His air of command is amused, credible.  One can see him up stepping up on the platform  of the crazed and maniacal given any adequate provocation, and certainly his reputation for acerbic vitriolic anger is somewhat legendary.  But today he’s mainly nothing but amused, curious, and intelligent.

We watch a scene where Eddie bursts into Billy’s room and confronts him, asking him to give up without a fight.  Billy refuses, pulls a knife and Eddie has to shoot him to death.  I watch Proval coaching.  Essentially it boils down to encouraging Eddie to view it like it’s an athletic event.  He’s telling him to bear down and  take a lot of deep breaths, a moment before they call action.

I explain basically to Anderson what the scene is about, and he squints.  “What is it like I wonder” he says quietly “having to shoot someone?”

The scene comes off pretty well.  Actually doing a physical action scene, is in fact a bit like doing a pole vault, or some type of performance on the parallel bars.  So Proval’s simplistic advice actually is pretty sound.

July 14, 1982

Followed Walter to editor Freeman Davies’ suite, saw Cut footage.

Reggie’s first appearance at the jail, leading to the beating up of Luther.

I am pleased by a sense of the “push” of the narrative.  I am nervous that in some scenes characters behave in emotional routines or attitudes that have not been sufficiently prepared for.  Never the less the “push” or “drive” I notice is more decisive.  The shades of emotional clarity I am referring to… the absence of them may have their noticability collapsed by narrative urgency.  (Hope.)

Joel’s birthday.  Larry Gordon’s cake for him has a massive erect penis and the words Happy Birthday You Putz, on them.

Another cake is a gargantuan imitation hamburger.  A third cake has a an icing depiction of Joel and a naked bimbo.  A massive striptease dancer follows the unveiling of the cake.

Yesterday had one of the best moments for me in the making of this film.  Lindsay Anderson and Walter Hill stretched out on the prop bed, musing about John Ford’s My Darling Clementine.

Who thought of the title?  What did the project mean to Ford?  Did he have to use Linda Darnell as Chiquita because she was banging Zanuck, the studio executive on the film.?

I flirt with Denise some more.  I would say I’m getting exactly nowhere.

First Through The Door

Nick blasts (!) through a glass window barrier, today.  This time, in that jacked up doing an athletic mode, he’s got a tremendous urgency to do it.  Quite stunning.

Also squibs exploding all over the dyke apartment.

Is yesterday’s revolutionary truth discredited because the world was not reformed along its precepts?  Today has not been the perfect tomorrow.  That was foreseen.  The Final Conflict, awaited and wished for (a consummation devoutly to be wished) has not arisen.

The “truth” disproven by today’s failure to live up to it may be revivified tomorrow.

The idea that change is actual view with the idea that no particular instance of change is decisive–

That charge is actual is what determines whether or not the perceptive modality is intelligent or not.  How someone evaluates it, how he wants to deny it after acknowledging it .  that’s anybody’s business as long as the reality of the phenomenon of change is acknowledged.

I got suddenly intoxicated thinking about Melville and the stupefying ingenious chutzpah of his desire to be Shakespeare.  The transparent wish to emulate him.

Then depressed considering Melville’s nerve.

A writer with writers block, that’s my topic.

July 16, 1982

Wrapping the dyke apartment, through the beginning of the final shootout.  Walter exclaims “There are so many fucking locations in this movie, god, will I be glad to be through with this one.”

Denise Crosby, this beautiful sort of Wagnerian Valkyrie type blonde screams and yells first at Remar than at Nick.

Crosby Attacks!

She has to be topless for this.

Elaborate joke for this with Joel.

Walter keeps insisting these girls are happy to strip till Joel talks to them, “explains” about it to them, at which point they all want to put back on their blouses.  Or quit the movie.

I have likened it to Bogart chiding nervous publicistEdmond O’Brien when they come to a little Spanish café to talk Ava Gardner into  making a movie in Hollywood.  Bogart tells their boss that this time O’Brien has “charmed the birds back into the trees.”

Anyway, Walter sends Denise to Joel to tell him that she had been all set to strip until she looked to Joel, Joel anguishedly repeats this, Walter chortles, Joel catches on that’s being joked on.

Joel yells for the rest afternoon:  “She fooled me, but you blew the joke W. Hill! You’re such a lousy actor, I was a convinced, but you blew it.  YOU!”

“Joel,” Walter responds, “you don’t understand.  I’m not an actor.  I prepare actors.  I don’t act myself.”

Rumor floats.  Getty Oil is purchasing MCA universal.  Rastar President McElwaine is replacing Frank Price.  Our publicist Rafe drops this in a conversation with an LA times arts reporter.  Deborah Caulfield.  She flabbergasts Price in a conversation about knowing this and Caulfield is so grateful to us for lending her to a scoop that she vows to do a Times article about our movie.

Walter and I go drinking after the days shooting.

Walter offers me this warning about craft and style in screenwriting.

“You gotta do things ten times and try different ways of sayin ’em.”

We talk about who among directors is macho and who is anti-macho.  How Ford and Hawks are sophisticated civilized men who can psychically afford to criticize machismo.

Peckinpah is difficult, Walter says

“Peckinpah you know, he really is Hal Needham… He’s smarter.  He’s warier.  He is worried about people knowing more than he does, and he has this incredible pure ability like a great athlete to direct, to go out and make shots.  But he hates and fears women.  Hates him. With a vengeance.  He wants to hang with the guys, hunt, drink, fuck whores.  Never read a book in his life.  Is so scared.  Finally he doesn’t believe machismo works but doesn’t have any belief in other values..”

The subject turns to working all the time or not.

“You know, every time you start one of these damn things, you’re scared you forgot how to do ’em.  A few days into it, you know that you do know how, but it’s a worry till then.”

He remarks how lucky he’s been to do a job he likes and get paid well for it, but insists things weren’t so bad before.

“When I was poor, I didn’t feel like I was missing so much…”

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published August 8, 2008

Part Seven: Hotshots

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

June 25, 1982


“I stay awaked baffled by the problem of Ric Waite’s car”…this is a comic monologue byJoel Silver… “I keep turning it over in my mind.  The day he didn’t brings his car to location.  In Modesto.  In Modesto.  It was five weeks ago but it perplexes me to this day.  Sometimes I like awake and think about it.”

Nick, a few seats down, is talking about playing Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar.  Doing farcical plays, something he liked doing called Catch Me if You Can.

Talking to extras.

Shot on the worst LA street I’ve ever scene:  Tumorous necked dead eyed men, cracked eyes, cracked voice cracked skin and bones.  Humans blown around by trash. The weird darkness. Inconsolable

Benny Dobbins stages the car stunts with toy cars, for Walter and all the camera men and operators to see.  This is high splendor.

Remar’s hands are cut by the breaking glass during a take of the bus shooting.

The dilemma Walter faces and all director’s face: Making a film is so much more powerful a phenomenon than talking about it…and of course this aspect of things stifles to some degree the art element in a film…the force of the collective experience allows the filmmaker to imagine that speculative intelligence is unimportant.  Continuing to make films becomes its own self referring rationale.  Movies are capitalist individualism in system, you are a quality individual if you work the system to supply yourself with a steadily better place in the system — there is no “goal” of work beyond maximizing ones’ functional capacity to make work.

The work is its purpose in an essentially mechanical and not sublime sense.

We work till dawn.  All dawns are powerful.  Even tawdry LA streets are disclosed in their shade of hope and still at dawn.  At this withdrawing of darkness, tentative jibs and gestures of hope.

Night lights go out, protection against darkness relaxes, frazzled nerves of fear poke their heads up.

A week of night shooting everyone is turned around and dazed, from breaking glass, speeding along in the insert cars, playing bumper cars with stunt cars.

Walter remarks at one point: “I’m trying to turn you into an action director kid.”

The week of nights seems like a whole movie in itself with memories of what other nights were like seeming to be memories of weeks or even months ago.  When things actually happened in relation to each other is readily lost.

“Nights are tough” Walter says, “but on these thrillers you gotta have m”

How hard and dangerous things are.

I don’t sleep when I come back from these shoots the way I’d like to.  So I make up excuses not to sleep.

JUNE 27, 1982 – DAY OFF

Israel’s unbelievably arrogant cruelty.

The mobility of aggression and territoriality, the inability to map this phenomenon in an intellectually meaningful way.  The impossibility of the phenomenon shaking down to divisible opposable elements.  Pynchonian “in the zone” ness.

The absurdity of religious mysticism diminishes as all efforts at understanding come to appear absurd and mystical..

Legions, armies, of smartly dressed fags of a Sunday, tastefully consuming in West Hollywood  restaurants.

West African children mournfully starving under brutal suns, must all by their interest ignore what’s going on in Beirut.

Action disappears, crimes disappear by virtue of that endless diversity of the circumstances out of which their commission has arisen.

Our life is all about living the loss of original meaning and a lot of our urge for purity is the futile attempt to erase this defeat, this loss, by claiming that original meaning never existed in the first place.  Forgetting, a losing of grip occurs, and then a second stage, the act of forgetting accomplishes its own being forgotten.  First we forget.  Then we forget that we forgot.

Walter and I about Godard.  Walter attacks vehemently: “He lacks the craft to tell stories properly.”

I argue that what Godard relies on is the presence of  stories, and genres in the audience’s heads, and then he improvises from there, not unlike Altman.  The subject ofTout Va Bien, the film that Godard made with someone else that Walter hates, Jane Fonda.  The hollywood liberal  specimen at its most gaseous and odious.

“Godard and Jane Fonda, boy that truly was the marriage of Marx and Coca Cola.”

When Walter talks about the movie, what he continues to be not one hundred percent certain on is when he has narratively — emotionally — made the point he wants to make.  He believes correctly that implicitness is better, but some levels of implicitness leave the room open for wrong secondary implications.  Some times you want to state the meaning more explicitly in order to rule out others.

Went to Blade Runner that we’ve all been looking forward to for so long.

Ford, Cassidy, Snake

My favorite line, the dancer-replicant to Deckard:” You think I’d be working n a place like this if I could afford a real snake?”

There’s rich thematic possibility in juxtaposing, the sci-fi future with old fashioned film noir and making that duality, an analogy with the duality of human/inhuman.  It was Godard by the way who invented this future/self-consciously noir past juxtaposition, with Alphaville. Point Blank, Roeg’sPerformance, and Altman’s The Long Goodbye all played this game to a certain degree.  I wrote about this “genre” in Film Comment about eight or nine years ago.

But despite great moments and a surprisingly decent performance by Harrison Ford, the movie doesn’t quite work   There is too much obscurity for the movie’s fundamental simplicity.  There is too little emotional exposition.  Just one example:  We never see what Deckard would do or might want to do if he didn’t hunt replicants which makes his apparent disgust with his job somewhat incomprehensible. The treatment of the replicants just leaves out too much information.  Scott wants to be Kubrick and convey everything visually, but you have to know how to convey the things you leave out, and too much of fundamental importance is left out here.

I note Walter’s upsetness, at the end of today.

He said, “Sometimes it gets annoying, irritating answering so many questions.  You just get tired of dealing with the horseshit.”

The horseshit today included delaying with a practical location.   Lighting extremely tight space.  Nudity and the skittishness of the girls involved in it.

Walter to Sonny: “The hits aren’t in the bat.”

Remar and Sosna quarrel as Remar  gets revved up to run down the hallway from the gun battle.  Sosna yells.  Remar yells back.

Walter barks,.  “Just concentrate on the shot Jimmy do your job and let him do his.”  First time I’ve heard Walter raise his voice AND THE LAST TIME I WILL HEAR IT DURING THE ENTIRE SHOOTING

Remar instantly collapses and starts apologizing.

This morning is gunfire.  Producing ample smoke.  Headache making, now.  Killing two actors.  The two cop partners of Nick, Jonathan Banks and another actor, I can’t remember his name.

The camera crew (three) in green blankets and plastic faceguards like a gun-artillery emplacement or tech soldiers facing a huge attcking.  Remar and Sonny blasting the two cops.

Remarks overheard:

Camera operator Rick Neff:  My first two wives were skinny.  Now I’m goin for the meat.

Walter Hill:  “Send in a half apple.

David Sosna when I’m whispering to someone just before a take: “They whisper over at the Desilu studios. Here, they keep quiet.”

Joel comes in announcing that he has a new movie to do at MGM.

My brother lets me know he’s been fired from the literary agency where he works.  It happens to be the one that represents me, ICM.

JUNE 31, 1982

Tara King, Nick Nolte

Walter’s little blonde squeeze, her name is Tara, works today.  Doing the same part she did in The Driver.  Joel privately announces to me that her acting is shitty.  Her part is bigger than similar role of hotel desk clerk that she had in the other film. Here she actually has lines.

This morning dominated, unspokenly, by a single controversy.  Paramount wants to make selected going-over-budget-judgments for reshoots.  Walter refuses. He must receive his not-going-over-budget bonus first.  Then he will do the reshoots.  Berg tells Walter not to consider negotiating on this issue.  Katzenberg says that going along with Walter’s carte blanche demands that going “over” be approved is impossible. The situation was complicated by Larry’s agreement to something on this question with Eisner.  To get Walter to agree with the studio’s point of view on these issues — about this there is much hysteria this morning.  Joel, Larry, Walter and Berg all accusing and being accused of underrating and undermining the other.

Ultimately, Walter wins clearly.  Walter and Berg.  At a key moment, Berg beats up onMichael Eisner, President Katzenberg’s boss.

There is a place Berg gets to that is the essence of ruthlessness.  It is a straightforward cold eyed way of him saying I-am-in-the-sole-possession-of-the-facts.  It really makes you think this is what Lenin must have been like.  It is an insight into the vanity of the notion that power is personal.  Berg embodies the knowledge that power is intimately related to perception, specifically perception of context, i.e. there is no transcending or absolute reality of power.  Yoking this observation to EGO is tricky

My brother after telling me about his work problems announces that he is having marital problems too.   Shit.  A fucked day.

Meanwhile Walter has me invent a bunch of dialogue for Tara, aka Frizzy.

I get into a fight with 2ND AD Debbie Love about my being on the set when they were lighting.  She implied I didn’t have the brains to move out of the way of the crew moving equipment around.  I’m afraid she might be right.

Michael Sragow, a decent journalist/critic visits the set, representing Rolling Stone.  Has written some of the more intelligent sympathetic responses to Walter’s work.    Actually asks me a few questions.

At the end of a long day of shooting people being shot:

People don’t want to have conversations.  They want to have the burden of having a consciousness assuaged.

JULY 1, 1982

Jonathan Banks death scene.

Sosna calling for quiet on the set. “Guys  don’t talk about the next picture you’re gonna do — concentrate on this one”

JULY 2, 1982

First of the weekend.

Yesterday shoot out in the lobby.  Ton of gunfire.  We shot from 7: 30 AM toll l0:30 p.m.

Big disagreement with Walter about how many weapons the villains should have, how tied Nick’s hands should be.  Walter here plays up the big emotional moment as simple goodness of heart on Nick’s part.  Our roles get reversed, I think his approach to this scene is too sentimental whereas usually he rejects suggestions of mine as too sentimental.

Sosna does a good practical joke on me, has me convinced that the can of soda I picked out of a box in craft services is “bad.”  Calls to the crew doctor to discuss the likelihood I have food poisoning and will need to get my stomach.  He has me going.

Remar In The Bus

Remar cuts his hand catching a gun.  More real blood.  He, moping, after I console him says, “No one but the make up man consoles me.”

His eyes widen as they do in regular spasms.

“I don’t have to do this.”

Then he recounts how on Friedkin’s Cruising where he had a tough fight scene with Al Pacino, Pacino moped when he got a tiny bit hurt, and how solicitous Friedkin and the producer Jerry Weintraub were about his well being.  He and the danger he was in was ignored, he says.

Life is always a matter of injustice for Jimmy.

I point out to Walter that Jimmy’s suffering a bit and Walter ignores my remark.  Then he comments a little later:

“Jimmy’s a faker.”  He tells a story of a massive sprain Jimmy suffered on The Warriorsand how he cured himself miraculously when after shooting ended that night a crew softball game was announced.

Luca and I quarrel again, this because when I ask her where the trades I gave her  to read are. She says, “I don’t know. I’m working.”  I get insulted at this.

Baird Steptoe, a camera assistant, Don Thorin Jr. another camera assistant, and Luca, over drinks talk about what “this business” does to romantic relationships.

Girls pass by in the lobby of this building.  It’s owned and occupied by members of the Church Of Scientology.  Some of them stop and watch what we’re doing.

Walter casually glances at the watching girls, nudges me. “More scientological puss.”

JULY 6, 1982

Joel:  “You’re not following the law of STBP! And what is the law of SBTP? See The Big Picture.

Defending a plump famous screamer who runs Paramount t.v. Gary Nardino:  “He’s effective”

Effective for what, I ask in reply. What quality stuff is he defending, is he effective in?

“He’s in television, he’s not concerned with quality.”

Walter on the subject of Producer-studio squabbles: “You have to remember that ninety seven percent of the things that they’re concerned with are unimportant.”

Blue Thunder

I mention idly over the I had heard a rumor thatGordon Carroll, had produced the film that would be our main Christmas competition, Blue Thunder, has said the film isn’t very good.

“That’s okay” Walter says, “Gordon’s one of those producers who feel that they and the studio have started off on this wonderful adventure together, they have dreamed this noble dream – -now these so-so filmmakers have come along and screwed it up.”

This in turn causes Walter to remark about the notes we’d received from Simpson about our film before we started that he has mostly ignored.  I had turned to him at one point, holding a copy of those notes in my hand, and said, “They’re contemplating a Platonic kind of movie that resembles our script schematically, but which doesn’t have anything to do with our actual movie… It’s notes on the “type” of movie ours is, not the actual thing itself.”  The film the studio chiefs see in their head the perfect idea for a film that is unmuddied by specific choices, or the specific stylistic voice of the filmmakers.

Walter has a bad cold today. It’s the scene of Nick meeting Eddie for the first time at the jail.

Sosna barking at the crew: “Hold the work.””John you’re a good man, I’ll take you on all my big pictures soon as I get one.

Sound guy Jim Cutter back holding the door audibly mutters, “This could be your last.”

After a take fails: “Let’s go again.  Debbie picture up–picture now.”


Eddie, improving.   His rendition of Roxanne, by the Police, — super.

(GROSS NOTES: One Thing I Have To Take Credit For…Eddie Sang Roxanne As An Improv With No Discussion And Neither Walter Nor Joel Knew The Song. Walter Was Prepared Not To Print The Take… When I Jumped All Over Him And Insisted That The Song Had A Huge Level Of Recognition With The Audience. Walter Shrugged And Decided To Print It. Others Involved In Cutting The Film And Supervising The Music Confirmed My Opinion.)

LA is
The extra sad American dream
We all live.
The rapid impoverishment of absolutes.
Sudden senescence.
The rainbow turned into a turd.
I can’t get enough of these sudden stunning mistakes.
The way the human light is the ruination of the natural light.
The way the human work on the hill serves to wreck the hill.
The way hunger screams from the soil of scrappy attempts to keep busy.
The way thousands of dead hearts generate half alive fantasmic cheerful smiles.
The morally dead, the intrinsically dead, the overworked dead.
How to think this catastrophe LA, this energy gone awry–this massive truth consuming itself accomplishing the metamorphosis into angry error.

JULY 7, 1982

This morning, a long elaborate take of Nick and Eddie at the prison, Eddie in his armani suit for the first time in the film, Nick angrily pushing Eddie around, fluffing his lines a few times, Eddie much better still yelling at Nick.

Nick got very tense and frustrated, sluffing his lines, and oddly I think it’s because he’s reluctant to be as mean and aggressive as the scene requires him to be.  The odd thing is of course is he’s so good at it.  But I almost feel like it makes Nick feel guilty to be good at this kind of being rough and even vicious.  It’s like a part of him feels like these were the kinds of feelings he got into acting to avoid.  He’s such a gentle and not violent person.

To everyone’s despair — Walter’s, Joel’s and mine — the studio furnished us today with their list of alternative titles.  It is a long mimeographed sheet.  It makes us temporarily consider finding a loaded weapon and blowing our brains out, because we can see just how the movie is viewed by the studio when they send us these ideas.  The two ideas that we keep repeating in a depressed mantra are “hotshots” and

We just shake our heads and stare at each other gloomily, not saying but thinking, “congratulations pal, you’re working on a film called hotshots”…

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published July 17, 2008