Reeler Archive for April, 2006

Fifth Annual Tribeca Press Conferences Officially Underway

The Reeler retuned to Lower Manhattan today, where Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and a few high-profile pals met the press to chat about the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. There was not a whole lot of Earth-shattering new information to pass along (Tom Cruise is still taking over New York in a week, programmer Peter Scarlet is still condescending), but on the whole, all signs indicate a fairly powerful buzz attending the festival’s fifth year.

The Tribeca Seven meet the press (L-R): Oren Jacoby, Ed Burns, Josh Lucas, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Ken Burns and Trudie Styler at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (Photo: STV)

“In 2002, in the wake of Sept. 11, we launched a film festival in 120 days and wondered if anyone would come,” Rosenthal said in her introduction. “Four years later, we have attracted over a million people to Lower Manhattan. In the process, we’ve screened an incredible range of films that have gone on to earn international acclaim. … While we have expanded, the heart and soul of our festival is Tribeca.”
Tribeca itself was a popular subject among other filmmakers in attendance, with The Groomsmen writer/director/star Ed Burns toasting the festival and its co-founders’ impact on the city. “I’m a New York-based filmmaker,” Burns said. “I’m here for the third time in five years, like Jane said. And speaking with other New York-based filmmakers, we love the fact that we now have our film festival. I love the fact we no longer have to schlep to the mountains of Utah for an independent film festival. So there’s that.
“The second thing I want to mention is that as a resident of Tribeca from before the festival, I’ve seen over the course of five years what the festival has meant to my neighborhood. Especially in the years immediately following 9/11, there was a lot of talk about how people were going to start to move out of Tribeca, restaurants were going to close, retail shops were going to be vacant. Walk around the neighborhood now and you see the opposite is true. There’s construction on every corner, you can’t get a reservation in a restaurant and there are shops all over the place. And I think you have to look at that and a big part of that has to do with this festival—(with) Jane and Bob turning it around 120 days after 9/11 to get this thing up and running. I just want to say thank you to them as a resident of Tribeca.”
De Niro, bless his heart, appeared touched by the festival’s reception, even as photographers filled each of his pauses with a full-bodied torrent of shutters and flashes that eventually drove him and his prepared speech back to his mark upstage. He was even more succinct in, um, discussing the programming of United 93 as this year’s opening film. “Flight 93 [sic],” he said, all but retreating from the podium. “If it were not opening the festival, it would seem strange. That’s really all I have to say.”
Rosenthal said that Tuesday’s premiere at the Ziegfeld will host 91 family members of the eponymous tragedy’s victims; invitations were also sent to 9/11 victims and their families around the tri-state area. The Reeler followed up on the lack of public tickets available for Tribeca’s triad of mega-premieres (United 93, Mission: Impossible III and Poseidon), asking Rosenthal if any seats would, in fact, open up.
“We’re venue-challenged,” she said. “In terms of M:I:III, we have some screenings in Harlem and Tribeca, and again, there’s just so many people you can fit into venues. We just don’t have enough venues. Even though some people don’t believe us when we say it, we’re still a struggling festival in terms of our finances. In the past, we have put screening facilities—projection facilities into Stuyvesant High School or at Pace University or put up a screening at the World Financial Center. We do what we can.”
Fair enough. In between snapping about festival selection criteria and what audiences should go see in a festival that some say is overprogrammed if not totally overextended, Tribeca executive director Peter Scarlet offered a genuinely spirited endorsement of the event’s revivals. “Some of the classics of cinema were shown here, and we’re showing more each year,” he said. “It’s a valiant effort to stem the tide that you may not all be aware of–that about 60 percent of the films that are made don’t exist anymore. So archives and people who are pouring money and time and attention into saving the past sort of deserve our support, and now we’re not just showing films from just Martin Scorsese’s collection, we’re showing films from major archives around the world.”
“We talk about independent filmmaking in New York,” he added a moment later. “It started with a man named Lionel Rogosin, whose film On the Bowery, made in 1956, has been restored by Cineteca di Bologna. We’re showing a fantastic new print, and when you see this film, you see it was the origin. It was before Cassavetes, it was before Robert Frank. It was at the origin of American independent cinema.”
And then they were off. I stuck around. Maybe I should just stay down here. Anyone have an open couch?

Wheat Ripped From Chaff as Cindy Adams Previews Tribeca

Cindy Adams made seven film publicists very happy this morning when she devoted the majority of her column to one of her quintessentially probing festival previews. As I am positive that Adams–like yours truly–sacrificed a bleary-eyed weekend viewing screener after screener after screener while her mutts yapped and pissed themselves into convulsive shock, I am bumping her esteemed selections right to the top of my list.
Because you really need no more endorsement of Driving Lessons than “Harold and Maude without the sex,” or of Jason Patric as both Julia Roberts’ ex and Jackie Gleason’s grandson. Or of… oh, the hell with it. Read for yourself:

Cocaine Cowboys … A sweet little tale of transplanted New Yorker Jon Roberts, who unloaded $2 billion worth of cocaine and another kindly dude, Mickey Munday, who smuggled more than 10 tons of coke from the Medellin Cartel into the United States.

And there’s Torte Bluma, the 14-minute short that already won the Palm Springs and Los Angeles festivals. Director Benjamin Ross has a Golden Globe for the HBO film RKO 281 and is also the nephew of Brit p.r. great Freddie Ross Hancock.

That’s about all I’ll mention now since there are 174 films, 800 screenings, a 48-page guidebook, and this little downtown film festival is now more spread out than Kirstie Alley.

Only in New York, kids–though we would be happy to share custody of Adams if you want her.

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New York Magazine Film Section Brings In the Specialist

It looks like a good week for film coverage in New York Magazine: David Edelstein offers typically thoughtful yet fevered praise of United 93 (“It’s a frantic paralysis”); Logan Hill cogently previews Tribeca (as teased here last week); and producer Lynda Obst–NYM’s unofficial West Coast film bureau chief–offers a fresh diagnosis of what is eating away at movie audiences.
Not that you need a genuine industry authority to tell you that lavishly bejeweled turds like Cinderella Man ain’t gonna save Hollywood:

So we can’t put a bad blockbuster over anymore, as in the golden era of 2002, when The Scorpion King could open at $36 million, or Blade II at $33 million. And we have to kill our singular addiction to teenage boys. We need to diversify the meaning of “our audience.” We have a few audiences. Baby-boomers have a movie habit and an IV hooked up to pop culture (look at Inside Man or The Interpreter). You would have thought that Something’s Gotta Give proved that older women were worth making movies for, but one strike with In Her Shoes and we’re out. Young girls, reliable last year, have been rationalized off the screen (their tastes this year considered to be entirely driven by boys).

Obst continues on to sort-of state the obvious posit, “It’s the movie, stupid. Not the marketing. (Though marketers shouldn’t gloat yet, ’cause they can still kill a good picture.)” Can they ever. At any rate, her analysis is worth a look, if only for the refreshing admission that the “good old days” of mass-produced sequels and unquestioned theatrical superiority are waning–if not behind us.
UPDATE: An astute reader sends this observation: “Obst trashes the idea that videogame adaptations geared toward teen boys have a long shelflife. Then what’s number 1 at (the) box office the day it hits stands? Silent Hill. Can’t win for losin’.”

Screening Gotham: April 21-23, 2006

Some of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic happenings around New York:
–Fatty Arbuckle was a lot of things: An actor, a filmmaker, a mentor (to Buster Keaton, no less), a classic clown, a literal (300-pound) and figurative (dozens of movies per year) giant of the silent film era. But more than 80 years of myth and rumor has somehow cemented Arbuckle as the one thing he never was: a killer, charged with manslaughter in 1921 and blacklisted for more than a decade after his acquittal. Arbuckle’s tragedy provides the shattering counterpoint to MoMA’s Rediscovering Roscoe: The Careers of Fatty Arbuckle, a three-and-a-half week retrospective as exhaustive as any undertaken in the film legend’s name. This weekend’s programs highlight Arbuckle as the “Box Office Star” and “Sophisticated Director” he became in 1914-15; it peaks Saturday with a program featuring early Arbuckle/Keaton collaborations The Butcher Boy, The Rough House and Coney Island. Ben Model’s organ accompaniment provides the pulse, but as it has done off-and-on for almost a century, Arbuckle’s work provides the light.
–The wordy cinephiles at Reverse Shot appear to have stormed the theater at Makor, where they plan to spend the next week running the Reverse Shot Presents series of new and gently used films. Saturday night’s opener features the Rob Zombie tandem House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, followed by a chat with the latter film’s Ken “You Fuck Chickens?” Foree. Next week’s selections are not too bad either, with the New York premiere of Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s acclaimed documentary A Lion in the House wrapping things up April 30.
–I should not have to say it again, but the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival has its shit together and you absolutely should go. BUFF’s comedy shorts program Oh My God! goes off at 10 tonight, and and Rooftop Films are buying the drinks for at least part of the dance party that follows. If you survive, there is tomorrow’s Music Showcase at Northsix and another two days of screenings to keep you busy in the run up to Tribeca. Try to behave yourself.

Tribeca Survey: What NYC Media Are Saying About the Festival

Admittedly, Reeler HQ is abuzz with the Tribeca vibe even as it is deluged with what has become a succession of dodgy and dodgier program selections. As such, I have been branching out to other local writers’ perceptions of what this year’s festival has to offer; Tribeca represents the coin of the critical realm at The Times, New York Magazine, the Voice and Time Out New York, and while the overriding ethos behind the coverge seems to be cautious optimism, some publications’ hometown pride fakes the funk a little more than others.
Take TONY’s ubiquitous Anthony Kaufman, for example, who found time between his RES 9.2 feature about Rachel Boynton and all that life-draining blogging at indieWIRE to write this week’s Tribeca cover story:

Indeed officials praise the festival for fueling the city’s economy and advertising New York as a Hollywood on the Hudson for filmmakers. “Last year, the festival generated $77 million in economic output for the city as a whole, says Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. “This is a draw not just for the five boroughs, but people from all over the world.” Proving that point, more than 2,000 volunteers from as far away as Brazil and Singapore, will work at this year’s gathering.

But then there are the Tribecans who worry about screening venues’ diffusion uptown, anonymous distributors bitching about films’ quality and festival executive director Peter Scarlet actually calling Tribeca “a retail, not a wholesale festival.” And whither Robert De Niro? Despite TONY handing over its cover and feature well to the actor and his festival, his only appearances are a few minor quotes via e-mail. Co-founder/producer Jane Rosenthal chimes in a little more ebulliently, “The city’s been through a lot, it’s spring in New York–let’s celebrate.”
Yes, let’s!, writes the Voice’s J. Hoberman:

Like the city it celebrates, Tribeca has proven resilient, but like New York, it’s far too sprawling and abrasive to ever attain the grooviness of SXSW or the exclusivity of Telluride. Marketing—yes. Market—we’ll see. Tribeca is very far from rivaling Sundance (or Toronto) as the place at which to sell or launch a movie. True, Oscar nominee Transamerica did have its premiere at the last festival—but only God and Harvey Weinstein know if the Weinstein brothers weren’t already planning to make that acquisition. …

Perhaps such inside baseball is irrelevant. Tribeca executive director Peter Scarlet, longtime head of the San Francisco Film Festival and former director of the Cinémathéque Française, has brought an urbane, genuinely cosmopolitan quality to the selection—choice restorations, an amazing assortment of documentaries, any number of movies wrested away from New Directors/New Films and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival …

The Voice’s critical cabal has at a few specific selections, recommending 40 of the festival’s 174 features while Dennis Lim favorably reviews United 93 and director Paul Greengrass, “who may yet emerge as the Maya Lin of cine-memorialists.” Meanwhile, in other helpful comparisons, Jim Ridley (!) pegs the Luna documentary Tell Me Do You Miss Me as “a grubby indie-rock scale down of The Last Waltz” and Michael Atkinson classifies The Yacoubian Building as “a Cairo-based Gone With the Wind.” Scarlet makes another appearance, actually saying “We don’t break kneecaps” when Lim asks about Tribeca’s proximity to other high-profile festivals:

There are festivals that take place just before us: Full Frame, South by Southwest, New Directors. I think the cards are on the table for the filmmakers to decide what the advantages and disadvantages are.

Yeah, gang, so don’t fuck this one up. And hey, look! There’s Scarlet again in The Times, actually comparing Tribeca to Berlin:

“New York is a big town and has the biggest of everything, so it should not be daunted by having a huge festival,” said Peter Scarlet, the executive director, who pointed out that Berlin, a much smaller city, has a festival with twice as many movies. By sheer numbers TriBeCa can be a bit of a crapshoot: choose unwisely and you could end up in the cinematic equivalent of a table in crowded restaurant next to a really obnoxious, self-impressed grad student who doesn’t know how to tell a story.

That second half, of course, is the Father of The Reeler, David Carr, who contributes a more scattershot, sensuous survey of the festival (“If you’ve had enough of the industrial-strength stuff,” Carr writes, “get a folding chair and a bottle of beer in front of the Ear Inn in SoHo; on a warm spring night it is one of New York’s seminal experiences, with or without a film festival”) while NYT tour guide Ben Sisario provides helpful hints on navigating 15 venues flung from Tribeca to the Upper West Side.
And finally, The Reeler got its hands on New York Magazine critic Logan Hill’s “Tribeca by Numbers.” The piece arrives on newsstands next week, but in the meantime, it provides a useful glimpse at a festival where ambivalence and ambition share a near-blinding spotlight. While Hill heartily recommends Jonestown, Driving Lessons, Once in a Lifetime and the “must-see” restoration of Lionel Bogosin’s On the Bowery, he reveals a more disheartening truth about the “retail festival” that Scarlet praised to TONY:

0 When Tribeca announced that it was adding [Tom] Cruise’s M:I:III to its premieres of Poseidon and United 93, Daily Variety blasted the news across its front page, noting that the fest would be “putting Tribeca’s regular auds through some wrenching emotional gyrations—from viewing real-life tragedy on-screen to watching manufactured disaster and derring-do.” Variety needn’t have worried, because there are exactly zero public tickets available to the premieres of these films. Meanwhile, only M:I:III has made talent (director J. J. Abrams) available for a panel talk.

But amid all of this–all of the mixed reviews before the festival has even begun, all of the hype and red-carpet anticipation, all of the eagerly awaited independent titles–there really is only one essential Tribeca factor to remember. One quality that subsumes the rest. Just remember, no matter how breathlessly excited you are–Robert De Niro is thrilled.

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'The Offence': The Reeler Shares Sidney Lumet in Brooklyn

As much as I wish I could, I cannot add the two-and-a-half hours spent Thursday evening in a theater with Sidney Lumet to the life-changing 56 seconds I spent talking to him last month. His appearance at BAM–for a super-rare screening of his other, cop-not-named-Serpico-suffering-an-existential-crisis film of 1973, The Offence–instead culminated in one of the institution’s regular post-screening chats with Elliott Stein, and I had to share the Q&A with a dozen or so other reverent moviegoers.

Sidney Lumet relives the grand old days of television and self-pitying action stars with BAM fixture Elliott Stein (Photo: STV)

Like it matters. As always, it is the little things that count, like glancing at Lumet in the row behind mine, where he sat with his wife viewing Sean Connery’s implosive tour de force for the first time in 20 years. Or watching him squirm at the recollection of the film’s British crew calling him “governor” rather than “director.” Or defending Connery and Vin Diesel against “snobs who have things against action heroes.” Or corollating The Offence with his recent Find Me Guilty even further by calling them “the two worst distribution jobs I’ve ever had.”
“The whole premise–and this was understood from the beginning–was that there was a wonderful theater in London then called the Putnam,” Lumet told Stein. “It was a wonderful arthouse; the expenses were very low in it. And so you could put a picture there and it would stay for weeks and weeks and find an audience. And we were supposed to open at the Putnam in October or something like that. And all of the sudden we weren’t opening there; we opened at the Odeon Leicester Square on Christmas. Now, I don’t know if you know what the Odeon Leicester Square is, but it’s a combination of Radio City Music Hall, the Paramout, the Strand–all of those. It seats like 4,000 or 5,000 people. You put Star Wars in there. It’s that kind of theater. And we were out in a week. And then with that happening, the American release was even worse.”

The Offence‘s grim, working-class cop drama could not have helped matters, especially with Connery’s James Bond persona still dominating the pop-cultural mind (Connery, who took no salary on the picture, received United Artists’ green light only after agreeing to make 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever). Imagine dropping by the theater in 1973 and seeing 007 recast as Detective Sergeant Johnson, a haunted investigator charged with finding a serial killer who has been abducting and murdering schoolgirls. Imagine recoiling in your seat as Connery’s demons consume him before moving on to his long-suffering wife (Vivian Merchant), his superior (Trevor Howard) and finally claiming his chief suspect (a leering, lascivious Ian Bannen). Imagine the moral specter of Dirty Harry plunged through the prism of British kitchen-sink dramas like Look Back in Anger and This Sporting Life, and then get the hell out of the way of a fairly lethal (if not mildly pretentious) cascade of self-loathing.
Characteristically for a Lumet film, the acting is first-rate, the direction natural–especially for a film mostly comprising long, two-person set pieces once-removed from the stage. “It’s a very complicated, worked-out, thought-out movie technique,” Lumet said. “As you know, small spaces have never bothered me, from my first picture on. When we did Long Day’s Journey Into Night, that was four people in one room for thee and a half hours. It’s just a combination of lenses, lighting, camaera elevation. It’s complicated.”
Stein eventually came around to asking about the influence of Lumet’s famous live television background on quick, dirty productions like The Offence–shot in less than a month for under $900,000. “I did a half-hour melodrama called Danger on Tuesday nights, and on Sundays, I did a show called You Are There. I did two half-hour shows a week–live. And what happens as a result of that is that first of all, you learn to really split your concentration. It meant I had to carry eight shows in my head: The shows I was doing right then and there; the casting for two shows for next week; the physical sets, props and production of the shows two weeks down the line; and working on the scripts of the shows three weeks down the line. So you’re doing eight shows. Terrific. Highly recommended.
“And what it taught us was that it’s a television show. There’s another one next week. Now, that may sound disrespectful. Quite the reverse. It’s a wonderful attitude in the sense that you relax, and every piece of work isn’t life and death. People always say, ‘Oh my God, look at the large number of movies you’ve done.’ I don’t know how many movies I’ve done. Terrific.”
“Forty-two,” Stein said.
“Forty-two? I think it’s more,” Lumet said winkingly. “But it’s important to not think about everything being for history, or if it’s art. All those big words–history, art.” He shrugged, waved, swatted the words out of the air. “Just do your work. The rest will take care of itself.”
Ha. Will it ever.

Brooklyn Underground Film Festival Fires Up at the Lyceum

The Brooklyn Underground Film Festival commenced its fourth year last night at the Brooklyn Lyceum, where a near-packed house dropped in for an opening night party and stuck around for Adán Aliaga’s documentary My Grandmother’s House (right). Having endured the close-ups of anti-fungal pedicures yet appreciated the film’s rambunctious poignancy, I caught up with program director Josh Koury to see what else he had up his sleeve for 2006.
“We have a great variety of work,” Koury told me. “The beauty of our program is that we have a little bit of everything for everybody. We have touching films that are more personal, we have very comedic films that are heavy and funny, and we have outlandish films and films that are very political and very timely. That’s the importance of this festival, I think: hitting all those those little buttons and attracting all those different crowds.”
So what specific “little buttons” do the BUFF organizers have in mind? Try Tally Abecassis’s taxidermy doc Lifelike, or the surreal Japanese clip show Super Happy Fun Monkey Bash, or Zipora Trope’s requiem for a dead Israeli punk rocker, Looking For the Lost Voice. Then there are the shorts–66 of them, including a quasi-tribute to Kirsten Dunst and a block of 11 student films.
And then there are the parties, most notably Friday night’s Meet the Filmmakers dance extravaganza and Saturday night’s music showcase featuring Har Mar Superstar and Five O’Clock Heroes among others. “I think that film festivals are almost always half-party and half-festival, but we really marry those two quite well,” Koury said. “I mean, we’re an underground film festival. We attract great people. We can throw a great party but also represent when it comes to film. And that’s important.”
Tonight, the Lyceum hosts the documentaries Clever Monkey Pinochet Versus La Moneda’s Pigs (a series of vignettes retelling the atmosphere around Pinochet’s 1973 Chilean coup) and Letters From the Other Side, while the “Lost and Found” shorts program boasts Talmage Cooley’sd brilliant blind-street-gang chronicle Dimmer. Phillipe Diaz’s The Empire in Africa closes BUFF Sunday evening–just a few nights before another well-known local fest’s shadow overtakes the city.
“You’re always fighting the big festivals like Tribeca and all the other ones around,” Koury told me. “But the idea that we’re our own entity, we’re all in one space, we’re all here together and it’s a community–I think that’s the real backbone of this festival. When you come here, you feel that. Nothing against other festivals, but you miss it, you miss more than just what’s on the screen–you miss something special. And I think that tonight was a perfect example of that.”

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Cannes Lineup Locked Even if Pictures Are Not

We had a clue where the Cannes Film Festival selections were heading a while back when the Hollywood Reporter’s Charlie Masters broke out his crystal ball. But lest you need official word before you start squaring your bets, the festival this morning revealed the 19 films making up its 2006 competition lineup.
And although surprises are always fun, you are not likely to find any here: American films include Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation and Richard Kelly’s long-awaited Southland Tales, while international masters Kaurismaki, Almodovar and Loach will also debut their latest. John Cameron Mitchell is racing to cut together all the amateur New York sex promised for Shortbus–which will premiere alongside Election 2 and Guisi in the festival’s Midnight section–while X3 helmer Brett Ratner is having new business cards printed with “Director of an Official Non-Competition Selection at Cannes” emblazoned in gold beneath his name.
The festival runs May 17-28, and I am sitting this one out. For any Cannes-goers who have always dreamed of contributing to The Reeler, consider this post and my e-mail address (stv [AT] your engraved invitation.

Reeler Ticket Giveaway: Opening Night of Independence World Cinema Showcase

The Reeler’s friends at the Museum of the Moving Image are what you might call busy–a Beastie Boys retrospective here, a Robert Altman retrospective there–and they are only getting busier this weekend as they launch their weekly Independence World Cinema Showcase. And in keeping with their generous spirit, I have a pair of tickets to Friday’s opening night film Black that I feel privileged to give away to a lucky reader.
OK, so “luck” may have little to do with it. All you really need to do is be the first to answer a question about director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s acclaimed 2005 tearjerker, in which Bollywood icon Rani Mukherjee portrays a blind deaf-mute who learns to see the world through the instruction of her hardened (but loving!) teacher Amitabh Bachchan. The film won eight Indian Oscars and further expanded its stars’ international legends, with Mukherjee in particular going above and beyond by wearing dark contact lenses that discolored her famous eyes.
Which leads me to the Big (if Simple) Question: What color are Rani Mukherjee’s famous eyes? The first to respond accurately in the comments wins the tickets to Friday’s series opener in Astoria.


Dick, IFC Bring 'Not Yet Rated' to NYC Audience

The Reeler spent a few hours Tuesday at IFC Center, where the theater’s Stranger Than Fiction series wound to a close with a preview of Kirby Dick’s muckraking doc This Film is Not Yet Rated. It was one of best turnouts of the series’ spring session, with even Michael Moore dropping by for at least a word with Dick and glimpse at the first few minutes. Oscar-nominated Street Fight filmmaker Marshall Curry was also in the house, as were Not Yet Rated producer Eddie Schmidt and IFC’s executive producers Alison Palmer Bourke and the one-and-only Evan Shapiro.

NYU’s Thom Powers (left) grills This Film Is Not Yet Rated director Kirby Dick (center) and producer Eddie Schmidt (Photo: STV)

I had seen probably two-thirds of the film at Sundance, and at the time, a little more languid cut and an overriding sense of indignance left me a tad ambivalent. But after some tightening, the film looks to emerge as a viable challenge to the mysterious MPAA ratings board–or perhaps we should call it the “once-mysterious MPAA ratings board,” considering Dick’s relentless revealing of its members’ identities.
“We never had a problem with releasing their names,” Dick said during a discussion following the screening. “What the raters are doing is making decisions that are in the public interest of everyone, really, in society–certainly all parents. And so everyone should know that process. It should be a transparent process; it’s a transparent process in every European country. Everybody knows who judges are, for example, or school board members. The MPAA claims that the reason they do it is to protect these people from influence. But of course, the people who are in direct contact with the industry people–the people who directly influence these raters–are these senior raters and (ratings board boss) Joan Graves.
“So that point of influence exists, and there’s absolutely no reason not to open this process up except (that) the MPAA wants to keep control of it. And the way they do it is by keeping as much secrecy around it as possible, which is why all these filmmakers that you see in our film all thought they had an ‘R’ rating. These are people who had run films through the ratings system before, thought they were making an ‘R’ film, and it turns out they weren’t.”
Not that the ratings board does not want to be your friend or anything. “I think they know probably that filmmakers have this built in animosity,” Schmidt told the crowd. “So they figure that if they play it nice, then people will kind of come down in their anger. So it’s censorship with a smile, I guess.”

I plan to write more specifically about the film as its Sept. 1 theatrical release nears, but I will say that this time around, for whatever reason, I had a little less difficult time reconciling the MPAA’s censorship issues (as outlined by ratings board victims John Waters, Kimberley Peirce, Atom Egoyan [featured at right, with Dick] and others) with its assiduous attempts to out the board members. Scenes in which Dick and private eye Becky Altringer rifle through garbage and stalk raters at lunch possess a perverse entertainment value all their own, and their confinement to a subplot almost felt like a disservice. But the new cut portrays each a little more evenly (or maybe I just perceived it that way–I did sleepwalk through much of Sundance’s second half), dovetailing the threads into a conclusion you cannot help but appreciate despite seeing it coming a mile away.
Much of that foreshadowing has to do with Altringer, the intrepid investigator whose minivan exploits must be seen to believed. “We submitted the film (for a rating),” Dick recalled. “And then Becky called and said, ‘I want to go back one last time. I want to get one last piece of information.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think they’ll be watching the film until the next day, but you’re going to take a risk.’ So she said, “OK, I’m going to do it.’
“She was out there, and it got dark. She told me she needed this license plate, and in order to get it, she had to go down and sit on this sidewalk. And she sort of pretended she was a homeless person. She didn’t pull that off quite as well, and then a guard came up and recognized her because I guess they had screened the film that afternoon. He called up and said, ‘She’s out here.’ Becky ran back into her van, which now was a new van–not the van you saw–and instead of driving away like a sane person would, she just watched Joan Graves and these guards come out and race around all over searching for her.”
As if that did not reflect the MPAA’s desperation enough , Dick also described how the rabidly anti-piracy trade group broke its own rules in plotting its damage control tactics. “Actually, they sort of pirated a copy of the film,” he said. “Prior to submitting the film to get rated, I thought, ‘You know, if I submit this, they’re not going to want to give it back.’ So I called them up and asked them, ‘Who’s going to see the film, and can they promise me that they won’t make a copy of the film?’ And they assured me that only the raters would see the film and they wouldn’t make a copy of the film.
“Sure enough, we find out a little later that Greg Goeckner, the (MPAA) attorney, has seen the film, and after that, we found out (MPAA president) Dan Glickman has seen the film. And then the attorney called me a few days later and said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, we have made a copy of the film. But don’t worry. It’s safe in my office.’ And we sent them a letter insisting that they send it back, and they said, ‘No we have a right to keep it.’ So that’s the MPAA for you.”
(Egoyan/Dick photo: Chain Camera)

Through a Magazine Darkly: RES Returns With its "Going Places" Edition

Leave it to the jokers at RES Magazine to host their new issue’s launch party in a space so dark you cannot see where you are walking, let alone read the damn thing. But that is pretty much what happened Tuesday evening at Movida when the gang unveiled its March/April “Going Places” edition, a typically classy product featuring the 2006 RES 10–a selection of up-and-coming artists, musicians, filmmakers and other digital wonks boasting a bold flourish of genius that makes them “creators to watch” in the year ahead.

Partygoer Seth Philips basks in the expertly crafted stylings of RES Media’s resident DJ goddess Megan Newcome (Photo: STV)

The issue also spotlights writer/illustrator Daniel Clowes and his upcoming Art School Confidential as well as Our Brand is Crisis filmmaker Rachel Boynton. Most notably, the back of the book offers the newest of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s many self-effacing Q&A’s detailing the making of his group’s masterwork, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!:

My favorite shot in the movie is a guy with his shirt off, rocking a Jewfro and a gold chain… and then sitting next to him is an older woman praying! When I saw that, I was like, “Wow! That is one diverse crowd.” It’s like Horshack hangin’ out with Weezy!

Indeed–just like that. (The photo of Yauch’s auteur-ego Nathaniel Hörnblowér is of particular, um, interest.) At any rate, RES is out and about at discriminating newsstands around town, so you might as well go pick it up. And find a well-lighted space.

'They Will Be Proud': Archerd Probes Meyer on 'United 93'

“Hollywood’s original blogger” Army Archerd recently had an “always-pleasant” chat with Universal boss Ron Meyer, who continues to toe the sensitive company line regarding too-much-too-soon criticism of United 93:

(Meyer) readily admitted he is “not surprised — this is a very powerful story — and the word ‘powerful’ is an understatement.” He promises when audiences see the film, “they will be proud of being Americans.” And yes, he admits that the studio was “very careful” not only in the telling of the story but in its advertising, that is, the trailer. “But everyone (at Universal) felt that this story needed to be told.”

Archerd notes that Universal will donate 10 percent of United 93‘s opening weekend grosses to families of the flight’s victims–roughly $1.5 million, if I had to make a guess. And in keeping with that tradition of American pride, a corpulent Universal will pocket the rest in perpetuity, maximizing the can-do tradition of exploitation and greed that has motivated our nation’s film industry captains since, like, ever. I, for one, am virtually shitting myself with pride.
Jesus Christ, I sound like Anthony Kaufman.

Big News For Altman Freaks: Moving Image Retrospective is Official

This just in: The Museum of the Moving Image is planning a fairly immense Robert Altman retrospective to run April 29 through June 8, bookended on each date with appearances by the filmmaker discussing (respectively) Kansas City and A Prairie Home Companion. Other selections include a few rarely screened titles such as 1972’s Images and 1996’s Kansas City spinoff Robert Altman’s Jazz ’34, not to mention the entire Tanner ’88 miniseries and its 2004 reprise Tanner on Tanner. The old standbys are here as well–McCabe and Mrs. Miller, M*A*S*H* and The Player among numerous overrated others. Oh, yeah–and his masterpiece Nashville screens the weekend of May 13-14.
(Photo: Defamer)

Lange at Lincoln Center: Gala Tribute Toasts 30-Year Career

While viewing the clips comprised during Monday night’s Gala Tribute to Jessica Lange at Lincoln Center, I experienced a reaction I hardly anticipated. In a nutshell, I started to wonder if Lange might be the American actress most taken for granted–the one we know is out there, whom we know is good but whom we just expect to churn out one tight, powerful performance after another. Not that I would say she is consistently brilliant (though it should be noted that her noble tries in crap from King Kong to Hush are worth infinitely more than the sum of the parts surrounding them), but she might be our own Catherine Deneuve–a gorgeous utilitarian icon who works when she wants to, usually choosing good roles and all the while defying fear, age and easy categorization.

Belle of the Ball: Jessica Lange soaks in the love at Monday’s Gala Tribute at Lincoln Center (Photos: STV)

Whatever that means, right? You would have to go back through the films in their entirety to get the nuance (the relatively histrionic nature of Lange’s clips represented the running joke of the evening), but the versatility and the accomplishment is there: an Oscar for “basically playing a girl” in Tootsie, (as longtime Lange friend and colleague Charles Grodin described her onstage); another Oscar for her volatile turn in Blue Sky; nominations for her wildly divergent leading roles in the biopics Sweet Dreams and Frances; and, last night, the Film Society’s accolade, awarded in a low-key celebration inching closer to a canonization with each reverent speaker.
“I love the organization and I love what they stand for,” Lange told The Reeler before the event. “It’s great to be a New Yorker and to be singled out for this particular honor.”
Fair enough, but have you been to one of these before? Do you know what you are in for?
“No, I don’t yet, but–”
A publicist interceded. “Don’t tell her!” she said. “Don’t tell her about the water balloons!”

OK, fine. Three days shy of her 57th birthday, the typically stunning actress occupied a first-tier box in Avery Fisher Hall with a family entourage led by beau Sam Shepard (left), while pals Grodin, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Alan Cumming and Amy Madigan appeared in support and admiration. All of them spoke in Lange’s honor, with a particular gravity overtaking most. Shepard’s tribute was especially touching, with the playwright and actor stopping just short of tears with his declaration, “I tip my hat to her as an artist, and I love her with all my heart.” Cumming’s recollection of shooting Titus with Lange yielded its own awkward “romance”; his praise of her breasts garnered her reaction, “Honey, if your hand wasn’t there, it’d be halfway around my back.”
Bates and Allen lightened things up with their own schtick–“the stick and the olive,” as Bates put it. “Now you might think from watching these clips that Ms. Lange lacks a sense of humor,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“The Jessica that we have come to know and love is a barrel of laughs,” Allen said.
“What were some of the fun things that she did?” Bates asked Allen, refelcting back to their experience shooting the upcoming Bonneville. They thought it over. And thought. And thought.
“Oh, I remember!” Allen said. “Remember the time we were in her trailer and she told us not to buy any gas from Exxon because their profits were too high?”
“And when she walked into the glass door when we were filming on the houseboat and broke the whole crew up?”
“No, that was you, Kathy. You did that.”
At least they tried, right? Closing out the night, Lange was not to be outdone. “It’s an amazing moment when you sit and you watch bits and pieces of 30 years of what you’ve done, because it still feels like I’m just barely getting started,” she said. “I’m just beginning to learn how to do this incredibly mysterious thing called actiung. And when I hear people talking about how they’ve seen my work or perceived my work over the years, it’s incredibly touching and emotional for me. Because the truth is I never know really how it’s going.
“But I want you to know,” Lange added, pausing. “I really can do comedy.”

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Martin Does Page Six; World Laughs on the Inside

Now that pretty much everyone and their doormen have weighed in on the extortion controversy afflicting Page Six freelancer Jared Paul Stern, we can finally sift through the pile-up to sort the dead. For example, Gawker compromised its unofficial “Payola Six” reporting leadership by allowing Stern a weekend editing gig, which he handled about as elegantly as he stammered out his $220,000 request to Ron Burkle. And then there is Art Buchwald, whose evidently terminal unfunniness (he wrote from hospice) persisted Monday in The Washington Post with ruminations like, “In any case, I liked the story because it had nothing to do with leaks from the White House.”
But the most mangled casualty to be dragged smoldering from the cultural collision might be Steve Martin, who wrote up his own parody of Page Six for The New Yorker. Loaded with “full disclosures” and other in-“jokes,” Martin’s piece has swept the Web as some sort of piercing satire; but as much as I wanted to be amused, I found myself reading it with a waning enthusiasm not dissimilar to the ethos guiding Martin’s film career.
I mean, is this what passes for funny in The New Yorker?

Later, Late Show

David Letterman, the poor man’s Alan Thicke (full disclosure: Dave refused to match our Oscar gift basket), made a snide joke on his show about Page Six appearing not on page 6 but on page 12. Yeah, well, so? The reason that Page Six appears on page 12 is that we are getting a regular envelope under the door from the Committee to Promote the Number Twelve, and it would be too confusing to our readers to change the name of the column to Page Twelve, and, anyway, we are also receiving a tasty monthly contribution from the Society to Promote the Number Six.

Look on the bright side: At least David Denby can rest easy knowing he is, for once, not the magazine’s most insipid contributor. A thank-you card must be in order.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ David Simon