Cinema Station

The Quote Board

June 26, 2012
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The Quote Board

This is the section where we record the words from filmmakers living and dead that we think and hope will provoke, inspire and perhaps challenge new and not- so- new filmmakers in one way or another.

 

If it can be written or thought it can be put on film.

 

A filmmaker has the same freedom as a novelist has when he buys some paper.

 

Here’s to five miserable months on the wagon and the irreparable harm that it has caused me.

– Stanley Kubrick (1928 -1999)

 

*****

 

I steal from every movie ever made.

 

To me movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.

 

I’m not a Hollywood basher because enough good movies come out of the Hollywood system every year to justify its existence without apologies’.

-Quentin Tarantino

 

*****

 

I don’t believe in censorship.

 

If there’s a specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender and I refuse to stop making movies.

 

My movement from painting to film was a very conscious one.

 

I like high impact movies.

Kathryn Bigelow

 

*****

 

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.

 

I can’t really envision a time when I’m not shooting something.

 

Every year or so I try to do something (acting); it keeps me refreshed as to what’s going on in front of the lens, and I understand what the actor is going through.

-Martin Scorsese

*****

A lot of the time you get credit for stuff in your movie you didn’t intend to be there.

 

All directors are storytellers, so the motivation was to tell the story I wanted to tell. That’s what I love.

 

Fight the power that be. Fight the power!

 

I live in New York City, the stories of my films take place in New York; I’m a New York filmmaker.

– Spike Lee

 

*****

 

What we now have a new Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

– Over population

– Science

-Technology

and

– The Media

-Luis Bunuel (1900-1983)

 

*****

 

I dream for a living.

 

Every time I go to a movie it’s magic no matter what the movie’s about.

 

I like the smell of film. I just like knowing that there’s film going through the camera.

 

I’m really not interested in making money.

 

People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a beginning, a middle and an end anymore. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.

 

When I grow up, I still want to be a director.

 

– Steven Spielberg

 

*****

 

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

 

If my films don’t show a profit, I know that I’m doing something right.

 

Life doesn’t imitate art. It imitates bad television.

 

I’m such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.

 

As a poet said “Only God can make a tree” probably because it’s so hard to figure how to get the bark on.

 

I want to tell you a terrific story about oral contraception. I asked this girl to sleep with me and she said no.

-Woody Allen

 

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Picture of the Week: What Doesn’t Kill You (2008)

June 25, 2012
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What Doesn’t Kill You (2008)

Like most the films we pick for “Picture of the Week”, What Doesn’t Kill You slipped through the cracks on its initial release. I believe it was lost in the December/January Oscar jumble and did not get enough recognition to earn any awards or much of an audience either.

The story of the film seems like it’s been done a million times. It’s the story of a couple young gangsters (Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke) living dangerous and trying to move up the ranks in their city (Boston in this case, like Scorsese’s The Departed and Affleck’s The Town). It’s been done before in many variations, harking back to Raoul Walsh pictures like Regeneration and The Roaring Twenties with many renditions in the last hundred years of cinema.

So why is this film worth mention? Because although it does not break any new ground, it features fantastic performances (perhaps the best of their careers) from Ruffalo and Hawke, as well as great moments of truth from writer/director and actor Brian Goodman.

Director Goodman with Hawke and Ruffalo

As the two characters in the film (childhood friends and partners in crime) take on various scores to move up in the world, the actors create fresh interpretations of the tired gangster image. Ruffalo is a father (a bad one of course), he’s got an extreme temper, and he becomes addicted to drugs. His main struggle in the film revolves around his commitment to his sons and his wife (played by Amanda Peet) as his environment leads him towards a life of crime. Again, it sounds like a tired old conflict but Ruffalo brings an incredible intimacy and truth to this man, especially in the last half of the picture. His moments of rage are balanced with touching understated scenes between him and his son, as well as a fellow con and reformed alcoholic (played by Will Lyman) who tries to steer him straight. With this (and his recent performance in The Kids are Alright) Ruffalo proves himself to be an intelligent actor and one of the most interesting to watch.

Hawke, who I was recently underwhelmed by in The Woman in the Fifth, delivers his best performance in years as Ruffalo’s wilder half. What I really like about Hawke’s work here is how he captures a Boston gangster (with a death wish) while contrasting our expectations of the character by making him the most reasonable character in the movie. Hawke’s creation, though he is the instigator of crime, remains the voice of reason throughout the picture: pulling Ruffalo away from the drugs, demanding with logic that he get his fair share from the older neighborhood gangsters, telling a young girl that he’s not the kind of man she should fall in love with, and understanding Ruffalo’s plight better than he understands it himself. It really is the more subtle and more brilliant performance of the two.

I believe what makes the film work beyond the acting is Brian Goodman’s personal connection to the story. Apparently the film follows his own experience in the 1990’s. This elevates the writing above the plot’s conventions  and creates a compelling directing debut.

What Doesn’t Kill You is an ordinary crime film with extraordinary parts.

-TM


Truffaut on Godard

June 23, 2012
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This is Francois Truffaut writing about Jean-Luc Godard before their relationship deteriorated.

“He is not the only director for whom filming is like breathing, but he’s the one who breathes best. He is rapid like Rossellini, witty like Sacha Guitry, musical like Orson Welles, simple like Marcel Pagnol, wounded like Nicholas Ray, effective like Hitchcock, profound like Bergman, and insolent like nobody else.”


Sunday in New York (1963)

June 20, 2012
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Sunday in New York (1963)

Sunday in New York is one of those artificial little comedies based on what I call “a matinee play” that ran for a few months on Broadway. I saw the original production (Yes, at a Sunday matinee) and thought it a slightly amusing way to spend an afternoon. At the time I was, theatrically speaking, an unsophisticated 22 year old and I can honestly say that it didn’t make much of an impression. As I remember it wasn’t an engrossing experience but it wasn’t a total waste of time or money either. It was just sort of so-so.

New York on Sunday, big city taking a nap.

Slow down it’s Sunday, life’s a ball just let it all right in your lap.

About two years later the movie came out proceeded by a pleasant title song written by pianist/ composer Peter Nero (who briefly appears in the film) and Carroll Coates (whose lyrics are quoted throughout this post) and sung by Mel Torme. The song got a fair amount of airplay on the radio and I credit it as the reason why I went to see the film.

If you’ve got troubles just take them out for a walk

They’ll burst like bubbles in the fun of a Sunday in New York.

The story was like the play of course. But surprise, surprise the film was way, way better. Mostly because, in terms of structure, it seemed better suited to the screen than on the stage where they were constantly interrupting the action with clunky set changes. And also because the sense of place was wonderfully realized by the direction and the cinematography…I mean it is called “Sunday in New York”, so we needed to get a sense of the city in all its (in Hollywood romantic comedy terms) hustle/bustle glamour. Again, this wasn’t possible on the stage but director Peter Tewksbury and his cinematographer Leo Tover make the city seem a realistically magical place right from the opening sequence.

You can spend time without spending a dime-watching people watch people pass

Later you’ll pause and in one of those stores there’s that face next to yours in the glass.

The plot, adapted by Norman Krasna from his play is a silly thing about a young woman Eileen (played by Jane Fonda) finding out that her older brother Adam (Cliff Robertson) an airline pilot has lied to her about pre-marital sex. He told her that nice young women didn’t do that sort of thing. They waited until they were married. But on a weekend trip to the city she discovers that brother Adam doesn’t practice what he preaches. The question is important to her because she is betrothed to Russ (Robert Culp) a wealthy young man who keeps bringing the subject up whenever they’re together and her resistance has put a strain on the relationship. But when she discovers the truth behind Adam’s fraudulent advice she becomes angry and decides to got out and sleep with the first reasonably attractive man she encounters. This leads to all kinds of misunderstandings and complications when the guy she meets turns out to be Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), a melancholy sort who’s just visiting the city to escape his own romantic entanglement…The whole thing is so completely ridiculous that it requires a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to just go with the flow. Because the main dramatic question about the young woman and pre-marital sex was dated even then…But what makes the film work is the director’s breezy approach to the material… But even more so is the power and strength of the cast. Jane Fonda at 22 was attractive and full of a kind of coltish charm that was thoroughly disarming. Rod Taylor, who prior to this film had played either secondary characters or tough guys, is surprisingly deft in his handling of both the romantic and broad comedic antics the role required. Cliff Robertson, another dramatic actor not known for comedy is wonderfully sly and amusingly slippery in the role of the brother, while Robert Culp plays her fiancée as a perfect but sympathetic ass. Jim Backus and Jo Morrow give acceptably broad performances as harried innocent by-standers caught up in all the absurdity.

This is a film that due to its social anachronisms and clunky plot structure shouldn’t work at all. But it does. And it works so well that you forgive it all of its gaucheries and bask in the romantic glow that it casts…Of course there’s never been a Sunday like this in New York. But after seeing this film, with these players, somehow you wish there could be.

Two hearts stop beating, you’re both too breathless to speak

Love sends her greeting, then the dream that has seen you through the week

Comes true on sunday, you met on sunday.

So make it Sunday in New York.

 

Note: I included the lyrics to the song because I think they perfectly capture the mood and tone of the film.

-GE.


Picture of the Week: Hide in Plain Sight (1980)

June 12, 2012
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Hide in Plain Sight (1980)

I was surprised to learn that James Caan had directed a movie. I was even more surprised at how accomplished and wonderful a debut it was.

The story is simple: a hard-working blue collar father (Caan) loses his children when his ex-wife takes them with her into witness protection with her new husband, a mob informant. A good half of the picture establishes this situation and the rest of the film concerns Caan’s attempts to get his children back, fighting to prove that the government has no right to take his kids away, no matter the reason. The film is based on a true story.

What impressed me about this film is the confidence with which it was directed, as if Caan had already made twenty pictures. The way he develops his characters with the help of a good script, the way he plays hard dramatic scenes without letting himself or the others overact, the way in which he stages subtle and wonderful camera moves (like the one that pulls back into the world as he and his ex-wife argue or the shot he uses to show the children’s disappearance): all these things prove an excellent effort as a first-time director. Hide in Plain Sight feels like the kind of film Sidney Lumet might have taken on and I think Caan did a better job than that seasoned filmmaker could ever done.

Along with Thief and Misery, this is also one of Caan’s best moments as an actor. He fits perfectly into the blue collar milieu and captures everything we need to know about this man: his intensity (as he breaks through a window without thinking first and erupts in the courtroom), his rashness (how fast he is to fall for a woman and marry her), and his dedication (how compelled he is to find his children even if it means destroying his happiness).

Hide in Plain Sight was released in 1980 and has faded into obscurity. Whether because he did not enjoy directing or was frustrated by conflict with the studios, Caan has not directed a film since. It’s a long shot, but part of me still hopes that Caan will direct another picture. It would be the perfect swan song in a underrated and understated career.

-TM


Picture of the Week: Joanna

June 5, 2012
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Joanna (1968)

The film Joanna hasn’t been heard from since it came out in 1968 and provided some career advancement for a few of its cast members, Donald Sutherland and Calvin Lockhart specifically. It also set up its director Michael Sarne for his biggest fall. It came with his next directorial assignment, the screen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s bestselling novel Myra Breckinridge. Prior to Joanna Sarne had never directed a feature length film before. Just one short, a stylish little number entitled The Road to Saint Tropez (1966) that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and he was designated the hot young director of the moment. He was 27 at the time.

Joanna which was from an original screenplay by Sarne came out the following year and became something of a cause célèbre and an artistic scandal of sorts when some critics lavishly praised the film while others damned it for its sentimentality, heavy handedness and for some extremely weak acting in several key roles. There were also some musical interludes in the film that many critics felt were out of tone with the rest of the mise en scene. But the film did well enough to keep Sarne in play for his disastrous next effort the now infamous Myra Breckinridge (1970).

I saw the film in New York when it was first released and like it. Liked it a lot. But I had to agree with some of its dissenters who said that that there were moments that were downright embarrassing. Such as Donald Sutherland’s character Lord Peter Sanderson’s meditation on death. The actor didn’t play it badly, the embarrassment was in the words he was given to say. There was also Genevieve Waite’s performance in the title role which was weak to the point of seeming amateurish. There were other weak items along with those but still I liked the film. Why? Mostly, I think it is because it struck me as a deeply felt work by its author/director. He was putting his heart, his mind and his emotions on display and that can often be a source of embarrassment. Especially in the young. I viewed the film the way I look at a first novel by a talented but inexperienced writer. A writer that tries to put into one work everything he or she feels about life, love, identity, personal confusion and death. And when certain parts don’t fit, they’re shoe horned into the work nevertheless. So my perspective was a compassionate one. I thought Sarne a promising director who had made an imperfect film that had many powerful moments. In other words it was a film with some honest mistakes from a caring filmmaker. And I felt that such talent and promise needs to be and should be encouraged. I still feel the same way now.

The story of Joanna has to do with dissatisfied girl moving from the country to Swinging London of the late 1960s in hopes of pursuing a career in fashion design. In the course of her adventures she encounters several men including a dying Lord and a black nightclub/gangster (Gordon) smashingly played by Calvin Lockhart who went on to have something of a career here in the US with films like Halls of Anger (1970), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Melinda (1972) and the hit series Dynasty in the 1980s. Joanna falls in love with this man and becomes pregnant by him. When it is discovered that Gordon has killed a man and is wanted by the police Joanna is thrown into a personal crisis that she and only she alone can resolve.

Now although he is never seen on screen Sarne’s presence can be felt in every frame. It is as if he’s right there working and reaching for a kind of verbal and visual lyricism that often succeeds but sometimes fails miserably. And because of this the audience at the time was sharply divided into two camps. Those who loved the film and those who absolutely hated it. Usually for the same reasons. This kind of extreme response made it a cult film for a while. But after that it was quickly forgotten. All through the 1980s and 90s I looked for it on tape but it wasn’t available. I even thought that it might show up at a festival or on TV, but it never did. It became just another lost film. Or so I thought. But now I see that there are DVD copies available at various sources.

As for Michael Sarne, between 1969 and the present he has directed only seven features, two of which are documentaries. But as an actor he seems to have had more success because he has appeared in 51 features. The most recent being Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Joanna, his best effort as a director, is a curiosity piece that I think is worth looking at for a variety of reasons which is why I am selecting it as this week’s film.

-GE.