Yes, I’m still here. Actually, I haven’t gone anywhere, though activity on the MADness—the Blog side has been quiet lately. For a while, my routine had been a few blog posts a week (in addition to Movie Minute posts every weekday on the front page), but then nothing. Somehow, nearly a month has slipped by. What happened? I got busy. Demands on my time seem to be growing by the week, so I’ll be dropping in to say something whenever I can, but the schedule may be sporadic for a while. I’ll aim to keep the weekday Movie Minutes coming as usual, though I may need to revert to “summer hours” at some point.
So what’s been going on? Some old news, perhaps, but a few items worth noting:
Remembrances of Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)
At its depths, behind the camera or in front of it, Hopper’s legacy as a filmmaker is defined by a multitude of excellent performances, each alive with the iconic honesty Dean had pressed him to seek in himself. His particular genius as an artist was that he made himself at home within his own contradictions — and was perpetually eager to invite the rest of the world to join him there, laughing at the darkness.
How many odd turns can one man’s life and career take? There’s probably no limit, but Dennis Hopper, who died at 74 after a long battle with cancer, took a lot of them: From young actor of film and TV in the 1950s to counterculture icon of the 1960s and ’70s (while adding director to his resume and still working with the likes of John Wayne); from nearly unemployable because of drugs to a career comeback in the mid-1980s before frequent returns to TV. On the side, he managed to find time to be a prolific photographer, painter and sculptor. His later years also brought the strangest twist for the hippie hero: he became a Republican. Still, it’s his film and TV work that will be his legacy.
I have a couple of recollections of Hopper, aside from his film work. One, hearing him talk about working with James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. He was in awe of Dean, and learned a lot from him. Mostly, though, I remember Hopper’s fascination with acting. It was just great to listen to him. Two, seeing him work, which I had the chance to do on a film called Boiling Point, from 1993. (If you look real hard, you can see my shoe in one of the scenes, my moment of glory on the big screen.) Hopper and Wesley Snipes were the co-stars, but Hopper was the guy I wanted to watch. He seemed to be an accessible, decent guy behind the scenes, and he gave a very good performance too. I’ll remember Hopper for his films, more than anything, and particularly these: Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, and Red Rock West.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the first Thai film to win the top prize.
The Gulf Oil Tragedy
James Cameron offers to help. BP says no, thanks. (I saw an interview with Cameron on TV. He actually has expertise and access to equipment for deep-sea dives that might be helpful, to the government perhaps if not to BP.)
Program note: a week of oil at the movies, starting Monday, on the front page.
Movie to See
There’ll be plenty of others this summer, but here’s one that’s got my curiosity: Double Take.
Now playing at New York’s Film Forum. (Only 2,407 miles from here, says Moviefone, but maybe not this weekend for me.)
MAD About Movies Site News
It’s been a while since the last crossword, but another is on its way, soon as I get a chance to clue it. That probably will not happen this week, unless I surprise myself. The calendar is a tyrant.
A sincere thanks to those of you who have found the site and stop by to read about movies. I started in January, not sure what to expect, and (except for a few time crunches along the way) I’m enjoying it. Traffic is steadily growing every month. May numbers were about 50% above April, so it’s good to know somebody (that’s you!) is out there.
The first modern humans to leave Africa about 80,000 years ago encountered Neanderthal settlements in the Middle East and, on at least some occasions, chose to make love instead of war, according to an international team of scientists who have pieced together the genetic code of humanity’s closest relatives.
Traces of that ancient DNA live on in most human beings today, the researchers report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.
Neanderthal DNA is 99.7% identical to that of people, according to the analysis, which involved dozens of researchers.
Neanderthals R Us. Insert your own joke about summer movies here.
Here are a few of her film credits:
* Academy Award nomination.
Film editing is a fascinating but largely unsung part of the filmmaking process. If you want a great inside look at what editing is all about, I’d recommend The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, from novelist Michael Ondaatje. Murch is one of the great editors himself. He and Ondaatje discuss Allen along with other women editors:
Murch: In fact, many of the editors of early films—back in the silent days—were women. It was a woman’s craft, seen as something like sewing. You knitted the pieces of film together. And editing has aspects of being a librarian, which used to be perceived as a woman’s job.
Ondaatje: And the man is the hunter-gatherer, coming back with stuff for her to cook!
Murch: The men could bring it home, but they didn’t know what to do with it. But there was a big shift when sound come along in 1927. Sound was somehow a “man” thing—it was electric. It was complicated in a different way, an engineering way. A lot of men started coming into editing at that point, and women left.
But if you made a list of the ten best editors ever, Ann Coates and Dede Allen would be in there. They’ve been an inspiration to a whole generation. Dede got her start in New York. I never ran into her there, because I had moved out here to the West Coast, but Richie Marks, Barry Malkin, Steve Butler, and many other New York editors my age grew up under her guidance.
A couple of other women that Murch cites among the top editors: Margaret Booth and Thelma Schoonmaker.
In the news—some good and some not-so-good.
It’s the end of an era. At the Movies is no more. The weekly TV show, first hosted by critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, has been canceled. It will not be returning after this season.
I will miss it. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent watching over the years—many!—the show was often more entertaining than the movies it covered. I’ll need to find something new to do Sunday nights at 6:30.
What happened? What’s next? Roger Ebert reflects.
Several of the things I’ve been reading this week in one way or another relate to women in Hollywood. Here are a few links, in case you’re interested.
How Oscar Found Ms. Right
There are times when I think the best writer covering film today is Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. When I read this article it was one of those times. Dargis gives the best take I’ve read on the Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker and takes on a few other women to make her point. (Read more about scopophilia here and here.)
Unless they star Meryl Streep, movies about women are routinely dismissed because they’re about women, as the patronizing term “chick flick” affirms every time it’s reflexively deployed. But chick flicks are often the only movies that offer female audiences stories about women and female friendships and a world that, however artificial, offers up female characters who are not standing on the sidelines as the male hero saves the day. It might not be much and usually isn’t, at least in aesthetic terms, but it’s sometimes all there is. Ms. Bigelow doesn’t make those kinds of movies. (Her vampires don’t sparkle, they draw blood.) She generally makes kinetic and thrilling movies about men and codes of masculinity set in worlds of violence. Her technique might be masterly [sic], because she learned from the likes of Sam Peckinpah. But she is very much her own woman, and her own auteur.
Pretty ugly: Can we please stop pretending that beautiful women aren’t beautiful?
I don’t watch TV much. At some point in my adult life, I came to the conclusion there were better things to do with my time. But I watched a lot when I was younger, and I remember having very much the same conversation back in a college dorm. Actresses you see on TV, or on the big screen, for that matter—even the ones you who are supposed to be playing “ugly”—and still quite beautiful by almost any standard, and yes, that distorts even further what society thinks about women and beauty. (Some things never change. Bette Davis at times described herself as the ugly ducking. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the picture here.)
Does a Best Actress Oscar Lead to Divorce?
Something more than coincidence seens to be going on, I’d say.
This front-page article in today’s L.A. Daily News says, “The future is finally here.” Sounds like somebody’s watch is running fast. I think the future is still in the future. But this is not about time, or time travel. It’s about video-on-demand, or how we can watch movies and be more lazy than ever before. Never again will we need to go to the theater, or the video store, or even the mailbox. Welcome to the world of VOD.
Actually, I like going to to the theater. Though, I admit, it’s not always convenient, especially with a four-year-old at home. So I’m all for the idea. Sort of. Day-and-date (VOD and theatrical opening the same day) is likely to be only for independent films for some time, not the big Hollywood releases, and I don’t blame the studios. They don’t want to cannibalize their own business. And I don’t want the theaters to go out of business, either. As I said, I like going to them.
Here’s your Oscar trivia question of the day: What’s the first day-and-date release to be nominated for an Academy Award?
Your Oscar trivia answer here.
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” was a story published in the New Yorker in the late 1940s. Samuel Goldwyn liked it enough he made it into a movie. He bought the rights from a hot young writer and hired the Epstein brothers to adapt it for the big screen. Starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward, the film was called My Foolish Heart and came out in 1949. It was not well-received. Worse, the writer of the short story was so disillusioned with the “bastardization” that he swore never to let Hollywood film another of his stories. He kept his word.
That hot young writer was, of course, J.D. Salinger. For the rest of his life, members of that odd bunch called the Glass family, along with a fellow named Holden Caulfield, would be found only on the page, not on the screen, despite repeated efforts by moviemakers to get Salinger to change his mind. Among the inquiring parties, apparently, were Jerry Lewis, Billy Wilder, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. We’ll see what happens now. Salinger died Wednesday. He was 91.
I had an experience with “Uncle Wiggily” and now that J.D. is no longer around, I suppose I can tell all. After several attempts without success, I finally had my first crossword puzzle accepted at the New York Times. The theme was based on “uncles” and one of the nine famous uncles in the grid was Uncle WIGGILY. There was one problem, however—I had spelled the name WIGGLY. How did I ever pull a boner like that? It wasn’t for lack of checking. I looked everywhere I could and found lots of support for the misspelled version. Even today, the wrong spelling gets four times as many hits as the right one at Google. (This New York Times article from 1976 makes the same error I did.) I didn’t discover the problem until after the puzzle had been submitted and accepted. The proof I discovered when I pulled Salinger’s Nine Stories from my bookshelf to see “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” on the cover.* Wished I had looked there in the first place.
Whether the puzzle was to be my first or my last I wasn’t sure, but I wrote to Will Shortz, the editor and all-around puzzlemaster at the Times, to explain the problem. He wrote back to say I was nuts to think I’d ever have a crossword puzzle published in his town again. Actually, he could have, but he didn’t. The story in fact has a happy ending. I revised the crossword—including the correctly spelled WIGGILY—and the puzzle, my first in the Times, was published in January 2006. There was to be an even happier ending: Will had revised the puzzle himself, and that version (through some mysterious quirk of fate in which neither Will nor his team of test solvers noticed the duplication) was published nine months later. I don’t know that had ever happened before, but it worked out fine for me. I got paid twice for more or less the same puzzle.
* The Uncle Wiggily character, by the way, was not Salinger’s invention. Uncle Wiggily Longears, the gentleman rabbit of children’s lit, was created by writer Howard Roger Garis in the early 20th century. Salinger just borrowed the name.
Here’s Haiti as you haven’t seen it before—in 360°, full motion, interactive video.
Click the PLAY button within the video screen. CLICK and DRAG your mouse to look up, down and around. PAUSE and EXPLORE at any time by again pressing the play button.
The company behind the 360° view: Immersive Media.
I just heard President Obama on the radio describe the Haiti earthquake at “truly heart-wrenching.” I wouldn’t have even noticed his word choice except that just yesterday I was looking at this very page.
A trivial matter in light of the devastation in Haiti. If you want to help the Haitian people, who desperately need all the support they can get right now, here’s one option:
Wyclef Jean’s foundation www.Yele.org (or you can text “Yele” to 501501 from your cell phone to make a $5 donation to the Yelé Haiti Earthquake Fund).