Archives For February 2015

A Friend’s Take on BOYHOOD

February 24, 2015 — 1 Comment

A confession: I loved BIRDMAN so I was happy with outcome of the Best Picture Oscar this year. Also, I’ve been guilty of saying a snarky thing or two about BOYHOOD. So, I’m yielding the floor to my friend and colleague, Joe Aaron, to give his take on BOYHOOD. I always appreciate Joe’s perspective and I’m glad for you to have the opportunity to hear from him. (Be sure to check out the short bio and link to Joe’s book at the end of this post.)

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Joe Aaron

Joe Aaron

It may be irrelevant now that the Oscars are over, but I keep hearing negative commentary on one of my favorite films, “Boyhood.” People say that it was just a gimmick to shoot over 12 years, or that it was a meandering plot and it wasn’t ABOUT anything. One could argue that the 12 year thing was a gimmick, and yes it did not have a driving desire line. Still, I think the movie is brilliant because of what it accomplished cinematically, and because of the effect the story had on me.

First, if you’ve every acted in a film you know how hard it is to maintain an emotional arc while shooting out of sequence. You’re constantly reviewing the scene you’re on, and where that scene is in the story. Unlike acting in a play, it takes great focus and talent to make the emotional progression feel fluid in a film. When you consider this filmmaker and these actors had to re-create this story over and over, spanning 12 years, it is stunning that it feels like ONE story rather than many “age episodes.”

Second, if you’ve ever written a screenplay you know how hard it is to maintain a story’s tone. You may be in a great mood while writing pages 20 – 25, but in a funk on pages 47 – 52. We write stories over weeks and months, but the audience watches it all at once. It takes great talent to make a story feel like ONE story. You must also maintain the logical emotional progression of ALL the characters, not allowing even one false note. Oh yeah, and keep the plot moving ever onward. Try doing that over a 12 year time frame. My guess is Linklatter only had an outline (beat sheet) and he only wrote the scenes they were going to shoot as they years rolled by.

Also writers, how many of us are proud of our work from 12 years ago? We grow as writers, and often when we read our old stuff we realize, we’re just “not there anymore.” Linklater may have felt that too, but he pulled off a film that feels current and fresh, as if it had been written one or two years ago. There is not one hint of staleness.

Finally, as I literally watched the people age – a boy became a man, a girl, a woman, young adults move into middle age, I was struck with the realness of time itself. As this film was being made, 12 years of MY life went by too. Watching it pass in a compressed way made me realize: “This is truly how life is. Time passing… and fast!”

If you want to know what this film is about… it’s about ME. About YOU. About life slipping past while you’re busy making plans, and doing what is “urgent.”

I do not begrudge “Birdman” its well-deserved win – but of the two, I believe history will show that it is “Boyhood” that, ironically, will stand the test of time.

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Joe Aaron is a screenwriter, author and teacher living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a graduate of the American Film Institute and co-created “Doug” for the popular Disney series. Joe wrote GUTTERSNIPES — a screenplay he developed with his friend and fellow AFI grad,  Shuchi Talati. The film is expected to go into production in 2015 with Tim Jackson producing. Joe’s unique take on writing low-budget feature films is captured in his book, The Low Budget Screenplay: How to Write a Produceable Script – available on Amazon.

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Lee Marvin takes aim in THE PROFESSIONALS (d. Brooks, Columbia, 1966)

THE PROFESSIONALS (Approved, 117 min., Pax Enterprises, Colombia, Nov. 2, 1966)

THE PROFESSIONALS was nominated for 3 Academy Awards – Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. That means Richard Brooks essentially had 2 nominations as the writer and director. Curiously enough there’s no producer credited on THE PROFESSIONALS – that was also the work of Brooks. My assumption is the missing producer credit on this film was a guild issue, a studio issue or a combination of the two.

This movie hit screens almost three years before Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH. One wonders how much this film paved the way for that one.

Director: Richard Brooks, Writers: Frank O’Rourke (Novel), Richard Brooks, Producer: Richard Brooks (uncredited), Cinematographer: Conrad Hall, Composer: Maurice Jarre, Editor: Peter Zinner

CAST: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale

 

Watched on DVD from Columbia Pictures

*Every Monday I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

 

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270 people dined on Consomme, Sole, New String Beans and Long Branch Potatoes at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s first “Merit Awards” banquet. May 16, 1929 – Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood CA

Los Angeles – May 16, 1929

The first Academy Awards was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. 270 people attended. They each paid $5 to underwrite the cost of the evening’s dinner and awards presentation.

The presentation of awards took a scant 15 minutes.

The event was not broadcast.

The statuette didn’t have a name. (Someone starting calling the gold man “Oscar” around 1931 and it caught on. The Academy made the name official in 1939.)

There was no anxiety about who would and wouldn’t walk away a winner that night because all the winners had been announced three months before the event.

Los Angeles – February 22, 2015

In a few hours the 87th Annual Academy Awards – officially called The Oscars only since 2013 – will get underway in L.A.’s Dolby Theater. This is the culmination of the awards season. The show will last a little more than 15 minutes. It will be broadcast live worldwide. Millions of dollars have been expended on Oscar campaigns for films and individuals but the nominees will sit on pins and needles until his or her name is or is not called. So just about everything has changed from the first Academy Awards.

One thing remains the same: your life and my life will not be affected one iota by the show or the outcome of the awards. For that reason I don’t make Oscar picks and I’m not disappointed in the outcomes. I have no emotional or financial investment in the goings on tonight. I just enjoy the show — because I choose to. If I choose not to enjoy it then I stop watching. What I can never figure out is why people choose not to enjoy the show and choose to keep watching.

Look, it’s an important event but it’s not that important. In the grand scheme it has some meaning but probably not as much as its champions think or as little as its detractors claim. It is an economic engine for AMPAS and a marketing tool for the players fortunate enough to be on the ballot. It is a pop culture touchstone. It’s fun to debate but it’s pointless to kvetch.

The Oscars are a celebration of movies, making movies and the people who make movies. I watch because I love all of those things as well.

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Deborah Kerr in Powell & Pressburger’s THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (NR, 163 min., The Rank Organisation, United Artists, May 4, 1945 U.S.)

COLONEL BLIMP marked the occasion of Deborah Kerr’s first leading role in a film. In grand Powell & Pressburger fashion, the filmmakers had Kerr play three roles.

Michael Powel said THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is “a 100% British film but it’s photographed by a Frenchman, it’s written by a Hungarian, the musical score is by a German Jew, the director was English, the man who did the costumes was a Czech; in other words, it was the kind of film that I’ve always worked on with a mixed crew of every nationality, no frontiers of any kind.”

The movie was shot in the 1943 in the throes of World War II.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emetic Pressburger, Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Producers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Cinematographer: Georges Perinal, Composer: Allan Gray, Editor: John Seabourne Sr., Production Designer: Alfred Junge

CAST: Anton Walbrook, Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr

Watched on DVD from The Criterion Collection.

*Every Monday I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo

SNL at 40. I get it now, Dad.

February 16, 2015 — 1 Comment

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Saturday Night Live turned 40 this weekend. It looked more like it was turning 70. That’s because the principals who launched the show back in ’75 were all hovering around 30 at the time. It was a raucous, joyful and bittersweet weekend with an SNL Valentine’s Special in prime time, a re-run of the series premiere in the show’s regular slot and the big, live anniversary show on Sunday night.

I have nothing negative to say about the 3.5-hour anniversary show. When it wasn’t entertaining it was still alternately fascinating and sobering. It didn’t have to be good. It just had to be – in the same way you have to have a 50th wedding anniversary party for your parents if they’re both still alive and married on that occasion. If nothing more the SNL anniversary is further proof of the inexorable march from Revolution to Institution to Adaptation or Extinction. Say what you will about your favorite era of the show – there is always someone who will argue her favorite era is better than yours. I’d bet real money the difference in opinion says less about the show itself and more about the person making the argument.

I remember as a kid when some aged celebrity would appear on the TV screen and my Dad would wax on about how great that fossil was back when the earth was young. I never rolled my eyes or argued with Dad about his celebrity’s entertainment value relative to whoever was the current hot ticket. However, I’m sure I wondered how someone so old, whom I’d never heard of, could have ever been “relevant”. (As if the test of relevance is whether or not I’d heard of the person or enjoyed his shtick.) I did not appreciate then that some day I would experience pangs similar to Dad’s. It happened last night.

I clearly remember when I first became aware of Robert De Niro. I was a kid when TAXI DRIVER came out so I didn’t see it then but the images of Travis Bickle – menacing and unsettling — were ubiquitous in print and broadcast media. The blood-soaked, mohawked De Niro of NYC ’76 radiated a not-your-father’s-era-movie-star vibe. For years the mere image of De Niro communicated to me something edgy, risky, and challenging. Last night De Niro took the stage, avuncular, conservatively attired, and sincerely sentimental – even if he was reading from cue cards. This, it occurred to me, is what it comes to if you don’t flame out like Belushi.

There were the rest of them, in the show clips. Young people, vibrant, with minds full of mischief, bodies bent on mayhem, and hearts full of laughter (of all varieties). No matter what era the clips came from the people captured on tape were on fire at the time and pushing the culture’s entertainment boundaries. Cut from the clips to the people in the room last night and one would think, “Hey that guy looks like he could be Chevy Chase’s grandfather. Wait. That is Chevy Chase.” I find that both humbling and life-affirming.

Saturday Night Live has been a cultural touchstone for 40 years. There are performers from several generations who owe their careers to SNL. As an audience it’s easy for us to critique, embrace or dismiss the series but there’s no denying its staying power. Its endurance is a testament to Lorne Michaels’s ability to adapt without abandoning his vision. A run like that guarantees that both stars and audiences are buried together in strata that get tediously excavated on occasions like the anniversary show.

Someday SNL will be gone and that’s ok, too. Because, as Patton said about the Romans, “All glory is fleeting.” I get it now, Dad.

NYTCREDIT: Earl Wilson/The New York Times 5-15-2012

DAVID CARR / NYTCREDIT: Earl Wilson/The New York Times 5-15-2012

I’m sure that I’d been reading David Carr for years without paying much attention to his byline. Then two things happened in quick succession in 2011 — I saw the wonderfully engaging documentary PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, and I read Carr’s memoir, The Night of the Gun. After that I was hooked. I read, watched and listened to anything I could find to which he contributed. I’m shocked to wake up to the news today that David Carr died yesterday at the incredibly young age of 58. (If you don’t think 58 is young now, you will before you know it.) I’m grateful that I knew his work before this morning.

David Carr could have died, would have died — maybe even should have died — many times before his untimely and unexpected death yesterday. His harrowing bout with addiction is chronicled in The Night of the Gun and so are some of his brushes with unsavory characters. Carr also survived cancer as a single dad raising young girls. His memoir is unique in that he attacked his own story the same way he attacked any story he was covering. He talked to multiple sources to compare their accounts with his own then he wrote the reported story — not the one based on his faulty or selective memory.

Carr emerged as the “star” of PAGE ONE. That film is a great introduction to what he did and how he did it. He covered the media for the New York Times and I loved reading/hearing his take on the content and the business of entertainment. Bruce Weber’s piece this morning refers to Carr as “a shrewd, well-informed skeptic”. And that he was. He also seemed to have a great sense of humor tempered with genuine but clear-eyed compassion for people. Read his piece on the Brian Williams story published in the Times this past Monday and you’ll see what I mean.

I was a huge fan of the short-lived The Sweet Spot — a weekly video webcast that Carr did with Times critic, A.O. Scott. (You can find old episodes online.) Carr, a self-proclaimed digital immigrant, seized the medium and used it to great effect. He was a character who made for good copy and interviews. He also seemed to have good character tempered by a hard life — some of it self-inflicted and some just luck of the draw.

In his memoir Carr said, “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end soon.” I’ll stop here and just offer my condolences to David Carr’s children, his wife, his family, friends and colleagues. My life is richer for having been exposed to David’s writing, speaking and his take on life and business. I’m grateful for that. But the caper ended way too soon.

Burt Reynolds Starting Over

Burt Reynolds as Phil Potter in STARTING OVER (d. Pakula, 1979 Paramount)

STARTING OVER (R, 105 min., Paramount, Feb. 10, 1979)

Roger Ebert was hard on STARTING OVER. He compared it unfavorably to the much lauded, zeitgeisty AN UMARRIED WOMAN in which starred Jilly Clayburgh the year before STARTING OVER came out. Despite Ebert’s misgivings both Bergen and Clayburgh received Academy Award nominations for their work in STARTING OVER. This movie may not be classic but it is definitely one for the time capsule in terms of the late 70s/early 80s mores and memes that are on display. Reynolds was at the top of his power in Hollywood – moving from drama, action, comedy (light & dark) at will. And look at the names in the main credit block – not a kid in the bunch but still all so young and vital in 1979.

 

Director: Alan J. Pakula, Writer: James L. Brooks, Producers: Alan J. Pakula and James L. Brooks, Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist, Composer: Marvin Hamlisch, Editor: Marion Rothman, Casting Director: Juliet Taylor, Production Designer: George Jenkins

CAST: Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh, Candice Bergen, Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen

 

Watched on DVD from Paramount

*Every Monday I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.

Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo