Archives For Hollywood

Peter Bogdanovich devoted 74 pages to Jerry Lewis in his 2004 book, Who The Hell’s In It? (The follow up to 1997’s Who The Devil Made It?) Bogdanovich had a long association with Jerry Lewis beginning with an interview Bogdanovich did with Lewis for Esquire back in the early 60s.

Two things stand out to me today from that chapter on Jerry Lewis – both brought to mind by the news of Lewis’s passing at the age of 91.

The first is a comment Jerry Lewis made at the height of his power and success as a solo writer/director/actor/producer. The young interviewer noticed that the seasoned star always carried a thousand dollars in hundred-dollar-bills (this was in 1960s dollars) and that he loved to shop. Lewis: “I discovered a few years ago that I can’t buy what I really want, so I buy everything else.”

1104_053185_fn153f2-jerry-lewis.jpgJerry Lewis invented “video assist” – the system that allows for instant review of a take on a movie set. It was a cumbersome system cobbled together by mounting a video camera next to the film camera and setting up monitors around the set. All this was extraordinary and not immediately embraced by the Industry. Today, it’s standard operating procedure. And Lewis is universally credited with the concept and execution of the early innovation.

In light of Lewis’s technical prowess and innovativeness (by 60s & 70s standards), I was struck by this poignant comment when, in the spring of 2000, Bogdanovich pointed out that Lewis was still using an electric typewriter.

Lewis: “Hey, I wrote THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) on that thing. I’ve got this terrible loyalty to equipment…because I love progress but I hate change.”

Over a life that spanned 91 years and a career that spanned nearly as long – his parents were itinerant actors and stage performers – Jerry Lewis saw and contributed to a lot of progress and change.

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In the 1970s Steve Martin dated Mitzi Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo’s daughter. In his memoir, Martin recounts observing Dalton Trumbo’s exercise regimen in those days. Mr. Trumbo would walk laps around the perimeter of the swimming pool in his backyard. Every time he passed the diving board he marked the lap with the click of a counter in his hand. In his other hand Trumbo carried a cigarette, which he puffed on intermittently during his workout.

It’s hard to believe that elected officials in Washington considered the eccentric, contradictory, and talented Trumbo such a danger to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But then again we should never be shocked at what elected officials believe, say, or try to put over on “we the people.”

116029580_origTrumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten. The infamy was not the Ten’s, it belonged mostly to the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and their associates. You can dive into two films (both with same title) that tell Trumbo’s story in vivid detail. One is the outstanding (and personal favorite) documentary from 2007. The other is this year’s Oscar nominated narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston as Trumbo and a stellar supporting cast.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? That was the refrain heard over and over in the chambers at the U.S. Capitol as American citizens were questioned about their interest and involvement with Communism.

Frank Rose’s landmark book, The Agency (1985, Harper Business) devotes significant space to the villains, victims and heroes in the whole sordid affair. I’d never realized until I read Rose’s book how HUAC effectively ended Edward G. Robinson’s career. I can’t recommend Rose’s book highly enough. (It’s a comprehensive history of Hollywood through the lens of the William Morris Agency.) For an up to date, in depth – and highly entertaining – audio examination of the Hollywood Red Scare era, check out the current season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This (Podcast).

And hooray for the Coen Brothers’ comedic portrait of the era in HAIL, CAESAR! It manages to be cheeky and sobering at the same time. The movie captures the paranoia, inhibitions and hypocrisy. At the same time there’s a genuine sense of the shifting ground under the characters’ feet. (I had a few things to say about the film in last Sunday’s Notebook.) The great joke in HAIL, CAESAR! — well, I won’t say it here in case you’re going to see the film soon.

For more on the subject of Hollywood and The Red Scare check out:

Films:

Hail, Caesar! (2016) A comedy from the Coen Brothers in theaters now

TRUMBO (2015, 124 mins, R) A narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston, on DVD & Bluray 2/16/16

TRUMBO (2007, 96 mins, PG-13) – Documentary

Books:

The Agency (1985, HarperCollins) by Frank Rose

Podcast:

You Must Remember This (Podcast) – Current season is all about HUAC & Hollywood

THRcoverSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS will have its official premiere roughly a couple of hours from now. The film will unspool simultaneously at 3 of the 4 big houses on Hollywood Blvd: the Dolby, the Chinese and the El Capitan. (I wonder how the Egyptian missed out — is it a Disney thing?) Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells runs the numbers, and tells us that the three venues have a total of 5653 seats. I’m sure every one will be filled. Wells also takes note of this interesting tidbit from a Disney-issued email to the press and participants in tonight’s big event: no phones with cameras will be allowed in any of the theaters.

I predict there will be an unprecedented riot on Hollywood Blvd tonight as underpaid, overworked security teams attempt to confiscate 5600+ phones from Hollywood movers and shakers. May the Force be with them. (Forgive me. I kind of had to say that.)

Movie Monday* 11.24.14

November 24, 2014 — Leave a comment
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Robert Redford and Cliff Robertson in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR ( d., Pollack, Paramount, 1975)

 

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (Rated: R, 117 mins, Paramount Pictures, Released: September 24, 1975)

“It began with Bob (Redford) and I wanting to have some fun… We kept saying, ‘Why are we always grappling with these horrendous themes and heavy weight stuff? Let’s just go out and shoot a movie that’s fun, it’s contemporary, let’s do this.’ …And then, as is our wont, once we sat down and started to work with it and really pull the scenes apart – and again, pulled David Rayfiel in – I think it transformed itself into something else.” –

Sydney Pollack on the origins of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, from this interview.

The cast and crew list for THREE DAYS… reads like a veritable who’s who of 1970s American Cinema. The film itself is pure 70s zeitgeist and the template for so many political/spy thrillers that would follow. Roger Ebert referred to this in his original review of the film: “Hollywood stars used to play cowboys and generals. Now they’re wiretappers and assassins, or targets.”

 

Director: Sydney Pollack, Writers: James Grady (Novel “Six Days of the Condor”) Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Screenplay) David Rayfiel (Screenplay), Producer: Stanley Schneider, Cinematographer: Owen Roizman, Composers: Dave Grusin, Editor: E. Lloyd Sheldon Casting Director: Shirley Rich Production Designer: Stephen B. Grimes

CAST: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, John Houseman, Addison Powell

 

*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

In 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hostilities officially ceased  and World War I came to an end. A year later President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the U.S. would observe Armistice Day on November 11. By 1954, in the U.S.,  Armistice Day had evolved from a day of gratitude for peace and remembrance of fallen soldiers into a day to celebrate and thank all veterans. So, this day – 11/11/14 — we observe Veteran’s Day and offer our sincere thanks, admiration and respect to all who’ve served honorably.

5CameBackEarlier this year I read Mark Harris’s remarkable book, FIVE CAME BACK – A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. This is much more than an account of films made in Hollywood during World War II. It is an amazing account of five directors — all at the top of their game — who actively served during the War — several of them in harm’s way on more than one occasion. John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra each left the confines and comforts of Hollywood to lend their skills and expertise to inform and inspire both soldiers and civilians. More than a few of the films they made were not seen by the public until many years after the war. Ford had crews shooting real combat footage on Midway. Their film crews were on the beaches of Normandy. And Stevens’s ghastly footage of the freshly discovered death camps in Germany was used in case against the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.

Harris’s FIVE CAME BACK is as engaging as it is revelatory. Among the dozens of moving accounts gathered here is the story of how the groundbreaking, post-war, Oscar-winning film, THE BEST YEARS OF LIVES, came to be made by WWII vet, William Wyler. That film — which Wyler’s peer, Billy Wilder called “the best directed film I’ve seen in my life” — was a cathartic extension of Wyler’s own harrowing experiences during the war and his peacetime re-entry. Mark Harris spent five years researching and writing this incredible book. It is at once a steely eyed look at the vagaries of war and human foibles as it is a mediation on compassion, courage and honor.

 

FIVE CAME BACK (A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War), by Mark Harris, 511 pgs, Penguin Press

A Most Wanted Man

MARTHA SULLIVAN (Robin Wright) and GUNTER BACHMANN (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are spies squaring off in A MOST WANTED MAN – available on DVD/Bluray.

If you’re looking for something film-related to do this weekend, try one or two of these. These are all a touch on the dark side.

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RIGGAN (Michael Keaton) is having issues in BIRDMAN. In theaters now.

Go see: BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R, 119 mins, Fox Searchlight, in theaters now) – Alejandro Inarritu’s film has been one of the most highly touted and anticipated of the year in cinephile circles. Now everyone can see what the fuss is about — and there’s so much to see and take in. This one will likely have a few nominations in the major categories come award season — starting with Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Dan Lybarger’s review of BIRDMAN in today’s (11.07.14) Arkansas Democrat Gazette, is especially illuminating on why the movie works on several levels simultaneously.

Watch: A MOST WANTED MAN (R, 122 mins, Roadside Attractions, on DVD/Bluray now) Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just re-post myself. Here’s what I said about A MOST WANTED MAN during it’s theatrical release — and why I still recommend it.

Read: INDECENT PROPOSAL by David McClinktick (Collins Business Essentials) – Hands down, my favorite inside-Hollywood book. It’s so well written, the story itself is so much of an avoidable train wreck — and it transports the reader to the time that big business was done without personal computers, smart phones and electronic tablets. This is not dusty, ancient history — it’s a cautionary tale worthy of it’s own HBO series. Columbia Pictures’s larger-than-life leader, David Begelman, is caught a crime that will forever alter the careers and personal relationships of people in in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the boardroom and in the police department. It’s one of the more darkly comedic and tragic stories in Hollywood history. I’ve read this book two or three times all the way through and find myself picking it up every once in a while to read 10 to 20 pages.

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LA MUERTE (voiced by Kate del Castillo) from THE BOOK OF LIFE (Reel FX Animation & 20th Century Fox)

If you’re looking for some film-related options for your Halloween weekend, check out a few of my favorites:

Go see: THE BOOK OF LIFE (PG, 95 mins, in theaters now) They called it THE BOOK OF LIFE but it’s all about Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead. This is 2014’s feel-good movie — a feast for the eyes, ears and soul. It’s a beautiful, humorous and touching mediation on life and death. This is a passion project from director Jorge Gutirerrez and the film’s producers which includes Guillermo del Toro — and the passion shows in every frame. The songs are great throughout and so far there’s been no FROZEN aftertaste to them. THE BOOK OF LIFE is a great date night movie and it’s great for the whole family — especially if you see it on November 1 (The Day of the Dead).

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Cary Grant as MORTIMER BREWSTER in Frank Capra’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944, Warner Bros.)

Watch: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944, 118 mins, Warner Bros.) Hands down my favorite movie set against the backdrop of Halloween. With a script that crackles — adapted by the Espstein brothers (CASABLANCA) — and a cast that sparkles, this is a dark comedy that plays like slapstick farce. Here is Cary Grant at his madcap best and Capra at the zenith of his career. The film was actually shot in 1941 but held for release until 1944 because of contractual obligations that the film not interfere with the play’s Broadway run. This caused some financial strain on Capra who was depending on profits from the film to tide his family over while he was serving in the Signal Corp during WWII. Every year after the Trick-or-Treaters have gone to bed and the Halloween lights are extinguished at my house, I pop in the DVD of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and enjoy it all over again.

PSYCHO: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller by Janet Leigh with Christopher Nickens. IMG_8909Ms. Leigh waited 35 years to set the record straight on everything — including the then infamous, now iconic shower scene. The book is a breezy 190+ pages including lots of great photos. It’s obviously a labor of love. It’s also a treasure trove of collected memories from people Leigh and her co-author interviewed as well as documentation from the film’s production, post and distribution phases. (published 1995, Harmony Books)

Do: Sneak a peek at Ennis House (if you’re in L.A.). A couple of years ago my friend, Chris Ellis, rode in the navigator’s seat of my rental and guided me through Griffith Park, up Glendower to the Los Feliz home that is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever seen HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) or BLADE RUNNER (1982). This Frank Lloyd Wright creation is one of three Wright homes in L.A. It’s a sight to behold and you’ll marvel at what effort it must of been to build in 1924. As far as it’s movie bona fides go, it’s mostly been used for exteriors over the years. It inspired the interior look of DECKARD’S apartment which was built on a set at Warner Bros for BLADE RUNNER. Ennis House is not currently open to the public and I’m sure the neighbors grow weary of gawkers filling the narrow streets looking for this architectural wonder, historic landmark and piece of cinematic history — so don’t tell ’em I sent you.

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