Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Roundup

The Siren has been swamped under her life, and apologizes for her silence of late. She did watch the Oscars, so here are a few random thoughts. Not the best Oscar show ever (to say the least) but not the worst either.

Loved the curtains not opening at the start, and the fact that you could hear the stagehands arguing about it.

"Recession" theme for the opening more than slightly tacky. Golddiggers of 1933 did it much better, with people coming on to repossess everything at the end.

Hugh Jackman was an unfunny and, toward, the end, nearly invisible host.

Eva Marie Saint is 85 and she looked beautiful. Sophia Loren will have other, better nights, I say no more. Meryl Streep has amazing skin and she has passed it on to her beautiful, but ever-so-slightly-snooty-seeming daughter. My favorite dress was Frieda Pinto's. On the runway, it was completely, and I do mean completely, transparent. Check out the original at my pal Annie's place.

The Siren wanted Mickey Rourke to win, but Sean Penn gave a good speech.

Having past winners give back-patting speeches instead of clips was pretty excruciating, but no writer had any presenter dissing anything old so the Siren was happy.

With the tribute section, it's always a way-too-mixed bag. Mad props to whoever included Manny Farber in the Tribute montage. Boo, hiss, to whoever thought it was a good idea to film the onstage screens from a different zip code. Queen Latifah's singing managed to mute the perennial irritant of people applauding for anyone they've actually heard of, turning a valediction into an applause-o-meter, but Edward Copeland has a better idea: just turn off the audience mikes. And who the heck left off Patrick McGoohan? If you need more time, take it.

The Siren suggests trimming the time from Baz Luhrman's medley. I thought it was just the editing with his movies, but it's him. His musical numbers are like something dreamed up by an epileptic interior decorator.

The kids from Slumdog are unbelievably darling. Now I guess I have to see the movie. Was put off by the torture aspect.


Tony Dayoub said...

See Slumdog, please. I want to hear how bad you thought it was afterwards.

"...her beautiful, but ever-so-slightly-snooty-seeming daughter."

Right? She seemed really stuck up on the red carpet. When Jess Cagle complimented Mama and Daughter Streep on their respective dresses, Daughter gave Mom a head-to-toe perusal with noticeable disdain, seemingly insulted that her own look was being spoken of in the same sentence as Mama Streep's admittedly matronly looking frock.

Karen said...

WOW. I had thought Pinto's gown alarmingly grandmotherly, but I see I need to rethink that.

I was glad that Penn won, because Milk was so much farther from who he is than the Wrestler was from Mickey Rourke (and I say that with all respect for his performance).

I, too, was disappointed by Hugh Jackman (the musical isn't really back, Hugh, no matter how many times you shout it), and since the musical numbers are always the Weakest Link of the Oscar telecast it just made it the more painful.

I will never regret watching the Oscars, though, if only for moments like the Japanese animator, Kunio Kato, closing his acceptance speech with "Domo arigato, Mr Roboto."

Karen said...

I'll add this paragraph from the Oscars review of the terrific Alan Sepinwall, which offers a sentiment with which few Sirenistas will disagree:

Jackman's love of musical theater unfortunately led to a second medley later on, in the frantic "Moulin Rouge" style of featuring one line from many songs, with guest appearances by Beyonce, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens from "High School Musical 3" and Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper from "Mamma Mia." It climaxed with songs from those two films being put on an equal footing with a song from "West Side Story," and if you got the sound mix on your home theater system just right, you could actually hear Leonard Bernstein rolling over in his grave.

Campaspe said...

Tony, yes!! I thought that too. I mean, I cannot rule out that she might be genuinely shy, which often reads snooty. But if you asked me to place a bet, I'd say that is a Christina Crawford-size resentment she has brewing under that pretty exterior.

Karen, Pinto is from a conservative country so I thought the choice was a nice one; she couldn't show too much skin but the dress set her off perfectly. The Japanese animator was darling!!

As for Luhrman, I am so done with trying to get anything out of his direction after seeing that number. I want to love him, I truly do because he is attracted to some of the same movies I am, but I am so tired of how he never gives the audience a single moment to breathe. The great dancing numbers on film have little beats of rest
--Astaire just as he reaches for his partner, Charisse just before she extends her leg, the kids in "Cool" in West Side Story just before they lower their arms, snapping--and Luhrman can't seem to give us anything even close to that, even on stage for crying out loud.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The musical IS back, but not as directed by Baz Luhrman.

HERE'S today's real musical.

Steve said...

Didn't McGoohan die in January? Hence not last year?

And did I simply miss Heath Ledger in the dead celebrities montage? Maybe he was first?

Campaspe said...

Steve, I thought they usually did it by calendar, but if I am wrong I retract my indignance. Ledger got the last spot last year if memory serves (can someone confirm?)

David, I saw that on TV5 and it was definitely a real try at reinventing the musical, even if it was uneven at times. I double-dog-dare you to post that clip on Big Hollywood.

Tony Dayoub said...

The "death" montage covers folks who died between last year's Oscars and this year's.

Ledger was on last year's. McGoohan was forgotten this year... undeservedly so.

Campaspe said...

Tony, aha, thanks for clearing that up. There's always something with that dang montage. They need to get the TCM folks to do it. Theirs are always superb.

Steve said...

You're right as usual. Can't believe they forgot McGoohan. That sucks.

The Derelict said...

I was put off from seeing Slumdog too because I'd heard it was highly disturbing (torture, violence, etc.), but when I finally saw it I didn't find it all that bad violence-wise. I mean, it's got a few moments, but I think the warnings have been a little overstated. If you've seen an episode of 24, you've seen worse.

I kinda loved and hated how the acting awards were presented by five previous winners. I loved it when it was Shirley MacLaine (or Eva Marie Saint) being awesome, but hated it because it just took *forever* to get through five pretentious speeches comprised of nothing but Hollywood navel-gazing and self-congratulations. Keep it short and snappy and then I'll say this is an innovation they can keep. Otherwise, lose it unless you can get Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Walken to do it every year.

And maybe I missed her, what with the camera swooping and swirling about, but was Ann Savage in the In Memoriam montage? Not a big star, I'll grant you, but an iconic one for fans of film noir. She passed away last December.

And Siren, I always listen for the applause when they do that montage because I'm always hoping against hope that the crowd will acknowledge the wonderful people of the past (like Nina Foch or Van Johnson) with some good cheers, like they do for the well-known big stars. And then every year... *sigh* So yeah, I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

Vanwall said...

It sucked, generally, and almost wholly specifcally, as well. The musical numbers were some of the worst ever - frenetic, undeveloped, unhinged. I liked the Independent Spirit awards better. Someday someone will have to 'splain me how SDM now has eight Oscars and many deserving movies, some even from this year, have none.
Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot? - over. My brain hurts now.

Vanwall said...

Oh, and yeah, how can "Jai Ho" have an Oscar, and "Jan Pehechaan Ho" has none, if your judging Indian pop from films - there ain't no justice in this world.

The McGoohan snub was typical, sadly.

Campaspe said...

Well, Vanwall, the history of Oscar IS, in general, the history of honoring bad choices. It is far more unusual when they get it right. I watch it hoping for a big trainwreck. In that sense, Snow White was the greatest Oscars ever. These musical numbers didn't succeed on either the cheese or the glitz factor, though Jackman was so wonderful in The Boy From Oz.

Derelict, I wholly agree about the speeches from the presenters, and I don't want performances described as brave anymore. It's acting, damn it, it's all brave in the sense of risking humiliation in front of a wide audience, that is, if it's any good. And yeah, they skunked Ann Savage too.

Steve, the whole year thing confuses me every year because if somebody important dies just before the ceremony they always put them in, even if it doesn't make their alleged cut-off, and no one knows what the cut-off is, and yet they use the cut-off excuse on occasion for omissions, and then omit the person next year ... like I said, just hire the TCM guys, they know how to do it, even if I don't like the music backgrounds for the past few years.

But let's face it, if I really hated the Oscars I would not by now have wasted what must amount to several days of my life, total, watching the things.

surly hack said...

It didn't bother me that Van Johnson didn't get applause, but it rankled when they hardly noticed Jules Dassin. I also didn't see Ann Savage, an oversight. I wrote an obit for the Detour star on my limerick blog.

I thought the overall show was terrible, and I have very low standards for enjoying the awards. I especially agree with the crits of the music--the opening was unfunny and clumsily staged and Luhrman's 'mash-up' was messed up. Siren, you are SO right. I wanted to hear Beyonce sing "At Last" alone, and all the way through. This is musical for the ADD crowd.

Because the show was so bad and the multi-screen camera work so visually cluttered, I enjoyed the respite of the relative calm of previous award winners addressing the nominess, though it did devolve into the Sammy Maudlin show. What a boring, frustrating mess!

X. Trapnel said...

I began to hate the Oscars and stopped watching after I read that "they" had turned down Paul Henried's offer to appear as a presenter in his white Victor Laszlo suit.

Campaspe said...

Surly, I am so glad to see you again! where you been?? I have a limerick for you. Here 'tis, penned by the great and multifaceted George Sanders during a bout of insomnia:

Lately, not much has been seen
Of our friend Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Where oh where is his flock,
And his frock, and his smock,
And his cock, if you know what I mean.

The limerick is included in Brian Aherne's book about Sanders, and Aherne assures us that "cock" is derived from the British "poppycock" meaning rubbish. :D

Anyway, Sanders could have gotten a hell of a limerick out of the Oscars, I think.

Campaspe said...

XT, what year was that? :(

Karen said...

I've read elsewhere, by others bemoaning the absence of Patrick MacGoohan, that the "In Memoriam" is only for members of the Academy, and he wasn't. Which, if true, is lousy.

If Ann Savage died in December (which IMDb confirms), wouldn't they have included her last year?

Campaspe said...

Karen, no way was Ichikawa in the Academy, or Farber for that matter. No, they just fuck it up every year, regular as clockwork.

Gerard Jones said...

My son and I watched the Oscars at the Castro Theater, first time I've seen them in a large crowd. That in itself made the show ten times more fun than usual. The evening was very much about Milk--much of the crew was in the audience, standing ovations for its two wins, a late showing of the movie after the awards. Around these parts, Milk is not just a movie, and no one's interested in comparing it to other movies. As Halliwell wrote of Mrs. Miniver (speaking for a generation of Brits) "it is beyond criticism."

No one hissed or hooted when Slumdog beat it in the final category, though. Impossible to resent all those smiling kids.

The great crowd-pleaser apart from Milk was Sophia Loren. So much vocal enthusiasm I hardly heard a word she said. She filled a niche that's been empty since Mae West left us.

X. Trapnel said...

I think I read it in an obit (1992)for Henreid, so it must have been some time in the 80s.

Campaspe said...

Gerard, I haven't been that interested in seeing Milk because the documentary was so superb, but every clip I see of Penn is just amazing. And Sophia -- I hated her dress and makeup, but honestly, she could show up in an L.L. Bean pup tent and I'd cheer too. It makes you just a little bit happier knowing she is still around.

surly hack said...

Hey, Siren. I've dropped in now and then but haven't written. I often come late to the discussion and it's daunting to be comment 79 or so.

If "In Memoriam" isn't by the calendar year, but between awards shows, then yes, MacGoohan should have been included last night.

Love the Saunder's limerick. Here's mine on Ann Savage in Detour:

Don't detour and don't hitch a ride
or headlong with fate you'll collide
Step into the shoes
of a corpse and you'll lose
Don't pick up this chick or you're fried

Flickhead said...

I guess after having euthanized one of our beloved cats (cancer), burying my father (heart attack), and making it through several painful rounds with a urologist out to rid my prostate of cancer -- all within the space of eight months in 2008 -- my cynical guard is down. I had a great time watching the Oscars -- I've no delusions about what it "should" be -- and got a we bit misty-eyed here and there. I felt the presentation of actor/actress Oscars via five previous winners was an excellent touch -- it made it less about competition than community. (Eva Marie Saint?!? Sophia Loren?!? Heaven!) Angelina Jolie -- my future second wife -- looked smashing. Though I may end up leaving her for Freida Pinto. I loved the presentation of Jai Ho. And I found Jerry Lewis's all-too brief bit to be quite touching.

I was going to write my own blog entry on this, tentatively titled "The Upside of Cancer," but I'll be damned if I'm going to set myself up for the kind of sourpuss snipers you've got firing away here.

Campaspe said...

Aw Flickhead, bashing the Oscars is ritual, don't mind us. You know I'm a sucker for sentiment too. Like you, I don't usually go into the personal stuff very deeply but things are quite dreary chez Siren as well. Last Sunday I also euthanized a beautiful 20-year-old cat, so I feel for your loss there, as well as your father. And you were surviving cancer last year? Good lord man, post that post. Show us up. Like I said, I'm glued to the things every year, do me good to have a good writer remind me of why.

Gerard Jones said...

I know Milk has flaws as a movie, but for a lot of us here that's a so-what. It's a portrait of the neighborhood, a memorial to the neighborhood's greatest moment of political and social importance, and a call to further action. The fact that it premiered (in the Castro Theater, of course) not only on the 30th anniversary of Harvey's murder but also three weeks after the passage of Prop 8 gives it a significance that probably can't be translated out of the neighborhood.

Otherwise: I was disappointed by Ann Savage being left out too (she died this past Christmas, so this was her window), but not surprised. Manny Farber was a great surprise in the other direction. And nice to see Evelyn Keyes mentioned.

I have to say, I thought the all-star tributes to the acting nominees were cheesy as hell, but it was FUN cheese. I don't think I want to see that year after year, but it was fun to see them roll out their big names. I guess my attitude is that the Oscars have always sucked and will always suck, so what matters is whether the suckage is entertaining or not.

Maybe next year they can do holograms of dead actors giving the tributes. I'd love to see a translucent Luise Rainer up there telling Naomi Watts how much she admires her.

Flickhead said...

I rest my case.

X. Trapnel said...

Surely Luise Rainer still walks the earth.

Gerard Jones said...

You're right! Luise is still with us! My apologies!

Gerard Jones said...

I just read this in the online Times (London): Dominick Dunne talking about his cancer and this visit to the Oscars as his probable farewell. He name-drops like crazy, but I found it brave and touching, too:

Gerard Jones said...

Link didn't work. I'll try again.

If that didn't work, you should be able to go to the site and search for Dominick Dunne.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Sean Penn is indeed amazing. The Times of Harvey Milk is a marvelous documentary, but Milk goes places the documentary couldn't go -- mos specifically inot Harvey's love life. Whart the movie captures perfectly was how much sheer kick-ass fun gay activism was in the 1970's.

I became involved a number of years prior to the film's action as I joined the Gay Actibist Alliance of New York right after Stonewall. I was on the "Media Committee" with Vito Russo. Those were the days. And Milk captures it particularly in Emile Mirsch's Cleve Jones.

Gerard Jones said...

Mirsch was wonderful as Cleve Jones! Which reminds me of another Oscar moment I liked: James Franco in his Pineapple Express self getting all misty over James Franco in his Milk self. Overall I get tired of Hollywood self-reference, but sometimes it hits just the right note.

surly hack said...

"I thought the all-star tributes to the acting nominees were cheesy as hell, but it was FUN cheese."

So, you're saying you like Milk AND cheese?

Gerard Jones said...

The only thing missing was "Ole Buttermilk Sky" in the Baz Luhrman medley.

mndean said...

I hate to say this, but the Oscars have meant exactly nothing to me, except as Siren put it, a form of entertainment where the Academy honors bad choices (This is why I find TCM "31 days of Oscar" such a barren wasteland). The shows themselves veer from dull to strange to appalling. And the buildup to the show itself is one of the most obscene rituals of tub-thumping I've ever witnessed in the media. If we get Round 2 of the Depression, I don't think the ridiculous glitz is going to play so well.

IRL, the Oscars matter less to me than making sure the dishes get washed, the laundry gets done, and meals get served. Having a family member in the hospital doesn't help either.

Knowing all that, the show itself is usually good for some low humor, but somehow since the late '90s, I can't scrape up much enthusiasm to watch it. Baz Luhrman's lunacy wasn't enough to get me even to glance at it. I figured it'd be a mess, but I wasn't ever entertained by his very peculiar talents, so I gave it a big miss. When the comments about the show are better than the show, that's all I need to know.

Peter Nellhaus said...

That conservative film site claims a political agenda on the part of the Academy for Penn beating Rourke. Pretty hilarious when you consider Rourke won the Independent Spirit award.

I even found the torture scenes in Slumdog Millionaire quite intense. I'll see the other nominees when they appear on DVD. Otherwise, I don't feel like I missed much not watching the show this year.

Campaspe said...

Peter, I think what has me apprehensive about Slumdog is that he's just a kid and he gets tortured. That's gonna be hard for me to take, even knowing the movie has a happy ending.

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerard Jones said...

So how intense and how long are the torture scenes in Slumdog? The older I get the harder it is for me to watch such stuff. Even in utterly formulaic TV shows like 24, where I care nothing about the characters and have no suspension of disbelief, I can't take it. (Which is much of why I watched less than one season of 24.) Professional critics will never give you the low-down because they're so invested in seeming intellectually tough.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, do you know something I don't? because all I have read is that it opens with the hero getting tortured at the police station. Kind of hard to review something without mentioning the opening, yes? There's another zinger? Hoo boy. Maybe in a few years I will see this thing. Anyway, I wouldn't have to read about the film, I have seen Boyle's movies before and it would have to be a radical departure if it didn't have something in it that makes you want to crawl under the seat.

Gerard, I feel the same way and occasionally I have found myself going on spoiler or parenting sites to figure out if the film was going to freak me out or not. There go my tough-minded-modern-critic credentials. This is why I recommend being out of the closet about one's old-fogeyness. I don't have any problem telling people that the baby in Trainspotting bothered me for days. Hell, it bothers me NOW if I think about it. (I liked the movie, fwiw, it just put me through the wringer.) And television is really upping the ante too. I haven't watched 24, but I found myself trying to watch an episode of Criminal Minds not too long ago. It consisted of a baby-faced criminologist being held hostage by a deranged serial killer and tortured, in explicit detail, with flashbacks to the criminologist's abused childhood, also with explicitly rendered scenes. Now the question here isn't so much whether this kind of thing should be shown at all -- of course it should, with appropriate warning for people like me and kids etc. The question is whether I have to be able to sit through something like that (even though it was a pointless, dreary entry in a done-to-death genre, the Serial Killer With Supercharged Insight) in order to be in the kewl kidz. Well, I made it halfway through. I guess I am semi-tough.

None of this is meant to be a critique of Slumdog, by the by, it's just a discussion of how I try to figure out what I can take, at this moment in time, and what I can't. Boyle is filming a movie about a violent milieu and I wouldn't know if the movie is revealing it or exploiting it unless I viewed it.

Yojimboen said...

Sincerest condolences on your losses, to Flickhead and to you Madame from a fellow cat-maniac. It just doesn’t get any easier, does it…

(Don't fear Slumdog, it's not nearly as bad as you think. You've seen Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles suffer much worse in Robin Hood.)

The Oscar scroll of the recently-departed has always struck me as faintly creepy. It can only be an annoying process – there’s always one face that surprises us – “Oh, shit! He (she)’s dead?? Fuck! I liked him (her)!”

So we’re always going to be at least a little pissed off at whoever’s giving us the bad news. I agree, let’s turn off the audience mikes at least, else we’re all stuck with the obvious question, “Are they applauding louder because they’re sadder or gladder the person is dead?”

(If this practice had been around 50 years ago, Harry Cohn’s image would no doubt have received a standing ovation.)

All said and done, TCM does do it with a modicum of class.

Evelyn Keyes I think hit me hardest, I liked that lady a whole bunch; admittedly in part because she wrote one hell of a book – up there with Tallulah’s as probably the most intelligent of the (un-ghosted) Hollywood autobiographies. Plus her reputation lives on as – in her day - giver of the best head in Hollywood (well almost; she was reportedly 2nd only to a certain presidential widow who shall remain nameless.)

I love this town.

Campaspe said...

Yojimboen, thanks, for the condolences and for the completely hilarious and reassuring comment.

Is this where I should mention that I adored Wall*E? Should have done that in the post, come to think of it. That's why I like to spend more time on the things.

Gerard Jones said...

Yes, I too have found it liberating to cop to my old-fogeyness, especially as I've come to feel that this process is much more developmental than generational. When I was 21 I thought the reason my parents found Taxi Driver painful to watch while I found it funny was that they didn't have such things when they were young. But recently I saw part of Taxi Driver and had a hard time with it. I think life just takes us places that increase our empathy, sensitivity and squeamishness. Particularly raising kids: my discomfort with portrayals of pain and fear increased tenfold when my son was born, and it's only decreased a little as he's grown-up. It seems like a lot of my childless friends have stayed a bit tougher.

Yojimboen, I'd never heard that about Evelyn Keyes, although I certainly have about Nancy Davis. I've wondered, though, if the rumors about Nancy (e.g. that she loved to go on drives from LA to Las Vegas but never saw a bit of the scenery) came to be just because we so badly WANT them to be true. Doris Day had a similar rep, at least among guys who'd known her in her big-band days, and I had the same feeling: the image requires the rumor. The shadow-self must be acknowledged.

mndean said...

I guess I come to the side of the fence that I can take a certain level of violence in a film if it's not gratuitous. That, unfortunately, is often a value judgment that I have to make for a film. Many films and TV shows today strike me as having almost sociopathic levels of violence, and it seems to be meant to be stimulating to the viewer in a similar way sex is. Some of my friends get off on this (one has a library of little but violent films and TV shows), and although they may grudgingly accept that it isn't real, more than one of them has confided in me that they wished they could visit such violence on others. Whether they would have such thoughts without their imaginations being filled by such films and TV I don't know.

Vanwall said...

The turn-on used to be offscreen sex, where fertile imginations could run rampant and more than we care to admit, often well beyond the intended implication, and almost as often, offscreen violence - a lot of bloody-minded business was never seen, just very well implied. That's what I grew up on. It's possible to see absolutely anything onscreen now, and even tho the most vile stuff, (or for some, the most titillating)isn't at the local multi-screen, they keep edging into that territory, and as usual, graphic violence seems to be easier to swallow for the censors than graphic sex - go figure. I'd rather be fucked, but fucked slow, like Geo Carlin said, than "Saw"ed of Jason-ed any time, so the level of salaciousness is getting pretty hard for me to even look at.

Tonio Kruger said...

Hey, I wish more American politicians had the same squeamishness about torture that you have, Campaspe.

Wasn't there a Pixar movie a few years back that had one character argue that respect for human life is not a weakness?

Whatever happened to that attitude?

I never considered myself all that squeamish in regard to movies but even I get tired of the edginess for the sake of edginess that seems to pass for imagination nowadays. I remember renting the recent remake of Halloween last year and shutting it off in disgust midway through the picture because I really saw no reason to continue seeing it. The characters were both uninteresting and unsympathetic and Rob Zombie's approach to film making makes DePalma's The Black Dahlia seem like a Val Lewton movie. Not that I was all that pleased with that movie, either, but still...

mndean said...

I don't know if this sort of hipster transgressiveness is feeding off itself and causing filmmakers to push past limits of violence into an aesthetic demonstration of how someone can be torn to pieces for the audience's delectation. There's an element of "we can technically do it, so let's make it as nauseating as possible". They don't bother making the cast members who are visited with such violence remotely human or identifiable with the audience. Even on TV shows, the victim is there to provide a body for the heroic cops to anguish over, but with no identity of their own outside that. They're often little more than a target a bullet rips through. The more I see of films and TV, the less real people I see in either.

I wonder if someone someday will put the audience in such a position to enjoy the violence and then just pull the rug out from under them and show exactly what they were looking forward to, and show how vile their anticipation really was. Now that would be an event. Wouldn't sell tickets, though.

Flickhead said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but: to all the critics who disliked or hated this year's Oscars, to give me a point of reference, could you tell me in what year(s) there was a ceremony that you did like?

And, please, don't fall back on the Brando/Scott refusals or David Niven and the streaker, or Vanessa and her Zionist hoodlums... those were passing moments. I'm just curious if there was an entire ceremony that met with your approval.

VP81955 said...

I know Goldie Hawn is getting a lot of criticism for the way she appeared -- and to many, I suppose she looks a bit too plastic -- but at 63, she carries it well. (Perhaps Goldie's outfits should showcase her still-magnificent legs instead of her recently-enhanced bustline.)

I was disappointed the "in memoriam" segment didn't feature Anita Page, who died in September at age 98. She was the last surviving attendee of the first Academy Awards ceremony at the Roosevelt, and had a starring role in "The Broadway Melody," the first talkie to win Best Picture. True, her stardom was relatively short-lived, but she certainly deserved recognition more than Vampira.

Tonio Kruger said...

People liked Vanessa Redgrave and her remark about the Zionist hoodlums? That's not the impression I got at that time.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, for me it's always the passing moments that make an Oscar show memorable. I do think my secret favorite was the infamous Snow White awards. And anything Cher appeared in.

Tonio, I think Flickhead is just saying that Redgrave livened up the show. Though it was probably even better backstage, where Alan King was reportedly bellowing "I AM that Zionist hoodlum she was talking about! Send her to me!"

VP -- YOU ARE RIGHT, OMG THEY FORGOT ANITA PAGE. For some reason I was thinking she was last year. Oh man. Oh man. Oh man.

Campaspe said...

M., I agree with what you are saying about the violence. For me, the movies that really, really get me aren't so much the genre pieces, although I don't watch them much based on a well-founded idea that I won't like them. No, the ones that make me angry are the movies that push bloodshed in my face all in the name of making some trite point, say about the way in which we are all attracted to violence, or the evil within us all, etc.

And here's a cliche worse than the Talking Killer ever was: The Serial Killer with Superhuman Intelligence and Insight. I liked Silence of the Lambs (although it starts to seem more contrived the more you see it) but that was the movie that really put that tired character on the map.

I'll never forget reading an interview with Elliott Leyton, probably the world's foremost serial killer expert, who went on at length about his utter contempt for SOTL (he walked out, I believe, sometime after Hannibal started baiting Clarice). Serial killers are not possessed of keen intelligence or insight, he said; they are "pathetic, dull, defective" individuals who take a while to get caught because they often seek out victims on the fringe of society (prostitutes, runaways) or at least those to whom they have no traceable connection. And yet in movie after movie after movie, we see serial killers as these soooopergeniuses who play a brilliant game of cat-and-mouse with the cops. I just don't care if I ever see another movie or TV show like that, truly.

X. Trapnel said...

Although I am myself a Zionist hoodlum, I'll take Vanessa R. over Alan King anytime. God, was he awful in Enemies (a travesty of Singer's novel) and Bye, Bye Braverman, a film that seems to have evaporated from living memory (except mine). Not funny as a comedian either.

X. Trapnel said...

I think the notion of the genius serial killer (of course he's a maniac/pervert; he listens to Bach) is yet another example of pop kulcher having it both ways: indulging an idiot-level taste for gore while assuring the audience that the genius/perv is not one of "us." Ever since I since I saw an arm torn off in the "remake" of Cat People I won't go near this kind of film, not out of highmindedness, but because I nearly retched.

Yojimboen said...

I remember years ago some roast – not Alan King’s, but he was on the dais – when a young, upstart comedienne by the name of Sarah Silverman began her turn at the mike with: “Oh, before we start, there was a phone message for Alan King…” She turned and smiled her little-girl smile at him and continued, “It said the last person who thought you were funny just died.”

Alan King was visibly unamused.

Campaspe said...

XT, I quite liked Enemies although Roger Simon, god knows, hasn't done much to please me since. I liked the offstage, but very potent, approach to the Holocaust. Then again, perhaps Anjelica Huston's presence just dazzled me overmuch. I still remember her uncoiling and half-purring, "Oh, congratulations. Men *love* virgins."

Yojimboen, that is one of the few funny things I've heard from Sarah Silverman, who leaves me pretty cold. King does get off the occasional good line.

X. Trapnel said...


I think Enemies was good, very good indeed, strictly on its own terms, but it did soften and sentimentalize Singer in unnecessary ways and thus was far less moving (and funny) than the book (too many details to list here), and all the actors were superb except when they were scuttled by the script. Why didn't they just use Singer's dialogue?

Roger Simon=Ron Silver?

I've never seen Sarah Silverman but a blessing on her head for that.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, my apologies for doubting you. So Roger Simon's is the hack whose tin ear mucked up the script--and he's a Republican hack as well! Wonderful! Anyone who doubts my point should compare the revelation scene in the book to the movie. The deus ex machina figure Peshkin is one of Singer's devil characters, not the nice old fuddydud in the movie. How could Simon have left out his line "How do you do it [i.e., have 3 beautiful women]? If you'll pardon my saying so, you look like a real nothing to me." Also, the last line of the book which encapsulates the whole theme, as the chuckling baby does not. I could go on...

Campaspe said...

XT, I have decided, after Revolutionary Road, that the best approach to movies of novels is counterintuitive: see the movie first. The novel will only deepen your appreciation of the themes, whereas it's rare for me to see a movie that doesn't jar on some level when I compare it with the book. Case in point: Remains of the Day. The final scene of self-revelation was so intensely moving in the book, and the screenwriter cut the best lines for the movie. why, why?

Campaspe said...

By the by, a shamWOW to anyone who can recognize the gent in my new banner.

X. Trapnel said...

An excellent strategy, Siren, but your as likely to have already read the book as not.

Gent in the banner? I didn't notice any gent.

Campaspe said...

XT, that was true before I had kids. Now I get to test my theory all the time. :D

X. Trapnel said...

Dragging my eyes unwillingly form all that lightly clad pulchritude (I have never been able to make up my mind about that word), I'll guess the gent is Wm. Haines (something about the part in the oil slick hair).

Yojimboen said...

Bill Haynes, surely?
Not sure of the film.
The Marines Are Coming maybe?

Campaspe said...

And the winner is Yojimboen!! Bill Haines it is. I have no idea which film. It's my little "Milk"/Sean Penn/Castro Theater tribute.

X. Trapnel said...

Yojimboen! I was there first and spelled the name right!

Anagramsci said...

interesting discussions in this thread!

Gerard and Siren--how far does this creeping discomfort with violence extend? Have either of you developed the inability to enjoy David Lynch films? If so, tell me when that happened to you--I want to know when to check out of this incarnation and start over again!

After successfully avoiding award shows my entire life, I agreed to attend an Oscar party this year. I found the entire show quite boring (and hadn't seen any of the nominated movies except for Button, which I did not like and V,C, B which I loved), but the people I saw it with made it fun... I'll certainly do it again next year.

worst thing about the death montage--no Kathleen Byron, and far too short shrift given to Cyd Charisse... Farber and Keyes were major plusses though--didn't expect to see them, and love them both...

the best music of the night--for me--was the Hives song that accompanied the mindless action montage (which I could have done without)


Yojimboen said...

Hate to correct my hostess but XT beat me to the punch AND spelled the name correctly!

Call UPS and redirect that ShamWOW now!

Now I'm intrigued; is this from The Duke Steps Out?

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks, Y; I knew you were no Norm Coleman.

Just a guess but the banner looks more like a publicity shot (sort of static) than something from a film

X. Trapnel said...

Or perhaps a futile bid on Louis B. Mayer's part to get Haines to change his ways?

Karen said...

Well, I came to the comments to ask if that was Billy Haines, but I see that the conversation has anticipated me.

On the subject of Oscar telecasts I've liked: no one ever likes the whole telecast, right? There are portions. I've liked certain acceptance speeches. I've liked moments like the Aussie costume designer from Priscilla and her Amex dress. I've liked some hosts (I do miss Johnny Carson). I've even liked certain montages. Mostly it's been a question of whether they managed to keep from making me crazy. I almost always hate the musical numbers. I hate the self-congratulatory effusion.

This year, there were almost no moments I liked (apart from Kunio Kato's "Domo arigato, My Roboto," which is still blowing my mind, and Tina Fey/Steve Martin), and there was a lot of stuff I didn't. So, this year was a net loss in my book.

Violence in films: can't take it. Have never been able to sit through more than the first 10 minutes of Night of the Living Dead, I don't care how damn classic it is. I do not like seeing people's insides. I liked movie violence in the 1930s and 1940s, when it was black-and-white and largely bloodless. I am constantly taken aback at the gruesome corpses served up on TV, in standard fare such as police procedural shows.

But I really am squeamish. I had to avert my eyes during battle scenes in Braveheart or Branagh's Henry V. I just can't take it.

That being said, however, this line of yours, Siren: "No, the ones that make me angry are the movies that push bloodshed in my face all in the name of making some trite point, say about the way in which we are all attracted to violence, or the evil within us all, etc." couldn't help but make me think of the prologue cards on movies like The Public Enemy and Scarface, which made the claim that they were only showing us this violence and depravity to educate us about the dangers in our own society.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, I think those prologue cards were concessions to censorship, quite unlike the self-important moralizing in contemprary films the Siren rightly excoriated.

Gerard Jones said...

I do have to say that a few people working within the current aesthetic can do bloody violence well. The Wire was often queasy-making, and yet the violence nearly always felt dramatically right. Much of it was off-screen, which made it especially powerful when we did see it; and the most clearly visible violence was generally reserved for characters we really cared about, which made it heartbreaking and not just viscerally repellent. They also never used fancy angles or cutting to make it Hollywood-snazzy. Every act of brutality I can remember was just shown head-on, as if we were in the room. Which I found both more painful and more moving.

Gerard Jones said...

As for past Oscars I've liked, nothing will ever touch the first one I saw, early '69, when I was 11. Which is, of course, more about that I was 11 and they were new to me than what they were like. The guy who did the ape make-up in Planet of the Apes got a special Oscar. 2001 won for visual effects. Cliff Robertson (who broke my 11 year old heart in Charly) won best picture. Hepburn and Streisand tied for Best Actress, which I gathered was a rare and exciting event. Oliver won best picture (I loved musicals at that age and could probably sing all of "Consider Yourself"). And I'm pretty sure I actually found Bob Hope funny. Or laughed because I thought I was supposed to.

Am I right that they didn't try so damned hard to be "clever" back then? I don't remember each pair of presenters doing bad imitations of bad imitations of old Burns and Allen routines.

The next several years were very interesting to me, as my own dawning political awareness coincided with the politification of the Oscars. My favorite moment was hearing my dad snort, "Sacheen Littlefeather! Where'd she come up with that name?" He was very pleased a few days later to learn that she was really Maria Cruz of Salinas, CA, a farm town just down the road from us.

Campaspe said...

OMG XT, I am so sorry, LOL! These comments are so narrow that I am constantly scrolling past something I shouldn't. Indeed you get the shamWOW. I have no idea which movie that is from. I stole the picture from Amy of It'll Take the Snap Out of Your Garters! Amy is very casual about people lifting photos from her place and told me point-blank she didn't care if I linked back, but I like to remind people about her livejournal because it's so cool.

Karen, we are so similar sometimes, although I did manage to get all the way through Night of the Living Dead. I don't mind the cards on the old stuff because fact is, it WAS new back then. Every once in a while an old movie will startle me in the violence department, though. White Heat was a surprise when I first saw it--the car trunk! and The Big Combo's torture scene is frightening, as well as The Big Heat.

Gerard, I think my all-time favorite Oscar show was my first too -- Annie Hall won. I was too young to realize that this was a rare case of the best film winning and sulked all night over Star Wars' loss, not to mention the lack of a nomination for Harrison Ford, on whom I had developed a crush that lasted well into the Clinton Administration.

Campaspe said...

Oh, and the banner is also a Prop 8 jab, since I had in mind Joan Crawford's quote, to the effect that "the happiest marriage I’ve seen in Hollywood is Billy Haines and Jimmy Shields."

Gerard Jones said...

Dare I wish Betty Hutton a happy birthday?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well were she here she'd say

Gerard Jones said...


Yojimboen said...

Talking with a friend who has a friend who sits on whatever sub-committee, I’ve learned the Oscar obit montage selection works roughly thus: A certain amount of time is allocated for the montage - each face gets a requisite number of seconds screen time - therefore the number of faces to be shown is determined by that outside time limit. There may be 30 or 40 noteworthy deaths in a given period (award to award), but if there are only 20 slots…
So they didn’t actually forget Anita Page or Patrick McGoohan or Ann Savage – they, and several others, simply didn’t make the cut.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well that makes it even more interesting that Manny Farber DID make the cut.

Vanwall said...

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Well that makes it even more interesting that Manny Farber DID make the cut."

The final tiny triumph of the termite, eh?

mndean said...

Been away again for a time, same reason (ailing parent), but Siren, you're right about the soopergenius serial killer. It's a ludicrous genre, as much so as the supercop genre. In SOTL. it goes back to the novel, and the only (and I mean only) reason that I cared for SOTL at all was the wit of Hopkins performance, though I could think of other actors who could've done it better if they were still alive. The violence, gore, etc. were a great disappointment to me, and his misuse of his stock players was something of a betrayal of Demme's strengths in humanizing people the audience would otherwise look down on. Whatever happened with that film he lost my interest, and got preachy or dull depending on the film in the few of his I saw after that. I don't know why, but practically every contemporary director I admired for one reason or another (from Truffaut to Scorsese) did a film that disappointed me enough to give up on them for years or permanently.

Gerard Jones said...

My condolences to Flickhead and Campaspe on your losses. And I very appreciate your thoughts on old-style schmaltz as a comfort in times of grief. When my mom died, I found the greatest joy I could bring my dad was just sitting with him and listening to my tapes of the old Jack Benny radio show. Those nights brought us a lot closer, too, even if we didn't say much of substance, even if we talked more about the difference between Kenny Baker and Dennis Day than we did about the wife and mother we'd both just lost. I started playing the tapes for myself when I'd drive to and from his house. Sometimes they were very good, but even when they fell short they were a comfort.

Flickhead said...

Thanks, Gerard.

Meanwhile, I tried imagining a Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal as a sooopergenius, but I fell asleep.

When I awoke -- and for the next two days -- a nasty little lyric refused to leave my head:

When you're on a highway
and Roadrunner goes 'beep-beep'...

Wyle E. Coyote sooopergenius, indeed...

Meanwhile, Siren, if you haven't seen it already, Changeling is now out on DVD. Most people dismissed it, I thought it was above average. The period recreation is superb, and Angelina Jolie is excellent. I've encountered a few neanderthals who haven't seen the film but who've managed to form negative and/or dismissive opinions based on a trailer they've misread.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Changeling is excellent and Angelina is lovely in it. Besides being The Most Famous Woman in the World she can actually act. Clint's straight-ahead style works very well for such complex and disturbing material.

In a way it turns The Silence of the Lambs inside out, as the serial killer isn't smarter than everyone else nor is he made attractive as Hopkins was in Demme's film.

Flickhead said...

Thank you for backing me on this, David. I thought Changeling simply evaded all notice. Here in Pennsylvania, it came and went from theaters in literally one week. (I couldn't see it opening weekend, intended to see it the next, but it was gone.)

Over the past five or six months, I've been pouring over AJ's work and am, quite frankly, blown away. After seeing Gia, Pauline Kael wrote that, if they ever remade Last Tango, Angie could play both the Brando and Maria Schneider parts — and she's right!

In Changeling she makes a Joan Crawford-ish role unaffected and entrancing. Eastwood designs the picture in the style of a good novel unfolding chapter after chapter. He also wrote the beautiful music. Having nothing left to prove at his age, Eastwood can make something slow, emotional, and intelligent. Changeling is not without its flaws, but I loved it enough to watch it twice in one week.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Clint is really somethin' else. When he first strated directing it seemed he was interested in genre exercise related to his performances and his masters, Siegel and Leone (eg. Play Misty For Me, The Gauntlet, Bronco Billy) But starting with Bird his abitions grew -- and his skill along with it. Unforgiven went WAY beyond its genre and provided Richard Harris and Gene Hackman with two of the best roles of their careers. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil should have been beyond him -- but he was right on the money. However the dyptich of Flags of Our Fathers / Letters From Iwo Jima is quite simply the very best American filmmaking, period.

He has no limits.

Campaspe said...

Well, now I have some Clint catching up to do. I think Unforgiven is magnificent and will defend it to the death. It's fascinating that a man who spent more than half his career creating icons of American violence would then put every ounce of his talent he had in the service of a story that questioned both the mechanics of violence AND of American iconography.

Don't forget the underrated "A Perfect World," in which the unjustly reviled Kevin Costner proved once and for all that he can act.

But I'm such a Clint sucker I even get a kick out of Every Which Way But Loose.

Flickhead said...

I've a very soft spot in my heart for Bridges of Madison County as well as Breezy. Add Changeling to that list and it appears as if Clint is quite adept at what were once called "women's pictures" -- maybe better than anyone else presently working in American mainstream.

Noel Vera said...

On Eastwood, I liked Unforgiven, loved most of Perfect World (it's at least half a great film--maybe more, if I think about it more), was surprised Bridges could be good, considering the book was one of the worst, most conceited I've ever read. Changeling--well, I agree with David E. about its take on serial killers (superb), not quite enthusiastic about the rest. Surprisingly, Gran Torino is better than what one might expect, is my favorite Eastwood in years (basically it's Dirty Harry in a wheelchair).

On the Oscars--Milk and Button were the decent films in there, both filmmakers who took conventional scripts (in Button's case, a recycled one) and by sheer visual style transcanded their circumstances. Haven't watched an awards night in years.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, I really liked Bridges, too, which amazed me because like Noel I thought the book was incredibly bad. Million Dollar Baby has a few women's picture elements--such an odd genre-crisscrossing movie, not entirely successful in my view but by no means did it deserve all the sneers it got. I just watched Heroes for Sale and it occurred me that MDB almost seems like an early WB movie in that it's such a mix of disparate elements--all it needs is a few knockabout comical moments and it would be First National updated for the Oughts.

Noel, you're one of the few Button likers I have encountered. I have to say I am not a Fincher fan. When I complain about his movies people tell me he's a formalist and all I can say is that if I don't like his form, either, where does that leave me? But I am always willing to give a filmmaker another chance, you never know which movie will prove Ivan G. Shreve's Blind Squirrel theory for you.

Flickhead said...

Thanks for reminding me about MIllion Dollar Baby. I thought it was quite good, albeit too long. The sneers it got were surely mostly web-based, this unfortunate army of cynics who tend to ravage anything that's not inundated with pretentious irony (beyond overkill at this point), underlined ambiguity (yawn) or stilted emotion (snicker). To sneer at Million Dollar Baby is an indication of shortsightedness, given that, at the very least, Hillary Swank is superb in it.

Thankfully I never read Bridges, so I found myself instantly swept into Meryl's quiet desperation.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, that's why I often find my sensibility doesn't skew toward the modern. The cliches of the old movies seem paradoxically fresh to me, much more so than the posing cynicism of so many current releases. Let it be said, though, that I don't want to get into the trap of constantly using old movies to beat up on the new, unless they ask for it by remaking something. Remake The Women badly and you deserve what you get.

Speaking of cliches, it does often seem true that thuddingly obvious or outright bad novels can make good movies, although if that were foolproof, then Forever Amber would have been awesome, as would the Nicholas Sparks movies.

Flickhead said...
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Anagramsci said...

fascinating turn in the conversation here!

Dalton is the only Bond I was ever able to stand (although I've never read the books either, so I can't say who's closest to the character on the page)

not sure how to address Flickhead's list of interesting contemporary actresses, except to say that I don't think any of them is quite up to Stanwyck, and that, if I was going to place my bets on someone to challenge Barbara's overall record, it would come from an entirely different list of candidates... Winslet, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis--if they'd let her do lead roles!, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts (whose performance in Mulholland Dr. is, in my opinion, the greatest in cinema history)

I don't like (or understand the appeal of) Angelina Jolie... but these things are so subjective...


DavidEhrenstein said...

You're quite right about dialogue and believability, Flickhead. One overriding fault of the "Golden Age of Hollywood" is overwriting when it comes to character and "motive." Far too much us "explained" for the audience, and unless you're a master like Preston Sturges big lengthyy speeches constrict actors. In Changeling Jolie's heroine speaks only when obviously required to. As a result we're given a lot of room to simple observe her in various situations: in the telephone office (on roller skates!) at home with her son, with the cops, with the kid they give her and claim is her son, and with the docotrs and other patients in the insane aylum. This gives Jolie TONS to work with.

Clint says Gran Tornion is about a man seemingly "set in his ways" who though circumstance manages to changes. Fro him it proves "it's never too late to change." And it's pretty obvious that the Clint of Gran Torino isn't the Clint of A Fistful of Dollars or Dirty Harry or The First Travelling Saleslady for that matter. What's nice about it is that there's no "message" with bows tied around it. it's a story in which we SEE a grizzled old coot change before our eyes in real-life circumstance.

Clint himself has of course changed from a knee-jerk Conservative to what I'd call The Last of the Rockefeller Republicnas. But as Clint was never for a nanosecond racist the seeds of this gradual transformation were there from the beginning.

Extra Bonus Points: His femae co-stars (Meryl, Angelina) simply adore him. And not because that while edging 80 he's still Smokin' Hot. He's a real actors director and gives everyone he works with the respect and room they need to do their best work.

Next up for Clint: Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandella.

Noel Vera said...

On Bridges--actually I think it helps to read the book; then you can see just how incredble Eastwood's makeover of the material really is.

Campaspe, when you say you're not a Fincher fan, do you mean Se7en, Alien3, Panic Room and the like? Because that's not recent Fincher; he's changed as radically as the Dirty Harry character in Gran Torino (not that Harry is in Gran Torino, just that I think it's Eastwoods' reworking of the character). Might want to rent that, then see Button (or the other way around). It's a whole other Fincher.

I can see Jolie being a good actress (I liked her in A Mighty Heart); don't know if I'd put her above Davis (in Baby Jane? In Sweet Charlotte? In Jezebel, The Letter, and the like?), even Crawford (in Baby Jane? Strange Cargo? Grand Hotel? The Best of Everything?).

Not a big fan of Million Dollar Baby; not a fan of Mystic. Actually a lot of Eastwood is problematic for me. Am probably a minority--I know Tony Rayns, Pierre Rissent and most of the critical establishment loves him to bits.

As to Daniel Craig and Casino Royale--I don't know, I don't know. Fleming's novel was a slim, thrilling piece of piece, with the climactic confrontation is over a game of baccarat; no shootout, no collapsing buildings, no fancy acrobatic stunts, nada. I love the simplicity of it all.

On the best Bond, I'd say Craig's the most like the original Bond (Dalton's a close second). But the films as they were originally formulated were a happy accident; bet it was Connery's bullshit meter that started making fun of the books (and they were ridiculous at a certain level), and the writers probably ran with that. Either that, or there's some genius writer out there who hit on the formula, and the producers ran with it.

I suppose I'm a conservative, but Goldfinger is my gold standard. The plot's beautifully structured, the action opening up from a con job to an elaborate smuggling ring to the biggest heist in history, involving an atomic weapon (wish someone can confirm this, but I suspect Fleming borrowed the plot of White Heat). What Fleming--and the film--managed to accomplish is to make this even halfway plausible, yet give the imagination free rein over the scale of the proceedings. Larger than life, yet you believe every moment.

Flickhead said...
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Vanwall said...

Personally, I think I'm too close in relative time to many of these films and performances - some I think are wonderful, others suck, but as far as whatever-of-all-time, I don't care to make that finite a distinction. The language of film and visual capabilities have changed too much for me to compare eras, and the biggest changes - societal norms - have rendered useless many of the reasons for dialogue
standards and conventions, and making sly fun thereof.

M. Vera and I share some of the opinions re: Clint and Angelina and problematics, he's put it as good as I can, but I'm not a real big fan of the Craig Bond yet, as they seem like weak Bourne clones with more kabooms. There was a wonderful spoof from 1965, "The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World", that skewered the Bondians, and I keep thinking the latest Bond films owe more to that film than Fleming.

I prefer Fleming's short stories as written and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" as filmed, for his best work and any adaptation of it. Perhaps OHMSS was closer in time and attitude to his brand of Beyond-Clubland spyjinks, and that's why I like it so - put me down for "Manhunter" over Silence of the Lambs" any day, as well.

I'm afraid the casual overuse of FX, computer-aided or not, is kinda burning me out on a lot of films - I have trouble watching a lot of action scenes for just that reason, I guess my eyes just jink around too much in the theater when that stuff is on anymore. Oops, no Ben Button for me, eh? - slim Fitz reed to base a movie on, and I understand the need for spice, but what happened to the Spanish-American War, eh?

Noel Vera said...

I'd love to hear anything you can add, Flickhead.

After Goldfinger, my favorite Bond might be Aces Go Places 3: Our Man on Bond Street, with Richard Kiel, Peter Graves, and Neil Connery, Sean's brother.

And I really should get around to seeing this, but there's also our country's own James Batman.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The totally insane 1967 Casino Royale with five directors is one of my all-time favorite Guilty Pleasures.

Jackie Bissett tells me Peter Sellers was so insane at this point that with a few exceptions (eg. Ursula Andress) he refused to do scenes with other actors. He'd have his stand-in cue his lines for them and have the shots of himself done separately in complete solitude.

Yojimboen said...

Clint the Emperor:

My Calvinist grandmother used to instruct us that if you can’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all. An admirable sentiment, but one which sort of kills the concept of the Blog stone dead. You say, Chère Madame, you would defend Unforgiven to the death; I’ll take it on faith you’d also defend to the death my right to disagree -- or at least my right to quote Voltaire backatcha.
So here goes (and sorry, grandmama, wherever you are):

I do not like Clint Eastwood. Not at all; not one whit. Perhaps it’s that I wasn’t raised on this side of the pond and consequently am not prey to certain traditions of frontier idolatry. In my immediate circle, few, if any of my fellow-Europeans comprehend, let alone buy into the Clint mystique. I would hazard as a reason that European film scholarship has always been more oriented toward the maker of the film rather than its constituent parts. Simply put, it’s the difference between going to see a Sergio Leone film (or a Don Siegel film) and a ‘Clint Eastwood’ film.

(No, I’m not attempting to re-package the Auteur Theory -- Andrew Sarris has a lot to answer for -- which on its face was a useful critical tool but which sadly has been hammered into poltroonish pulp.)

At his best – and I don’t anticipate much argument from even his most ardent admirers – Clint Eastwood is not a hugely talented actor; he is what he is, a modestly capable journeyman player with a limited but effective bag of tricks - 90% of which consists of keeping his eyelids 90% closed. (the other 10% is speaking his lines without moving his lips. Oh, yes, and being tall. You know, like Gregory Peck.)

As a director, he is similarly, modestly capable, but not in the remotest sense is he worthy of the praise constantly being heaped on his narrow shoulders. Personally I believe the worst thing that happened to him was that Misty succeeded at the box office – and he never had to get any better - he became “Clint” the bankable, “Clint” the unstoppable, and thus he has coasted ever since.
(No, there’s nothing wrong with making money at the box office – Jim Carey and Steven Seagal do it all the time.)

Has anyone in this group actually seen his early films? You know, like Sudden Impact; The Rookie - films where every gay character (telegraphed by turtleneck or cravat) is a hideously stereotyped limp-wristed Nellie Queen, and every gay woman is a cigar-chomping diesel-dyke who it’s okay to punch in the face?

(Have we forgotten those films? Or do we give him a pass, ‘because he’s Clint’?)

No argument he learned a lot at Don Siegel’s feet; unfortunately he mostly learned the wrong things, and opted for a career of least resistance by choosing to imitate movies like the chintzy Coogan’s Bluff over classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

No argument either he has matured and become a more capable film-maker (he could hardly have gotten worse) and one or two of his recent films – well-scripted – have been watchable: The Changeling for example (incidentally I’m delighted to find I’m not alone in believing Ms Jolie to be a vastly underrated actress); but it’s a thin film, insubstantial at best – a quick-and-dirty who-needs-a-take-two let’s-get-it-done job. In other words, a Clint Eastwood film.

Mr. Eastwood’s one-take philosophy – well-publicized as a reflection of his singular vision is, at the very least, not generous to his actors. Every film actor who ever lived thinks they could do better with just ‘one more take’. Notwithstanding that practice, all his actors and actresses express great admiration for Mr. Eastwood. Publicly.

Fact one: Clint Eastwood cranks out at least two films a year.
Fact two: Any actor will praise any potential employer.

The Iwo Jima diptych? A good use of state-of-the-art CGI, but ultimately two great stories badly told. I showed my DVD screener to an elderly neighbor who was there, on the beach and who made it to the top of Mt. Suribachi. It made him angry – the whole bullshit re-staging of the flag-raising – which cost lives to bring about - brought back a fury my neighbor hadn’t felt in 60+ years. The only thing he said at the end of Mr. Eastwood’s film was “Crap, nothin’ like what happened…”
I’ll take his word for it.

Re Unforgiven, good art direction, cinematography, costumes; but there’s a reason David Peoples’ script languished for the years it did – it’s trite and shallow (I defy anyone to point to any plot twist, any characterization; anything that we haven’t all seen before dozens of times), and ultimately it’s full to the gunwales with the usual Eastwood stock company of cardboard heroes and villains. Clint is the dark mirror of Will Rogers: he’s never met a stereotype he doesn’t madly embrace.

Re puerile nonsense like Madison County and unutterable tripe like Million Dollar Baby the less said the better.

His Westerns? Make that singular. Try to get a razor blade between the Man with No Name and the High Plains Drifter and Josey Wales – you can’t – they’re the same character. The Western towns are all the same false-front town as Mel Brooks used in the Blazing Saddles climax and painting it red doesn’t fool anybody.

The only – weird – exception to the string was Pale Rider. Weird in the sense that he was never sued for plagiarism by Paramount or the George Stevens or Jack Schaefer estates over this blatant, unacknowledged, unashamed remake of Shane. To my knowledge, he’s never publicly discussed Pale Rider/Shane - I wonder if he’d call it hommage.

I’ll end my diatribe – apologies it runs so long – by justifying its length on my high regard for all the voices contributing to this, unquestionably the best-hosted and best Cinema Blog on the net; by expressing my general shock that so many intelligent people have been persuaded by this somewhat mediocre talent.
Is it because he’s cool?
Trust me, he isn’t.
I’ve met him.
(Steve McQueen was cool – so cool he squinted at the moon – Clint only seems cool.)

He talks a good game, but he is – by his own admission – a lazy film-maker. Add sloppy to lazy (and he is very sloppy), and you arrive at cynical and dishonest. His audience plunks down their dollars at the box office expecting and deserving honesty. My gripe with Clint Eastwood is that he betrays his actors most of the time, and his audience pretty much every time.

Mr. Eastwood is not a completely naked emperor – call him scantily-clad – but no one seems willing to point the finger. The puzzle to me is how he gets away with it. His main achievement in – not to say his contribution to – American Cinema has been his longevity, his survival; which has now, it would seem, evolved into a strange, rather troubling cult.

Flickhead said...
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Vanwall said...

M Yojimboen - A valid and incisive critique - I'll add that razor blade would have trouble sliding between any Eastwood performance, so you have to pick one you like and call that the real one. Gran Torino strikes me as another western with a hot car, and the razor blade is still unable to fit between personas. I liked Unforgiven and Josey Wales a lot, un-apologetically, and yeah, I suffered thru just about all of his early work, so I feel qualified to agree with a lot of what you say.

Directors not respecting actors? Who'da thunk it? The same chap who said "I never said all actors are cattle; what I said was all actors should be treated like cattle" also said "Self-plagiarism is style." - he could be talking about Eastwood today. 'Course that guy never won a directing Oscar or two like Clint, so what would he know?

I think workmanlike fits Clints style, and one reads into it what one wants, almost by default, because he keeps tweeking the same carburetor to this day, and that's what I stated earlier in this thread - I'm too close in time to know how well his later work is going to wear.

Eastwood films are their own genre by now, but I do have reservations regarding their validity as all-time great films, or whether they have all-time great performances.

Campaspe said...

Iim Morgan just wrote a great piece at Sunset Gun about Angelina Jolie. So while I am clearly outnumbered, I have to say I don't find Ms Jolie particularly interesting as an actress. As a personality, I think Kim is right and Jolie is indeed one of the few real stars. If I had to compare her to anyone, it would be Elizabeth Taylor, both in good and bad ways. She has the same bad-girl attitude that made Taylor so delicious, throwing a "You Can All Go to Hell" party after she walked off with Debbie Reynolds' husband (or was that after Burton? maybe she did it both times). And Jolie certainly has the beauty. But like Taylor, she is only occasionally a real actress, and so far she hasn't been a truly, giddily exciting one, at least for me. Girl, Interrupted was a good outing for her, but she had the flashier part. Her choices were vivid and watchable, but lacked the element of surprise. It was a pretty down-the-line portrait of eroticized madness, and if I want to figure out why the performance ultimately failed to thrill me all I have to do remember Jean Seberg in Lilith, playing a similar role but taking an entirely different and more original tack with it. I would have liked to see Jolie in Ryder's role and check out whether she could play the more introspective character. She's the same age Taylor was for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, so it may be some time before she can really peel away the layers.

I did love the whole Oscar thing with her brother. Come on, people watch the Oscars hoping to be outraged by something--a dress, a political speech, whatever. Jolie was the first to outrage with a suggestion of incest. That tells me right there that she's holding out on us, in terms of what she could really bring to a picture. But better than Davis, or even Crawford's best outings? No way. She's just not that compulsively watchable for me.

As for Clint, that was an extremely well-written case for the prosecution, Yojimboen, so how can I object to your expressing it, other than to point out where I disagree? In terms of Clint's recent works you certainly have distinguished company, particularly of late. I have seen Sudden Impact and yeah, the gay stereotypes bothered me as they do in a lot of pictures. While I don't think he's made any movie to specifically make up for that stuff (haven't seen Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil) I would definitely argue that Unforgiven is Eastwood going back and trying to look seriously at the ways we mythologize violence.

Campaspe said...

Vanwall, I think all directors diss actors, if you get them drunk enough. (Aside: I am now reminded of my favorite moment from My Favorite Year. I saw it in a moviehouse that catered to the downtown arts crowd and got one of the biggest laughs I have ever heard in a movie theater after these lines. Peter O'Toole's Alan Swann is drunk and hanging off a building by a fire hose. Someone working in the office says, "I think Alan Swann is beneath us," and comes the reply, "Of course he's beneath us. He's an actor!")

The subject of why actors irritate the bejesus out of so many people is too vast for here, but Eastwood isn't dealing just with actors--he's also dealing with stars, and is a star himself, and one wonders if that lessens his patience with the sorts of things that stars do.

I loved Josey Wales AND Pale Rider too. Yeah, he keeps tweaking the same carburetor in a sense. But what he is saying has definitely evolved over time.

X. Trapnel said...

Bravo, Yojimboen! As Roger O. Thornhill would say, "What a performance!" Myself, I'm neutral on the subject of Clint Eastwood. As an actor, he does his squinty, flinty thing reasonably well (he's very hard to dislike), but I've always felt as a director he's a maker attitudinizing packages that amout to a bien pensant grittiness/sensitivity(a dash of jazz here, a squirt of moral ambiguity there) for middlebrow liberals who think they're being daring by embracing him. On literary AND cinematic principles I'm against the filming of great novels (yes there have been exceptions), but that doesn't mean anyone should film The Bridges of Madison County.

Noel Vera said...

"that doesn't mean anyone should film The Bridges of Madison County."

Really, what I like about the film is how not-bad it was compared to the book.

And I agree as to his masters: Seigel, Leone. Been starting to feel Leone's Once Upon a Time in America's a greater work than Coppola's gangster epics.

Noel Vera said...

"I'm against the filming of great novels"

The Trial; Welles' Shakespeare trilogy. I'd love to have seen his Quixote.

Actually Huston's The Bible is pretty interesting. And Moby Dick would have been someting with Welles as Ahab (with Welles directing, but let's not get into that).

Yojimboen said...

Bless you, XT, I live to be compared to Josephine Hutchinson!

DavidEhrenstein said...

No I don't "give him a pass" for those films. That's why Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was such a surprise.

Clint has changed. The entire subject if Gran Torino is how people can change.

And who said he was a great actor? He's a Movie Star.

He has, however, become a great director -- as Flags of Our Fathers/ Letters From Iwo Jima makes obvious.

The Emperor Wears Prada.

X. Trapnel said...

My pleasure, Yojimboen; but don't borrow Laura's Mercedes without asking.

Noel V. I'd make a partial exception for plays. Obviously there's been great Shakespeare on film. I love Pygmalion and the first 2/3 of Major Barbara. Moby Dick is better than might be expected (Robert Ryan as Ahab; Welles directing is what I say), just as Huston's The Dead is worse (a real catastrophe like The Trial. Joyce and Kafka are not for filming).
For me the brilliant exception is--wait for it--Letter From an Unknown Woman, from Stefan Zweig's great story (Siren, I know your reading schedule is difficult, but please, please, please read Zweig's The Post Office Girl. You will love it). Ophuls' changes are cinematically/dramatically necessary without damaging the story. A case of complementary masterpieces.

The half way decency of Bridges of MC is most likely attributable to excellent actors who can humanize cardboard characters.

One reason

Flickhead said...
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LaBoheme said...

I understand the complaints, but i really enjoyed the Oscars myself. Some of the acceptance speeches made me cry. The opening medley was really funny to me, especially the last line. I though Jackman was a fine host, though I am sad they basically cut him out of the second half of the show.

I, too, wish Rourke had won, though I'm sure Penn did a fine job in Milk.

My biggest complaint isn't even about the program itself. It's that Wall-E was the superior film last year and didn't even rate a Best Picture nomination. I know it's not typical Oscar fodder, but that's exactly why I think it should have been nominated,at very least. I just hope the Oscars don't go the way of the Grammys and become completely out of touch and useless.

Gerard Jones said...

Shouldn't film great novels, eh? That's one of those statements that bring up so many interesting questions. For starters, what's a great novel? Long-canonized?

Are Jane Austen's novels "great"? I found the Ehle-Firth TV adaptation of P&P and the Ang Lee S&S charming and satisfying, and both helped me enjoy the novels in new ways. Right below those I'd rank the Beckinsale Emma and the TV Persuasion that came out around the same time.

Are Grapes of Wrath and Farewell to Arms great? A couple of generations thought so, and I think the Ford and Milestone adaptations are still worth watching and stand on their own, not just as footnotes to the books. They also brought changes to the aesthetics and politics of movies that might never have come from original screenplays.

I'm very glad David Lean took on two Dickens novels in the '40s. They get a bit leaden here and there, but they're mostly good movies--and the opportunity they give us to look at the imagination of Victorian England through the dark, anxious sensibility of post-WWII England is fascinating and valuable.

Do we automatically exclude genre novels from "great"? Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Maltese Falcon and Farewell My Lovely are all very good books that transcend genre limitations, and they all made terrific movies.

Clearly some books don't lend themselves well to the screen. I suspect we'll never see a good movie based on Ulysses, The Sound and the Fury, Temps Perdu, Karamazov, Gatsby or The Good Soldier. But sometimes a good movie can come from unexpected sources if the moviemakers allow themselves to depart from the original...and the viewers allow themselves to see it as a separate creation, not a reflection of the book. Huston's Moby Dick inevitably loses much of the transcendental and metaphorical quality of the novel, but as drama and narrative it's a lot better. And I actually thought Madame Bovary was a really enjoyable Vincent Minnelli/Jennifer Jones sudser, as long as I don't sit there sputtering, "But...but...but Flaubert wouldn't have done that."

That last part isn't easy, of course. I hated Blade Runner for decades because I went to the theater wanting it to be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Just recently I saw it again, pushing all my feelings about Phil Dick aside...and by golly, I thought it was a fun movie. (Of course it also helped that I saw it with the original ending, not the studio-required happy-happy.)

X. Trapnel said...

All good, debatable points and questions, Gerard. I suppose what I meant, first of all was great novel/play/story into great film and I suppose I was relying on reasonable consensus here and your own list of incontestables (Ulysees etc.) more or less clinches the point. What we see more often is either great novel turned into pretty good/reasonably enjoyable film (All those Jane A. adaptations) or colossal embarrassment (Demi Moore's Scarlet Letter)/overproduced travesty (Gatsby, Zhivago, Death in Venice). Superior genre or popular fiction (Hammett, Chandler, Du Maurier) often makes great films. Then there is the curious case of Graham Greene...

Gerard Jones said...

Yes, Greene is an interesting case. In the '40s a younger, more vigorous movie industry was able to get some terrific movies out of his stories, mostly by playing on the genre elements. (Even Third Man, I'd say, was so lively because it wasn't afraid to be a genre mystery-thriller, even with its moments of self-conscious art.) But in the '50s, when even the commercial studios were grabbing onto Film As Art as a way to seem less like TV, the Greene adaptations go straight to snoozeville. Not necessarily BAD movies, the Quiet American and Our Man in Havana (although End of the Affair is close), but pretty turgid if you ask me.

Of course it's usually bad news when moviemakers approach their material murmuring "great art, great art, great art." I mean, The Age of Innocence is a pretty snappy novel. Moves pretty quickly. Good dialogue. Witty. Wry. And in the final sad denouement quite economical. It might make a good movie with a light, brisk touch. But that glacier Scorsese made...oy!

Anagramsci said...

I dislike Eastwood so much that I haven't watched any of his last 20 or so movies, thereby removing myself from contention in that debate (although I cheered for Yojimboen!), however, on the subject of fiction to film, I've got opinions to spare!

1. I think the term "genre fiction" (as the binary opposite of "literary" fiction) just has to go... Yes, there are genres, and they help us to orient ourselves vis-a-vis a work, but ALL works of art have genres... so I hope the question of what's "filmable" won't be decided according to those stale categories (case in point--X, is Graham Greene NOT "genre fiction"? I find him a lot more formulaic than, say, Hammett)

2. personally, I wouldn't rule ANY text out of bounds. For example--Hawthorne is my favourite writer (well, either Hawthorne, Nathanel West or Emily Bronte)... and yes, if you try to make a big budget version of The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore in the lead, it's going fail--but that doesn't mean that the novel's unfilmable (and I still haven't seen Wenders' adaptation)... of course it's filmable!

Someone's just gotta step up to the plate and think their way to the core of the problem (I'd be even more pleased to see someone take a legitimate crack at my favourite novel of all--The Blithedale Romance)

I used to agree--for the most part--with the naysayers in this argument, until Leos Carax latched onto my 2nd favourite novel of the 19th century, the manifestly "unfilmable" Pierre and knocked it out of the box as POLA X (one of the greatest films ever made)

as far as I'm concerned--if you can do PIERRE, you can do KARAMAZOV or ULYSSES...

it's easy to point at the failures... Schary's LONELYHEARTS--which nevertheless has its moments; that BROTHERS K with Brynner and Shatner; SCARLET LETTER; etc. ad infinitum);

but I love Wyler's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Brown/Garbo's ANNA K, Selznick's mid-1930s MGM Dickens films, CUARON's GREAT EXPECTATIONS (a terribly underappreciated film), POLA X, the Fox/March LES MISERABLES, Huston's MALTESE FALCON, Altman's LONG GOODBYE, Welles' TRIAL, all of which are legitimately great films based upon legitimately great works of fiction!

None of the films make the books "obsolete," or replace them in any way--but all have enriched my relationship with their sources!


Anagramsci said...

I almost forgot Bunuel's ABISMOS DE PASION! Emily Bronte would have cheered that one, I'm certain!

X. Trapnel said...


At the core of the problem is the fact that film is a visual medium that can only suggest what a novel can make explicit (the interior life of the characters, the myriad qualities of the narrative voice, etc). Moreover, film must be "produced" and most filmmakers are under so much compromising pressure that personal vision and aesthetic fidelity to the source are sacrificed to one degree or another (Tolstoy didn't have to write Mel Ferrer into War and Peace). I like Wyler's Wuthering Heights too, but it's a kinder, gentler thing than Emily Bronte's work of genius.

Anagramsci said...

oh no doubt about the Wyler (which completely changes the story--in, to me, a fascinating way by eliminating the second generation)--but have you seen the Bunuel? It keeps pace with the novel every brutal step of the way!

DavidEhrenstein said...
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DavidEhrenstein said...

Flaubert wouldn't have cared for Minnelli's Madame Bovary, but Emma would have loved it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Good grief what's the matter with you people?

The Dead is a masterpiece (I wept buckets during the opening credits!) and so is The Trial (aka Alphaville avant la lettre)

I haven't heard this much teeth-gnashing since I fucked my last "Conservative"!

X. Trapnel said...

The Dead? Hm. I'd like to see every print transferred to flammable nitrate stock

X. Trapnel said...


Sorry for indulging in mere insult. My problem with The Dead is that it seems to have been conceived and executed in the spirit of Gabriel Conroy's after-dinner speech, that is, a lament for the charm and grace of Old Ireland. Everything is slow and stately (though the actor [forget his name] who plays Gabriel was brilliant, suggesting depths of unease the film otherwise went nowhere near). To top it off (or bottom it out) the great epiphany at the story's end (the most beautiful piece of English prose ever, something we can show the Martians with pride) is as flat as the Bog of Allen and the dark central plain combined.

Yojimboen said...

Ixnay XT - I wept at the poster.

It was a small ad in the local cinema advertising section of a Dublin newspaper.

It read simply:
"John Huston's Dead"

And he was.

Yojimboen said...

More seriously, The Dead was by all reports a sentimental gift to the old man - a last chance at the helm. They had no money - they rented or borrowed a small warehouse in which to build the set; Huston himself was in dreadful shape. Tied as he was to wheelchair and oxygen mask, he was barely up to the task of directing. Tony and Angelica carried a lot of the load - Tony directing some scenes (which scenes, I don't know, but that may be what doesn't work for you).

Granted, there's a lot wrong with The Dead, but there's a lot more right with it.

I find it a fitting and noble end to JH's sojourn among us; like much of his work and most of his life, it is, finally, a thing of terrible beauty.

Gerard Jones said...

"Slow and stately" is what kills half the literary adaptations out there. I think it's some carryover from the old studio days when budgets were based largely on the number of reels, when routine movies all had to be 60 or 70 minutes and only "prestige" productions were allowed to run long.

DAY OF THE LOCUST, the book, is so lean and fierce and sudden that you'd think the first thing a producer would say about the adaptation would be, "Whatever else we do, we've got to keep it under 90 minutes." But how long is the Schlesinger version? (Here I check IMDb.) It's 144 minutes! A book so short it's usually published in an omnibus with MISS LONELYHEARTS and it's almost 2-1/2 FUCKING HOURS LONG!

GATSBY, not much longer and with not much more incident, is the same length. To fill the time they have to have scenes like the one where Mia Farrow feels all the stuff on the table, thing by thing by thing. (I think it was Farrow. I was nodding off.)

I've been afraid of BENJAMIN BUTTON for that very reason. Some of the clips I've seen make it look interesting, but it's nearly 3 hours long. And it's based on a short story!

X. Trapnel said...

De mortuis nil nisi bonum? The dead maybe, but not The Dead. Ok, the backstory is (very) touching, but I always thought there was something slightly bogus about Huston (this could bring us back to Clint via White Hunter, black Heart). Yes, he made some terrific films (he should have stopped with The Man Who Would be King), but for terrible beauty give me Odd Man Out, a film of dark radiance and communal tragedy falling snowlike upon the living and the dead.

Vanwall said...

God forbid we abandon using literature, ANY written work, period, as a possible adaptation for a film. Left to their own devices, the ratio has never seemed favorable for a real independent screen language to emerge from the bottom line interests that rule the techno-heavy movie biz - there really is no room for the kind of nurturing and originality that the paper-based generations were able to provide. Let's face it, all screenwriting is cribbing from great, and not so great written work, just morphed into whatever is needed to interest a producer - a far thing from a publisher, BTW. As society seems to be drifting into an age of comic books, which are eminently easier to adapt as they are already visual in nature, that medium's utter dependence on what has been written before leads me to the conclusion that great, good, or even mediocre literature is the only way to keep film from falling into the shitter of history, as ultimately a failure of our collective ability to advance intellect over rote action, no matter how shiny and pretty it'll look.

BTW, I liked the '67 Soviet version of Anna Karenina if your comparing adaptations.

Gerard Jones said...

David: I've never seen The Dead (never heard anything that made me want to), but I hate to dismiss a movie that can bring a man to tears in the opening credits. That only happens to me in '30s Warner Brothers movies. You know, the ones where they show a clip of the actors along with their names? All it takes is one split-screen of Lyle Talbot and Frank McHugh, and I lose it every time.

Yojimboen said...

M Vanwall - Amen on all points, from a professional screenwriter.

XT. Sola lingua bona est lingua mortua.

X. Trapnel said...


We may have to say the same about English soon enough. Vanwall's comments have the ring of prophecy.

Campaspe said...

Anagramsci, the 1926 Victor Sjostrom silent version of The Scarlet Letter is quite, quite beautiful. I love it. And I am also a big Hawthorne fan, always glad to encounter another as he gets slammed a lot by people who had to read him in high school. The House of the Seven Gables is not a very good version of the book--low budget, for one thing--but I love George Sanders in that one. He was born to play Jeffrey.

I'll just throw out some good movies made from excellent or even great books. Dickens films well, in my opinion. At one point Lance Mannion was threatening a Newcritics series on Dickens films so maybe we can explore why at that point, but the Leans are brilliant and I also like the 1951 Scrooge and the 1935 David Copperfield as well as A Tale of Two Cities from the same year.

All Quiet on the Western Front pops immediately to mind. (Anyone read the novel that spawned Paths of Glory? I haven't.) I also like Howard's End, A Room with a View and A Passage to India. I'd name Frankenstein as well. (Dracula, the novel, is a landmark but not as good a novel as the Shelley.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a magnificent book that made a really good movie, probably my favorite Kazan film in fact. To Kill a Mockingbird also made a good movie.

Of course, like all book & movie lovers I have a list of books I never want to see filmed. To name one: The Master and Margarita. When you read it, some scenes are so vivid you can see the movie unspooling, but at the same time it's so dense, layered and philosophical that I don't think a film could do it justice.

mndean said...

After being a horrified witness to Sudden Impact when it opened, all I can say is that Eastwood had nowhere to go BUT up after that travesty. I can't passionately denounce or praise his later career. To me, he's the mediocre middlebrow prestige director of our age - he takes no risks, and I am never surprised. Can anyone even imagine someone like a Welles in our era? Nobody would dare take the chance anymore. Prestige pictures always had middlebrow tastes in mind, but often the directors would try to give the audience more, even within those constrictions.

Vanwall said...

Hmmm. One less of a chance now to avoid the shitter - Horton Foote has gone to sit at the right hand of God. Yeah, H'wood, that's you I'm talkin' at.

X. Trapnel said...


About a year ago I bought the 5 DVD set of Thr recent Russian Master and Margarita thinking they would have gotten it right for the most literate and demanding of audiences. Wrong again. Bloody awful it was and I'm tempted to spread peanut butter on the discs to make sure they don't get played again by accident.

Just imagine what Mischa Auer could have done with Koroviev!

Noel Vera said...

Interesting stuff, I don't know if I can remember all I I want to address--

Plays vs. novels? No one said it explicitly, but why does Shakespeare work and novels don't? (Partly I suppose because Shakespeare works in a form so very close to a screenplay, performing in a venue so close to a film screen; that may be why Greene works too--his books read like dense screenplays full of dramatic hooks and fascinating characters--very theatrical (and Brian Dauth should step in here and say Mankiewicz's version of Greene works for that same reason as well)).

Then there's The Trial. Unless someone wants to make a case for it not being a great novel (or Welles version not a great film?).

I don't see stateliness in Huston's The Dead, backstory notwithstanding; I see simplicity. I think his interpretation of that final soliloquy valid (of course, talking about Joyce, not everyone will).

As for Faulkner--She Who We Will Not Name suggested that the closest we'll ever get to Faulkner on the big screen is Altman's Thieves Like Us. Donald Richie suggests Kurosawa channeled Dostoevsky for Ikiru, and I do like his direct adaptation of The Idiot (huge chunk carved out, a la Ambersons). And far as I'm concerned, Cronenberg adapted Philip Dick definitively on the big screen in Videodrome (and did a decent job with Ballard in Crash).

(There's an excellent adaptation of Faulkner's Barn Burning by the way, done by U-Wei Bin HajiSaari called The Arsonist).

Speaking of adaptations, the greatest adaptation of Wells' Martian novel for me is still Welles' radio version.

And I'd love to call Il Gattopardo a great adaptation of a great novel, only I haven't read the novel.

Noel Vera said...

As for Button--yes in this case I think the expansion from short story (nice little work, by the way, available online) to three hour epic is justifiable. I think Fincher's great new theme, or why he's so different nowadays, is that he's discovered time--its passage, its effects. Zodiac's about the passage of time and its effect on an unresolved crime case, Button is about hte effects of time on a man's life (particularly a man whose life is running backwards). If you watch Button, try ignore the Gump recycled script, look at the film, and you'll be rewarded. Hopefully.

mndean said...

I had a post in mind regarding novel adaptations, but it got driven right out of my head when I saw the TV. Sound wasn't on, but they had a video of Rush Limbaugh, and I have just one question - when did his visage turn into some unholy shtup between Leon Askin and Gene Lockhart?

Gerard Jones said...

I think novels are generally adaptable to film to the extent that their content and meaning are conveyed through what characters say, what they do and what happens to them. Whatever is dependent upon the character's interior selves or the devices of the narrator is least likely to translate. That's why Ford's GRAPES OF WRATH can feel so much like the novel. It's also why FAREWELL TO ARMS is a good drama but mostly lacks that peculiarly Hemingwayesque quality: he invented interesting events and dialogue, but his narrative can't be captured visually.

Dickens works because his stories are really, ultimately physical and observable. He globbed on tons of narrative, but most of it is physical description or editorializing that can be slashed away without injuring the heart. Which is not accidental, as he produced and wrote dramatizations of his own fiction--he always had an eye on the box office when he wrote novels.

Of course a good movie can be built from the foundation of a book that's largely interior or
"literary" (in the sense that the letters, the words of the telling, are central to its sense), but that requires a willingness to make some big changes to the action. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, as Highsmith wrote it, wouldn't make an especially interesting movie, as so much of its effect is just the hideousness of being chained to Ripley and his perverse effect on the narrative page after page. But Minghella, I thought, did a very smart job of creating a similar psychological horror by opening up the narrative and making us watch Tom do even more vile things.

So...I don't want to say that there CAN'T be a good movie of Ulysses. But it won't work if it's just the events and the dialogue without the narrative. It would have to be a profoundly new invention, a visual invention, that used Stephen and the Blooms in very different ways.

I wonder if adaptations of canonized novels were better in the '30s and '40s than in the '50s-'70s (generally) because the producers dared to screw around with the originals more? They hadn't been shamed into being "respectful" yet.

Yojimboen said...

"...canonized novels were better in the '30s and '40s than in the '50s-'70s (generally) because the producers dared to screw around with the originals more? They hadn't been shamed into being "respectful" yet."

Entirely valid point Mr. J.

The trouble with respectfulness, however, is it tends to backfire more often than not; respect for the written word is a quality that's kinda thin on the ground in H'Wood; on the rare occasions it is present, it's not likely to be accompanied by either sensitivity or intelligence.

Revolutionary Road may be the perfect illustration. The film-rights to the highly-praised book (published 1961) bounced around for over 40 years, changing hands many times with, I submit, a little too much reverence for its own good, so by the time it got to Sam Mendes (via his wife Ms Winslet) it was a goddamn holy grail and no way was anyone touching that perfect dialog!

Meanwhile the filmmakers, busy congratulating themselves that they were the ones getting to make this famous project, unfortunately failed to notice that the perfect dialog is (notwithstanding the 50s milieu) just a little tinny; a little naive, dated; lame in fact.

OK, maybe not so much lame as tired - we'd all seen The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit; No Down Payment; Strangers When We Meet; Far From Heaven et al.

Pity, it is a good book; but mis-placed reverence produced a rather drab and pointless film.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Minghella's Ripley chnages the anti-heor from a highly successful psychopath to a highly succesful psychopath manque. We're not not meant to delight in his triumphs -- whcih Highsmith encourages. In its place Minghella puts an amazing film about "Il Boom" (tahn ks in no small part to the assistance of line producer Alessandro Von Normann -- go look up his credits) wrapped in a contemplation of the dark side of "coming out."

Sorry, but I though the final monologue as delivered by Angelica Huston was brilliant.

I cried though the credits knowing that Huston never saw them. Recreating a long-ago Ireland in a warehouse in Orange County -- what a trip!

mndean said...

I don't know that it's only reverence, either. Some writers have just never been transferred well. From literary novels to action-filled page turners, there are some writers that weren't adapted with any great success even in the classic Hollywood era which had nothing to do with reverence. To take a trivial example (since I read a few of the books last year), take Arsene Lupin. Everything for a good batch of films seems to be there: good stories, plenty of tension, lots of action, and he even was not always against the side of the law so the code wasn't an obstacle. Unfortunately, the Lupin films I've seen has been pretty mediocre. There are a few French adaptations I haven't seen, so there may be a good one out there - it just wasn't made in this country. My point is that even some good page-turners don't transfer so it isn't always reverence (though I agree it has crippled many adaptations of great literature in my lifetime), there's a lot more to it, and I believe that it has a lot to do with time and place.

Gerard Jones said...

David, thanks for summing up the difference between Ripley the novel and Ripley the movie so deftly. I like both. A great example of how a lack of "reverence" can serve an adaptation.

My own best lesson in rejecting reverence came a couple of years ago when I was hired to adapt one of my own books into a screenplay. Nonfiction but still narrative--characters, arcs, etc. All my attempts to preserve the "best parts" of the book or the parts I really liked or the parts I'd gotten the most praise for led me nowhere. It wasn't until I mentally trashed the book and told myself that the jerk who wrote it knew nothing about telling a filmable story that it came to life. I think I did a really good job, too. Got astonishingly good feedback. (Then the production company went into Chapter 11 and the whole thing got tied up in bankruptcy court...but that's another story...)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Thanks Gerard!

Noel Vera said...

Huston's style of adapting literature seems less reverential than it is more like a leve-headed gaze. Which causes him problems (Moby Dick) and, least in my opinion, creates a few grace notes (the final ten minutes of his The Dead, which ends on Joyce's prose).

Gerard Jones said...

Thank YOU, David! That was another nice addition of Minghella's. I don't believe Highsmith had Ripley impersonating Chet Baker.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, and mndean: I didn't mean that I felt a visual, plot-driven, externalized writer would automatically make for good movies. A good movie is a bit of a miracle: good people have to come together with good intent and adequate time and resources...and usually a fair amount of luck. I'm just saying that such writers can usually be transferred more faithfully to the screen, even with reverence. Huston's Maltese Falcon is so much like the book that one would be tempted to call it reverent if it wasn't so much fun. Novels that are more about narrative idiosyncracy and internals need to be more thoroughly reinvented.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're welcome Gerard.

And here's the young Patricia Highsmith

VP81955 said...

There may be 30 or 40 noteworthy deaths in a given period (award to award), but if there are only 20 slots…
So they didn’t actually forget Anita Page or Patrick McGoohan or Ann Savage – they, and several others, simply didn’t make the cut.

Using that criteria, does it thus mean the Academy deems "Plan 9 From Outer Space" a more important film than "The Broadway Melody" (or "Detour," for that matter)?