Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Something about the sound of my own voice fascinates me."



Last Wednesday the Siren went to the Grassroots Tavern, which she had not done in many a year, to record a podcast with John Lichman of Film Threat, Vadim Rizov of Indie Eye, and Dan Sallitt of Thanks for the Use of the Hall. It was a loose-limbed affair touching on many subjects, including fashions in directors, Kurosawa and Wilder, “Une Certain Tendance du Cinema Français,” Avatar and James Cameron, how to maintain civility on the Web, and a little bit of Anthony Mann. The Siren observed that the wine has improved somewhat since she frequented the place, although not all that much.

You can access the chatter at The House Next Door.

49 comments:

Jeff Overturf said...

On my way to give a listen!

Sorry about the wine, sounds like the conversation was good though.

Vanwall said...

Ah, those truckers aren't stopping for the food, ya know.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Is this an appropriate time to mention that I generally like Anthony Mann? How much, you might ask. Enough to see El Cid when it was rereleased, seeing a film I originally saw when it first came out on the big screen. Enough to have been probably the youngest person in the audience when there was a special screening of The Glenn Miller Story, which was partially filmed in Denver and Boulder.

I also snagged an old paperback copy of the novel, The Furies, last Summer. The film is different in a variety of ways, but it was fascinating reading just the same.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I guess I should also mention that I actually have a Jean Negulesco movie on my Netflix queue. My plan is to watch How to Marry a Millionaire again before watching, and writing about, Umetsugu Inoue's unofficial remake, The Millionaire Chase.

The Siren said...

Thanks Jeff. VW, there are certain references I just don't insult my readers by identifying...they KNOW. :D

Peter, you have good company; Farber adored Mann. He got rather short shrift in the podcast and I am sorry about that, but perhaps hearing Vadim and me expand on our general "meh" attitude wouldn't have been your thing anyway. I love The Furies, I will say that. And I do believe Dan Sallitt likes Mann a lot. It seems to me that Mann is very "in" right now, although he didn't come up in the "who's hot who's not" part of the discussion.

As for Negulesco, awesome -- I'll look forward to it. We'll get that guy a higher profile yet. :)

Vanwall said...

I liked the informality of the setting - background sounds, the voices, kinda like Johnny Rivers and his Whisky a Go Go recording of "Secret Agent Man", with glasses klinking and laughter; hell you seemed like you having fun, something a lot of podcasts leave out. And it was entertaining and opinionated, informative and elucidating. In vino veritas? Luv yer shew!

Tom said...

I'm a fan of Wilder's; it was interesting to hear about the audience reaction to Ace in the Hole at the revival you talked about.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm not at all surprised. is as fresh and relevant today as it was back in 1951. More so, in fact, thanks to the internet and 24/7 cable coverage of "news items" important and insignificant.

Plus it's got on of the greatest dialogue exchanges EVAH!

Kirk Douglas: "Shouldn't you be in church?"

Jan Sterling: "Kneeling bags my nylons"

Kirk Douglas: "I"ve seen hard-boiled egss before, but you -- you're twenty minutes."

The Siren said...

Ah David, it is very very seldom I catch you out, but the "twenty minutes" line belongs to Jan Sterling, addressed to Douglas. And it brought down the house at Film Forum.

The Siren said...

If anyone is interested btw, I did write up Ace in the Hole at the time.

Arthur S. said...

ACE IN THE HOLE also marks the beginning of the media investigation project that covers many 50s films - ''It Should Happen To You'', ''A Face in the Crowd'', ''It's Always Fair Weather'', many Frank Tashlin films and of course in 1960, Fellini took over with ''La Dolce Vita'' which is very influenced by the Wilder(and Tashlin!). Basically, these films analyzed the change in culture by the arrival of what is called the media of the spectacle at its nascent beginnings.

What I like about ''Ace in the Hole'' is that although Wilder has a reputation for cynicism in his other films, this film is actually relatively free of it, especially since it isn't cynical at all about the naivete of the trapped man or his family or the small town press Chuck Tatum is forced to work at and he even finds something human in Kirk Douglas' really monstrous portrait. It's a really amazing film and the black and white lighting is really stark.

Arthur S. said...

By the way, Woody Allen covered the Kathy Fiscus origins of Wilder's film in RADIO DAYS

The Siren said...

Oh, I don't know Arthur. The portrait of the American public is as cynical as anything in 1950s cinema...or even later. I hear what you are saying with regard to Leo (Wilder knows the character is a dope, but he isn't vicious about showing us that) and even Douglas, and I think your reading of the editor is correct too. But you can't ignore all those people attending a carnival at a deathbed. If that isn't cynical I don't know what is.

Yojimboen said...

Part of growing up in foreign climes is we get to know – and become familiar with – American movies by different titles. Kazan’s America, America became The Anatolian Smile, because for the longest time no British distributor in his right mind would release a film with the word “America” in the title; see below: There are hundreds of other such title changes.

In Britain I grew up with Ace in the Hole as The Big Carnival - a title I’ve always considered much more apt. Wilder’s punning title – even for him – is bit too ‘on the nose’.

Another possibility (just as likely) is that some British Exhibitors found Ace in the Hole just too suggestive.

The anti- “America” in the title stems from the outraged reaction by British ex-servicemen (theaters were trashed) to Raoul Walsh’s Objective Burma Wiki in which Errol Flynn won the Burmese campaign single-handedly - to the extreme annoyance of Winston Churchill (the film was banned in Britain for years).

Arthur S. said...

One stunning touch is that truck with the title banner, "S&M Circus'' or something in the Wilder.

Wilder sees media publicity and audience inter-relations with media as sado-masochistic, in that he anticipates Kazan-Schulberg and Scorsese's ''The King of Comedy'' but at the same time the people who camp there aren't complete caricatures, they just don't know what they are doing or how ridiculous they are, but then that's what makes the observations so powerful.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Wow, I've got to brush up on my Ace in the Hole !

I love the ending, with Kirk Douglas keeling over. Very FDassbinder avant la lettre.

Ace in the Hole would make a perfect doubel feature with Sweet Smell of Success

The Siren said...

David, no one should have to sit through a double feature like that unless they hand you a double Scotch on the way in. I adore both movies but that would be four bitter, bitter hours.

Vanwall said...

I've always considered the "Objective Burma" controversy, much like the recent one with "Band of Brothers", to be selectively conflated bulls**t, used to artificially outrage. The film and the TV show in no way claim to be world-saving or the representatives of the whole war, and the TV show is factual rather than fanciful anyway. If you wanna show your battle scars and your side of the war, better do it yourself - I have no room for carpers. I consider the whole mind-set of that kind of BS to be a step away from the French attitude towards "Paths of Glory", an almost Dreyfus-ian reality - and look at "A Very Long Engagement", it has a very critical view of the military, so time wounds all heels, I s'pose.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The banning of Paths of Glory was Dreyfus case backwash. The French military, if dissed, could ue. For this reason the French considered Paddy Chayevsky's The Americanization of Emily every bit as daring as Dr. Strangelove

Yojimboen said...

I don’t want to wade too deep in this one M VW, but perhaps ‘conflated’ may not the best choice; it implies a widespread and fast public communication which simply didn’t exist in the UK in 1945 – not everyone had a wireless, almost no-one had a telephone, and newspapers were just starting to recover from paper shortages and print dailies again. No, the anger at the WB film (I didn’t even know there was a TV series) was knee-jerk genuine; the question, more importantly, is how justified was the anger? In hindsight, not very; it was only a fictional movie.

I’ll grant there was some posturing – ok, call it a posteriori conflation - from ex-servicemen’s associations; not everyone had actually seen the film (see catholic protesters against Godard’s Hail Mary), since it only played a week.

But what it turned out to be was a touch paper if you will, to light the bonfire of residual resentment Tommies bore against GIs, beyond the cliché “overpaid, oversexed and over here”. Britain was struggling to rise from her knees, and this movie came at the worst time and (no question) minimized the massive British effort (and losses) in Burma.
Personally, I quite like the film, it's one of Walsh's best; Flynn was uncharacteristically restrained, but I can assure you, my friend, there was nothing restrained, conflated or artificial about my late father’s anger. He was there, and lost a lot of friends.

Finally, respectfully (as ever), your Paths of Glory comparison is maybe a stretch, that film was banned by the French authorities, Burma was self-banned by Warners until 1952, when they finally released it with a non-apology apology.

Vanwall said...

M Yo - No argy-bargy from me on the OB subject - 'nuff CBI to go around for plenty of vets. I grew up with a coupla of Merrill's Marauders we knew, they had Burma mud on their boots enough; they practically lived that movie, which after all was about a only small piece of a war.

POG was never officially banned, just pressured to be kept away from France, effectively the same as OB and England, but for a helluva lot longer. As for suppressing anything "for the honor of the the _______ Army", (feel free to fill in the blank), it worries me when Samuel Johnson is still right so often, for so long, and the average joe should look careful before sounding off.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Paths of Glory finally won French release when the overwhelming cultural prestige of 2001: A Space Odyssey made the ban untenable.

Yojimboen said...

My first CinemaScope film experience was Hell and High Water but I think it was Merrill's Marauders - his most sentimental film (make that effectively sentimental film), which sat me at Samuel Fuller’s feet for all time.

That and my personal fave, Underworld USA.

Vanwall said...

I wonder where the current directors will be in the collective memory in a couple of generations. Folks here seem so much more aware of film in general, and if anything, are constantly looking to re-examine and bring back to the discussion many film aspects that seem to be too easily thrown under the bus by too many film writers. I feel like "Make Way for Tomorrow" is looking over my shoulder when I read some of the "criticism" these days of older films - please use the trash bins on your way out.

Arthur S. said...

The interesting thing about ''Paths of Glory'' is that its the kind of critique of military in a genre that is alien in France(ironic since the intellectual activism on the part of Dreyfuss by the likes of Zola and all was one of the triumphs of modern democracy in intellectual activism). Rohmer and others mentioned that contemporary, taken from the news headline stories weren't in the style of French cinema, that it was something American. Bertrand Tavernier is one exception to that in some of his films.

Arthur S. said...

Correction, I meant on behalf of Dreyfuss on the part of Zola and others...

Arthur S. said...

While ACE IN THE HOLE is a striking example of the contemporary reportage/social drama at its most sophisticated.

DavidEhrenstein said...

While it could scarcely be seen at the time in Paths of Glory Kubrick was laying the gorund work for such later films as Lolita and Barry Lyndon

The methodical deliberateness of its Mise en scene soone became his style.

gmoke said...

David Quade was a film cameraman who was with Merrill's Marauders and got the only footage of them in action, or so I was told. He later became a DP, trained such people as Gordon Willis, and wrote the introduction to The Lighting Handbook and the Cameraman's Handbook. He was also the DP on the immortal "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and made the first "Be all you can be" commercials for the US Army.

I knew him in retirement when he was writing a tome on the color temperature of all available fluorescent lights as well as being the spearhead for the citizen's monitoring of radiation from nuclear power plants (he had a house near Plymouth, MA).

He let me sit in on one of his lectures to film students at BU and taught me a lot: talent is less important than energy on set; never sit down when you're on set, always be working; if you want to understand film, watch your favorite movies with the sound off; study lighting by looking at the paintings of the Old Masters....

If I recall correctly, he spoke well of the movie "Merrill's Marauders" but I never heard him speak of "Objective Burma."

The Siren said...

Trying to figure out where Objective Burma! came from, and have failed. It's back there somewhere, I know. Anyway, it's a fine, well-constructed war adventure with a good performance from Flynn and a script by Alvah Bessie, among others. When the writers discovered there were no American troops in Burma one of the WB execs told him to put in some British liaison officers and quit worrying. Presumably Americans who could read newspapers realized that the scenario was far-fetched but one didn't go to an Errol Flynn movie for versimilitude.

The moral problem with the film really isn't the presence of American paratroopers where there were in fact none, it's the naked racism toward the Japanese, which veers all the way toward eliminationism with a speech by the reporter character ("Wipe them out. Wipe them out, I say.") I went into it in my review of Thomas Doherty's love letter of a book to Joseph Breen.

The Siren said...

P.S. Gmoke, I envy your having known Mr. Quade.

Vanwall said...

By the time OB hit the theaters, the dynamics of the China-Burma-India theater had changed, Merrill's Marauders were on the ground there, and more importantly, in the headlines, so in the USA it seemed like nothing new, and perception is everything in selling a war, even when the sell is easy. Things were moving faster by then, and the film lucked out on the timing - the slightly earlier "Sahara" benefited even more, as the war progressed fast enough for audiences in the USA to swallow the swiss-cheese plotline.

The general propagandizing about the enemy in OB is not quite as bad as the war-time propaganda posters, but it is awful close sometimes, as it is in most war-time films. I'm sure list of Japanese atrocities, some of which were known by that point, was bad already and completely indefensible, but the worst was unknown in the West at the time - Unit 731 in China, Comfort Women, and such - however, enough had been done to make it easy to utter such lines in a film. The unusual, like "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" had less to say about that overtly, but that was pretty rare for even some years after. I know for a fact some survivors, especially civilians, had hatreds that ran deep and wide for a long time, and pop out even now.

Vanwall said...

Back to Anthony Mann, mentioned over the wine - I like looking at his films almost more than any other director - visually they're arresting, and his compositions are clever, whether outdoors with wide vistas, or cramped in a sewer - the American Lang in noir films. He had an almost 3-D effect in a lot of his films - Winchester '73 makes the most of height and distance in a lot of the shots, not just flatland with stuff sticking out of it. I wonder where he got his appreciation of the desert? Few directors get that part right in Westerns.

Yojimboen said...

I remember a film school seminar with Anthony Mann in London - 1964 or thereabouts – where, notwithstanding the three consecutive mega-budget epics he had just made, Fall of the Roman Empire; El Cid; Cimarron (if K. Douglas hadn’t fired him from Spartacus it would be four), Mann insisted on talking mostly about the Jimmy Stewart Westerns.

If memory serves, I heard more than a touch of resentment towards JS.
“…Stewart made more money from my Westerns than from the rest of his movies combined!” Mann seemed to be implying he wasn’t properly thanked.
Who knows; it was common, then as now, for stars to make a boatload more money than their directors.

Mann did describe – somewhat gleefully, I thought – his technique for getting a realistic action performance: He would start JS fifty feet down a hillside and call Action. JS would struggle up the hill towards camera; but Mann would secretly cue his cameraman to roll only when JS was a yard or two from the top – he wanted JS realistically gasping for air. He said he did this on all the Westerns; whether JS had to climb, run or ride, Mann only rolled camera at the last second.

I remembered Mann laughed, “Jimmy never knew he was being manipulated…”
Then again, maybe he did?
Hence the lack of gratitude?

gmoke said...

David Quade was quite something. I suspect you would have liked each other.

If you want to envy me for something, how about seeing the Nicholas Brothers at Harvard Film Archive talk about their movies and, to our astonishment and delight, dance a few steps before the screen?

I saw the Nicholas Brothers dance live!

Thank you, Harvard, and thank G#d that I had the sense to take advantage of the opportunity.

(I'll save the Yoyo Ma story for another day.)

Arthur S. said...

Manny Farber's famous definition of Anthony Mann as ''Tin Can DeSade'' augurs especially well in light of Mr. Vanwall's anecdote.

I heard rumours that there were tensions in the Mann-Stewart relationship and that was why ''Mann of the West'' was made with Gary Cooper and not Jimmy Stewart. Personally I am a huge fan of Mann's epics, especially ''The Fall of the Roman Empire'' and of his westerns I love ''The Naked Spur, The Man from Laramie'' best.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Some of my pics of Fayard. A truly fabulous man.

gmoke said...

The Nicholas Brothers radiated joy. I'm so glad I took the opportunity to see them in the flesh.

Yojimboen said...

R.I.P.

Yojimboen said...

Another National Treasure
has gone. Goddamn but this one hurts!

DavidEhrenstein said...

R.I.P. Lena Horne

James Gavin's biography is definitive, containing much information you can't find anywhere else. An amazing woman and an amazing life -- far tougher and more multi-faceted than generally imagined.

Trish said...

I'm a big fan of Anthony Mann westerns! I'll take Jimmy Stewart as an aging, troubled cowboy over good old George Bailey or Jefferson Smith any day. And you can't beat those badass supporting players Arthur Kennedy, Robert Ryan and Dan Duryea. For those who like their westerns cerebral, the Mann westerns rock.

The Siren said...

That is probably my problem with the Mann Westerns, or at least a big part of it. They are beautiful to look at, and Stewart is great (although give me Stewart the romantic of the 30s any day). But the treatment of themes of obsession and honor and revenge often strikes me as bloodless; it's all up in the characters' heads. Which is ironic, considering the high level of violence for the time.

Trish said...

I guess you could call them bloodless, but I do like the fact that they're very literate, thoughtful good guys/bad guys. I mean - it's almost like Shakespeare up there in them mountains and salt flats... The characters are fascinating to me.

X. Trapnel said...

Hm. Still no comments on all the obsessive coffee references in Mann's westerns (The Far Country epsecially, though this is less a western than a northern). I love Dan Duryea in Winchester 73 suggesting a coffee break while his gang is getting shot to bits. I think The Naked Spur ends with Janet Leigh saying, "I'll make some coffee"

The Siren said...

I honestly never noticed, but that's begging for a complete post from Peter Nelhaus.

X. Trapnel said...

I've often wondered whether "Borden Chase" was a mask for certain dairy and coffee interests (Chase and Sanborn, for the younger folk).

Yojimboen said...

Oh, X., that Borden Chase was a carbon-based life form is surely verified by this sample of daughter Barrie in …Mad World.

Re Mann and coffee – the aroma of mocha java permeates almost all his movies – and it’s sheerly brilliant in The Far Country how he turns a couple of bags of beans into a lethal plot point.

X. Trapnel said...

Don't worry Y, I have an alternate theory that "having a cup of coffee" was a euphemism for "sexual intercourse" chez Mann.

I'm surprised that Corinne ("I HATE COFFEE!")Calvet didn't get offed by picture's end. Walter Brennan's fantasies about drinking coffee all day are positively suicidal, just like saying when "this cattle drive's over Ah'm gonna git my wife a pair o' red shoes." Blam.

Just watched The Rules of the Game; I never noticed it before but, yes, Christine is told to "try to get some sleep."