James Toback and Alec Baldwin
“It was my first exposure to a Hollywood player of power, and the lesson was clear: the way to move is on the back of someone who matters until—if that day ever comes—you matter, at which point someone new will be mounting you.” From the chipper cynicism to the sexual imagery, who could that be but James Toback, sharing the lessons he’s learned from a life in film. Which in his telling starts with an ontological epiphany as a six-year-old watching home movies, gets put on hold until a suicidal bender on “a massive dose of pure Sandoz-laboratory LSD-25” fires him back up, then races on to a series of collaborators: De Niro, Beatty, Downey, Baldwin.
Keep Toback’s dispersive energy and insistence on following his own path, swap out the gambler’s leap into risk for the luxury of choosing the most fulfilling of many options on the plate and the machismo for something more playfully polymorphous, and you’ve pretty much got Baz Luhrmann. I mean, I could see Toback summoning a profile writer to the side of his bed just like Luhrmann does Amy Wallace, but not with so many assistants buzzing around (or the painted toenails).
“He doesn’t “act” so much as enter fully into any scenario Morrissey has given him like a little kid playing “let’s pretend” in their backyard. Every kid plays “let’s pretend,” but some kids are just more fun to play with than others, and the camera picks up on that, just as the person directing behind the camera can become entranced.” Dan Callahan praises the unselfconscious willingness of Joe Dallesandro to display on the screen his body in all its fleshy beauty.
Everything there is of danger and of worth in Bruce Dern the actor had already been noticed by Robert Hahn at New Trier Township High, when Hahn was the JV sophomore intimidated by the mere presence of the school’s indomitable, legendarily independent varsity track star.
Paul Verhoeven directs ED 209
One nice thing about remakes: they get people looking back to the originals. Simon Abrams’s oral history on the making of Robocop has reminiscences from Verhoeven, co-writer Michael Miner, actor Kurtwood Smith, and stuntwoman Jeannie Epper, whose story on the romantic breakups that fueled her reckless abandon during a car chase is wilder than any tales from what seems to have been a fairly tight set. Interestingly, Scott Tobias’s solo sitdown with the film’s other scenarist, Ed Neumeier, offers the more compelling and comprehensive account, and the better sense of what it’s like to make a movie. (“I’ve noticed there’s a trait about good directors, the ones that do interesting work…. [O]nce they decide they need to do something, they never let it go. And I mean they never let it go. And if you get between them and the last three shots they need, they’ll fucking kill you. They will. And they’ll kill all your children and your family, and they’ll burn down your house. And that’s why the movies are good.”)
Continuing his discussion of Agee, Farber, and Tyler, David Bordwell places their uncondescending appraisal of movies as a delightful pushback against the intellectual tides of the moment, all anxious denunciations of “middlebrow” and “cultural industry” product of which Hollywood was the chief purveyor. And proving good film criticism didn’t die out in the ‘40s as well, he passes along recommendations for five new books, from Dante to Tarr to what sounds a grand gallery tour.
Catherine Grant’s Film Studies for Free, provider of links to so much fine content on the web, offers some of its own, hosting Rob Stone’s video and accompanying essay on cinematic flâneurs, in particular the spin put on the type by idle wanderers in the films of Richard Linklater.
This is Spinal Tap
“I mean, people should be envying us, you know.” “I envy us.” “Yeah.” “I do.” “Me too.” For Ali Arikan, This Is Spinal Tap remains one of the great movies about arrested development, self-delusion, and the “gap between who we think we are, and who the world knows we are.”
Criterion presents three letters, spanning 20 years, sent by a respectfully awestruck Truffaut to Helen Hessel, real-life inspiration for Jules and Jim’s Catherine.
“It’s ironic that two of the articles that try to understand me or the characters I play have come from The Village Voice.” Another letter from a director, writing this time to a critic not an inspiration: Clint Eastwood’s word of thanks for Andrew Sarris’s sympathetic appraisal of the Dirty Harry films. Regarding the content, Eastwood had reason enough to take a swipe at Kael, but I like to think he’s savvy enough to have thrown that bit in as a little red meat for Sarris.
Hearing calls that the Film Society of Lincoln Center should step up their learning programs for youngsters, Richard Brody sends a cautionary note, and the sensible reminder that absolutely nothing can wipe a child of her potential enthusiasm for a topic like having it turned into an education.
Benicio Del Toro in ‘Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian’
“The actor needs to have some loneliness with this character. He needs to make the character his own, so he needs to get rid of the director at one point of the process. That’s his character, not your character. But also, to bring the character to life, at one point in the process, you need to share the character with the director. You need to expand this wonderful moment where you don’t know who is the character—is he the director or the actor?” Interviewed by Jonathan Robbins, Arnaud Desplechin explains how his latest, Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, is driven as much as anything by the different approaches, European and American, to film acting by his stars Mathieu Amalric and Benecio del Toro.
“For me, Bestiaire was the ultimate audience experience. Some people said it was a horror film. Some people said it was beautiful. Some people said they laughed a lot. One person said, ‘Sorry, but that’s not a film—it’s a diorama.’ There are as many people as there are ways to get to a film. I always say the same thing: the day I make a film where 400 people are clapping and crying afterwards, it’s suspicious; it means there are 400 different personalities and every one is getting it the same way.” Denis Côté’s interview with Steve Macfarlane reveals a filmmaker as thoughtful and comfortable with his outsider status as you’d expect—and whose youthful obsession with horror films isn’t out of left field, exactly, but not exactly what you’d expect. Spoilers for Vic + Flow Saw a Bear. Via David Hudson.
“An American studio film and the amount which is shot on that, particularly with digital because there is no limit to the amount that you can shoot, is endless. They do shots from your point of view, from his point of view, from her point of view, from under your legs, from that corner, from the other corner, from different points of view, three sizes—until you are just bored stiff with the whole thing.” As John Hurt explains to The Talks, he doesn’t regret doing some films for the money, but it’s pretty dreadful how dull those sets can be. Via Movie City News.
Adrian Curry selects some favorite posters designed by Jay Shaw, still young but already too accomplished to be considered an up-and-comer.
Video: Michel Gondry has returned to the medium that arguably shows him at his best (and definitely allows for his most charming DIY sets), the music video.
Shirley Temple Black, who as a moppet child actress was the biggest box office star in America for five years during the depression, passed away at the age of 85. She made her screen debut at age three, received an honorary Oscar at age six, and retired from the screen at age 22, after her popularity waned in her teenage years. She was an American ambassador under three presidents as an adult. More from Aljean Harmetz in The New York Times.
Sid Caesar was a TV pioneer and all around comedy genius. He was the creator and star of Your Show of Shows, a live sketch comedy in the 1950s that took on current events and popular culture and high culture alike. It influenced television comedy for decades to come and launched the careers of Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin and Woody Allen, who were all part of his writing team. After TV, he appeared in such films as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976), and Grease (1978). He died this week at the age of 91. Dennis McLellan at L.A. Times.
American actor Ralph Waite, best known as the patriarch of the seventies TV series The Waltons, passed at the age of 85. He began acting on the stage, appearing in numerous Broadway productions and founding the Los Angeles Actors Theatre (where he also directed), had roles in such films as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Five Easy Pieces (1970), Cliffhanger (1993), and John Sayles’ Silver City (2004), and directed the film On the Nickel (1980), about alcoholism and homelessness. More recently he has played recurring roles as the father of the male leads on both NCIS and Bones and appeared on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. Duane Burge takes in his rich career at The Hollywood Reporter.
Danish filmmaker Gabriel Axel won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1987 for Babette’s Feast at the age of 69. He started directing on television in 1951 and directed his first film, The Girls are Willing, in 1957, but Babette’s Feast was his first international hit and became the first Danish film to win an Oscar, an it and launched an international resurgence in Danish cinema. He died at age 95. More from Ronald Bergan at The Guardian.
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The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.