Friday, September 26, 2008
  46th New York Film Festival

Control click heading above to hear a short clip from Krzysztof Komeda's score for Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962), shown at the first New York Film Festival in 1963. Other films shown at the Festival in 1963: All the Way Home (Alex Segal, USA), An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan), Barravento (Glauber Rocha, Brazil), Elektra (Takis Mouzenidis, Greece), The Fiances (Ermanno Olmi, Italy), Hallelujah the Hills (Adolfas Mekas, USA), Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, Japan), Le Joli Mai (Chris Marker, France), Love in the Suburbs (Tamas Fejer, Hungary), Magnet of Doom (Jean-Pierre Melville, France/Italy), Muriel (Alain Resnais, France/Italy), RoGoPaG (Roberto Rossellini/Ugo Gregoretti/Jean-Luc Godard/Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy/France), The Sea (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, Italy), The Servant (Joseph Losey, UK), The Sky (Takis Kanelopoulos, Greece), Sweet and Sour (Jacques Baratier, France/Italy), The Terrace (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Argentina), The Trial of Joan of Arc (Robert Bresson, France).

Michelle Williams and Lucy in Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy.

Clip: Wendy and Lucy

Trailer: Summer Hours

Alphabetical list of all films in all New York Film Festivals. Cosgrove's chronological list of New York Film Festival films from 1963 to 1992. A.O. Scott on the 46th New York Film Festival.

Trailer: Waltz with Bashir

Trailer: Changeling

Trailer: Afterschool

Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. See more at Slash Film.
Clip: The Wrestler

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
  Etidorpha (1895)
It's now possible to embed from Google Books. So here is the contents page from the allegorical science fiction novel Etidorpha by pharmacist John Uri Lloyd. (The title is "Aphrodite" spelled backwards.) Control click on a chapter, and a separate page will take you on this near-psychedelic voyage.

Text not available
Etidorpha Or, The End of the Earth. The Strange History of a Mysterious Being, and the Account of a Remarkable Journey, as Communicated in Manuscript to Llewellyn Drury, who Promised to Print the Same, But Finally Evaded the Responsibility, which was Assumed by John Uri Lloyd. With Many Illustrations by J. A. Knapp By John Uri Lloyd

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Monday, September 22, 2008
  Wood Chips 4

Wood sketched this concept for a Mad logo. He often made lists with his free associations of random ideas.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008
  Jazz Film Scores @ MoMA
A Streetcar Named Desire - Alex North
The MoMa exhibition and film series "Jazz Scores" ended this past week. MoMA film curator Josh Siegel narrates this video from WNET's Sunday Arts with clips from A Streetcar Named Desire, Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) and other films.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
  Bruce McCall animated

Thanks to W=UH for the overlap image of Bruce McCall's May 14, 2007 covers for The New Yorker.
Monday, September 15, 2008
  The Renaissance of Richard Yates
Soon we'll be hearing a lot about Richard Yates (1926-1992), labeled "one of America's least known great writers" by Esquire years ago. December 26 is the release date of Sam Mendes' film adaptation of Yates' Revolutionary Road (1961) depicting the American Dream askewThe film is already attracting media attention because it reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Also in the cast are Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn and Zoe Kazan. Some writers have noted the influence of Yates on Mad Men, and commercials for the movie have been shown in Mad Men episodes.

I caught an item around 1985 that Yates and William Styron would be doing a reading at Boston University, so I went. On a warm sunny afternoon, I was surprised to find an audience of only about 35 people in a fairly large BU lecture hall. As I recall, the situation was that Styron would read Yates, while Yates would read from his screenplay of Styron's Lie Down in Darkness. However, it soon became apparent that Yates was a no show. This was a genuine disappointment, but Styron carried on solo, giving a magnificent reading of the entire first chapter of Revolutionary Road. Sunlight poured through the windows. As Styron's great voice echoed through the hall, Yates' characters came to life, dancing among the dust motes.

Here's a good Slate article on the cinematic cul de sac of Yates by Blake Bailey, author of A Tragic Honesty: The LIfe and Work of Richard Yates (2003).

Yates used to hang out at the Crossroads Restaurant on Beacon Street in Boston. Here Marty Jukovsky writes about meeting Yates at the Crossroads.

Interviewed in 1972, Yates commented on the meanings behind his title Revolutionary Road:

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witchhunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that — felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit — and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler. I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fifties.

Revolutionary Road begins like this:

The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of an empty auditorium. They hardly dared to breathe as the short, solemn figure of their director emerged from the naked seats to join them on stage, as he pulled a stepladder raspingly from the wings and climbed halfway up its rungs to turn and tell them, with several clearings of his throat, that they were a damned talented group of people and a wonderful group of people to work with.

"It hasn't been an easy job," he said, his glasses glinting soberly around the stage. "We've had a lot of problems here, and quite frankly I'd more or less resigned myself not to expect too much. Well, listen. Maybe this sounds corny, but something happened up here tonight. Sitting out there tonight I suddenly knew, deep down, that you were all putting your hearts into your work for the first time." He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was; then he made the same hand into a fist, which he shook slowly and wordlessly in a long dramatic pause, closing one eye and allowing his moist lower lip to curl out in a grimace of triumph and pride. "Do that again tomorrow night," he said, "and we'll have one hell of a show."

They could have wept with relief. Instead, trembling, they cheered and laughed and shook hands and kissed one another, and somebody went out for a case of beer and they all sang unanimously, that they'd better knock it off and get a good night's sleep.

"See you tomorrow!" they called, as happy as children, and riding home under the moon they found they could roll down the windows of their cars and let the air in, with its health-giving smells of loam and young flowers. It was the first time many of the Laurel Players had allowed themselves to acknowledge the coming of spring.

The year was 1955 and the place was a part of western Connecticut where three swollen villages had lately been merged by a wide and clamorous highway called Route Twelve. The Laurel Players were an amateur company, but a costly and very serious one, carefully recruited from among the younger adults of all three towns, and this was to be their maiden production. All winter, gathering in one another's living rooms for excited talks about Ibsen and Shaw and O'Neill, and then for the show of hands in which a common-sense majority chose
The Petrified Forest, and then for the preliminary casting, they had felt their dedication growing stronger every week.

Go here to continue reading.

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Friday, September 12, 2008
  Last interview with Bebe Barron
Electronic music pioneer Bebe Barron (1925-2008) died April 20.

Monday, September 08, 2008
  More Moore and W.
Michael Moore's new movie, Slacker Uprising, opens September 23 and is free online.

The new Oliver Stone movie, W., opens October 17.

Cindy Adams had an advance copy of the script and revealed scenes in the New York Post:

Here's Karl Rove making W. memorize answers, telling him, "Before you speak, come to me first. I'll tell you what to say." W. chiding late-arriving "Balloonfoot" Powell, saying military men should know about being on time. Rumsfeld, who's hard of hearing. W. happy when Cheneylaughs at his cowboy-delivered twang. Cheney stepping in cow poop at Crawford. W. eating his favorite White House bologna sandwich lunch.

In all presidential erudition, telling Gen. Tommy Franks to be sure what he's doing: "I don't want to fire no $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the a - -." Then: "Americans don't like to see dead boys on their television sets." Telling education reformers: "Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning?' "

Page 10 on Bill Clinton: "My mother waddles faster than that larda - -." Page 11: "We'll move these terr'ists to Guantanemera." Cheney: "Guantanamo." Bush: "Right." Then Bush to Cheney: "Vice, when we're in meetings I want you to keep a lid on it. Keep your ego in check. Remember, I'm the president."

Flashbacks have college-boy W. boozing, slacking off from work, in jail, calling his then-congressman father "Poppy." Sr. praising Jeb, castigating Jr., asking if he's "knocked up" a girl named Susie, complaining, "You never kept your word once . . . you're only good for partying, chasing tail, driving drunk . . . You deeply disappoint me." Repeat father and son arguments. Father: "I've had enough of your crap." Son: "I've had enough of you for a lifetime." Mama Barbara breaking up the near fisticuffs with announcing Jr. just made Harvard and Sr. responding, "But who do you think pulled the strings?"

Then, W.: "Saddam's been d - - - ing us around for 11 years. I told my father to get rid of the sucker" long back. War-thumping Cheney: "Saddam's smoking gun might become a mushroom cloud." W.: "We need the WMDs. We still need that 52nd card." Someone says: "You mean the 53rd card, sir."...

In line with what Stone personally says about W.: "Limited ability except to promote himself," in one cocky flashback he guarantees he can fly a plane and then has trouble landing it. Page 50, asked if he loves his parents, he answers: "Most of the time. My father and I have a tough go . . . My mother says I'm as good as her at holding a grudge." After his father becomes president: "I'll never get out of Poppy's shadow. I wish he'd lost." After W. becomes president, his father saying, "I'm worried about him. Really worried. But you can't talk to him." And Barbara replying, "Well, he's not going to listen to me. He takes criticism worse than I do." And after Jr. knocks his father and shouts, "This is my war, not his," Condoleezza says: "We'll let him know that from here on out, he's persona non grata. No briefings, no nothings."
Thursday, September 04, 2008
  Pauline Kael (1919-2001)

Here are excerpts from 2,846 film reviews by Pauline Kael, the film critic other film critics acknowledged as the pack leader. A review by Kael could sometimes be more thought-provoking than the film she was reviewing. Thanks to Tom Sutpen we have this audio of Kael speaking at San Fernando Valley State College in 1963. Roger Ebert wrote that she ''had a more positive influence on the climate for film in America than any other single person over the last three decades."

Below is a sample Kael review, Home Before Dark, a memorable psychological drama which has never been on VHS or DVD. The original negative is lost, but it would be nice to once again see this 1958 film, adapted by Eileen and Robert Bassing from the novel by Eileen Bassing. The scene of Charlotte Bronn (Jean Simmons) drifting into madness outside the Bonwit Teller department store in Boston is unforgettable.

Boston's New England Museum of Natural History was in a building constructed in 1863 at 234 Berkeley Street. When the Museum closed in 1947, the building was taken over by Bonwit Teller, which was at that location from 1947 to 1988. On the side facing Berkeley was a peculiar architectural feature, a window display which extruded from the building. This had the appearance of a glass gazebo, enabling a single dress to be viewed from three different sides. Director Mervyn LeRoy used this unusual location to create a sequence of mental erosion worthy of Tennessee Williams.

That Home Before Dark location scene shows the Fanny Farmer Candies shop at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley. Two decades later, I used to get coffee at that same Fanny Farmer shop. During the 1970s it still looked exactly the same; it was like stepping into the 1958 movie. (The coffee, I soon discovered, sometimes tasted like it had been sitting there for 20 years.)

Charlotte is married to college professor Arnold Bronn (Dan O'Herlihy), and she has long suspected that her cold and distant husband is secretly in love with her stepsister Joan (Rhonda Fleming). In her mentally disturbed state, Charlotte gets a makeover so she will look like Joan. 

LeRoy positioned his camera on Boylston Street and panned from Fanny Farmer to Bonwit Teller. When Charlotte walks to the exterior window display gazebo, she stares at a spectacular sparkling gold dress. She goes inside, requests the dress in Joan's size, tries it on and buys the dress, despite protests from Bonwit Teller saleswomen who tell her the size is much too large.

In a Boston restaurant during the holiday season, Arnold and his friends await Charlotte's arrival. She enters with her new hairstyle and the ill-fitting gold dress slipping off her shoulders and breasts. Arnold is aghast as she makes her way between tables in the crowded restaurant with a fixed smile, repeating over and over, "Merry Christmas... Merry Christmas... Merry Christmas... "

Home Before Dark
US (1958): Drama
136 min, No rating, Black & White

Jean Simmons gives a reserved, beautifully modulated performance that is so much better than the material that at times her exquisite reading of the rather mediocre lines seems a more tragic waste than her character's wrecked life. The script starts with a good idea. A professor (Dan O'Herlihy) commits his young wife to a state mental hospital; she returns home after a year, exhausted from eight rounds of shock treatment, her hair gray, but feeling cured-reasonable and happy, rid of her former delusions. Then as she slowly discovers that the delusions the doctors were shocking out of her were actually the truth, she loses her bearings and begins to go mad. Unfortunately, the script makes the heroine too sympathetic, and it has an edge of fashionable, self-congratulatory virtue-the "one must be more understanding toward discharged mental patients" attitude, and Mervyn LeRoy directs in a glossy, uninspired style that drags the material out at least half an hour too long. With Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Rhonda Fleming. Warners. -- Pauline Kael

Jerry Lewis on Pauline Kael:

Control click heading at top to hear Terry Gross interview with Kael (February 4, 1986).

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008
  In a world...
We bid farewell to Don LaFontaine. The Voice of God is dead, fading out September 1.

LaFontaine on his signature style:
My history begins as a recording engineer at the National Recording Studios, where I had the opportunity to work with Floyd Peterson producing promo spots for Dr. Strangelove. Peterson incorporated many of my ideas for the spots, and not long after, we went into business together. While working on the 1964 Western Gunfighters of Casa Grande, I had to fill in for an unavailable voice actor to finish a client’s presentation. Not long after, the client bought the spots, and my career as a voice actor had been sealed. 

Prior and into the 1970s, I developed my signature style of a strong narrative approach and heavy melodramatic coloration of my voice work. Thankfully, my signature voice has commanded a busy schedule. I could voice about 60 promotions a week and as many as 35 in a single day. It has been said that my voiceover can add prestige and excitement to what may otherwise be a snoozer movie. Most studios are willing to pay a high fee for my service, thanks in no small part to my rigorous efforts and golden voice. 

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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