Tuesday, December 29, 2015
I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER and it’s only one of the many stories she has to tell. She writes about the challenge of working with Robert De Niro on the remake of CAPE FEAR, going days without eating while filming ALIVE and the freedom Gus Van Sant gave her during the making of TO DIE FOR. But she also talks about her childhood, the background of which explains the book’s title, along with her early days of discovering movies at the drive-in as well as deeply affecting recollections of her relationship with grandfather Melvyn Douglas including her formative experience visiting him on the set of his late-career triumph in Hal Ashby’s BEING THERE, the film that won him his second Oscar, where she also had a memorable encounter with the film's star Peter Sellers. This turned about to be one of only several meaningful and often fortuitous brushes with legendary figures in her life that she details including an unfortunate phone call with Billy Wilder (who at another point she correctly refers to as God), a lasting friendship with Roddy McDowall and an unexpected run-in with a presumably hungover Lee Marvin on a New York sidewalk early one morning. She also discusses her own passion for movies and why they mean so much to her, how that connection helped transform her into who she ultimately became and it’s a beautiful, funny, inspiring read, one of the best such books in a very long time. It’s a must for anyone who loves films and a reminder of why they can mean so much as we watch them so obsessively. Her book is a connection to GRACE OF MY HEART as well, it deepens how much the film clearly meant to those who made it, a film in which you can feel the undeniable yearning of its lead character just as you can feel the yearning of Illeana Douglas in the stories she tells about her own life. “I don’t have a song in me,” declares the lead character she plays in the film at a crucial stage, just before writing the ultimate song within her. Sometimes the very thought that we don’t have any songs left in us is the most frightening thing of all. I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER, Illeana Douglas writes about how GRACE OF MY HEART has endured in some unexplainable way, that people have taken it to heart no doubt because they see something of themselves in her journey. It’s a reminder of the things you need to strive for, that you can’t let them just fade away as the years go on no matter what happens. You need to hang onto that as much as possible if it’s what you feel deep down. And you still need to find out who you are, what your life is and whether or not you can find the strength, as well as the grace, to move on in this world.
Monday, December 14, 2015
“The Road to ISHAR” by David Blum) about the bad word of mouth surrounding that upcoming summer release—it didn’t help matters and the film never really recovered from what got out there. As background the article discusses the production of the earlier film during which May apparently shot 1.4 million feet of film, three times the amount for GONE WITH THE WIND (when Judd Apatow’s THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN hit the 1 million mark during shooting champagne was reportedly sent to the set; the approach presumably turns out better for some than others) and one story about May continuing to photograph a blank wall after the two stars have wandered off that has been retold a million times by now. There’s not much to be found from whatever press the film got during its belated (and miniscule) release in 1976—Vincent Canby’s review in The New York Times makes no mention of any troubles, praising Elaine May but concluding, “It took guts for her to make a film like this, but she failed.” Whatever the reality of the production—and it feels like not much official has been said by anybody since that article aside from some comments May herself made during a talk with Mike Nichols that ran in Film Comment—the final result is seemingly long and rambling but actually tightly plotted, always focused on what it should be even if it’s the minutiae of any given moment (the version shown at the New Beverly was around 106 minutes; maybe because a May-sanctioned cut didn’t surface until the 80s there are several different running times listed). Very little of what happens can qualify as ‘plot’ anyway, with Nicky continually pulling Mikey away from what’s supposed to happen--an interesting comparison in terms of the mob world might be Cassavetes’ own GLORIA which is messy and idiosyncratic in ways of its own.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
WOLF over a decade later, but David isn’t an intellectual guy.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Trailblazing Women series has been knocking it out of the park even more than usual for the channel. Hosted by the great Illeana Douglas with an impressive array of guests the series explores the path women have taken over the past hundred-plus years in the film industry, including success and some that have unfortunately fallen by the wayside and making it very clear that this path of history deserves notice. Just to mention a few titles, Ida Lupino’s OUTRAGE was extremely powerful, getting to revisit Elaine May’s THE HEARTBREAK KID was a revelation and my first ever viewing of Shirley Clarke’s astonishing PORTRAIT OF JASON…well, we’ll have to talk about that another time. One unexpected pleasure came on Independent Classics night and my first viewing of Claudia Weill’s GIRLFRIENDS, a film I had only vaguely heard about in passing and one I found myself surprisingly drawn to within minutes. Picked up by Warner Bros. and released in 1978, it’s a film that takes certain Woody Allen-Paul Mazursky preoccupations of the time and turns them into its own thing while clearly being an influence on some people who have emerged in the years since. Filmed on a low budget in 16mm it has a grimy look which goes perfectly with the grimy 70s New York feel of the time, almost as if we might bump into Jill Clayburgh from AN UNMARRIED WOMAN coming around a corner. But the empathy it shows for all of its characters and its casual way of telling the story makes it unique and affecting. Warner Archive. The inclusion of the film in the Trailblazing Women series on TCM is deserved, hopefully exposing it to people who also never caught up with it. It also bodes well for what else might be in store when the series will return over the next two Octobers, presumably again hosted by Illeana Douglas who will hopefully be seen even more on TCM in the future. Even her discussions with guests before and after the films have felt longer and more fleshed out then they usually do on the channel, a choice which has helped the series have that much more of an impact. As an example of the Trailblazing Women series GIRLFRIENDS serves as, among other things, a reminder of how there are always films out there that feature distinctive voices which deserve to be discovered again, moving beyond just the sanctioned ‘classics’ whatever those are supposed to be. On its own it shows how hard things can be, whether between friends or just yourself, but every now and then we can spot the small possibility of moving forward. Which would include, hopefully, seeing more films as well.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
A SIMPLE PLAN. The film has all the markings of an old-school movie star vehicle even though the star in question, Kevin Costner, seemed like he was nearing the end of that run during the period, with the dust of THE POSTMAN from a few years earlier still on him. The fall of ’99 was a memorable time for films—BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE LIMEY, FIGHT CLUB, THREE KINGS—but FOR LOVE OF THE GAME is almost insistently square in comparison as if part of the design was to try to emulate what a Douglas Sirk baseball picture starring Rock Hudson in 1958 might have been. It never comes close to being quite that extreme but there still isn’t a cynical bone in the entire film and considering it’s about a character who feels like he’s a relic of the past it maybe makes sense that it seems to belong in another time. It’s kind of forgotten by now, certainly when compared to the other Costner baseball films BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS, but there’s an earnest spirit to it and it’s also certainly notable as another example of Sam Raimi testing himself as a director, pushing himself to do something different while he moved further away from horror films into the big leagues.