Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ben Gazzara


Just the other day, I was talking with my brother-in-law. Somehow, the conversation turned to young people with tattoos they would some day be ashamed of. He mentioned the expense of tattoo removal and I said they could just cover the old tattoos up with new, less offensive ones.

I mentioned the movie Saint Jack. Gangster forcibly tattoo Ben Gazzara's arms with Chinese obscenities, he tattoos over them and turns them into flowers. The character's last name is Flowers.

Well, I guess you know that Ben Gazzarra has died at age 81.

I saw him in other films. As Charles Bukowski (or Henry Chinaski) in Tales of Ordinary Madness. I saw him in a kinescope of a 1950s live TV drama and on his '60s TV show, Run for Your Life, as a terminally ill man who leaves his job and roams the country hoping to get the most out of the time he has left.

And now I look at his filmography and see he was in a lot of movies I don't remember him in. Anatomy of a Murder, Summer of Sam, The Big Lebowski, Happiness, Dogville. His parents were Italian immigrants. He spoke Italian and appeared in movies there.

He started as a stage actor and, for a long time, thought movies were beneath him.

Saint Jack

And I learned some things I didn't know about Peter Bogdanovich's movie, Saint Jack. I had seen it years ago, but didn't know anything about it.

It was filmed in Singapore. They didn't think the government there wouldn't approve of the subject matter and the government there was aware of the book, so the filmmakers came up with a phony title and a phony storyline they told the government they were filming.

Bogdanovich had arranged for Orson Welles to direct the movie. It was going to be his come-back. But under pressure from the studio and from his girlfriend, Cybill Shepard, he directed it himself.

He should have insisted that Welles do it!

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