Monday, July 30, 2012

Community access TV documentary class

My criticism of the course I took in documentary video production at the community access TV station is that they showed examples of professionally made documentaries, but they didn't show any made by other people who had taken the class. The result was that I don't think we had a clear understanding of what we were doing.

They followed a simple enough formula. You had to pick a subject that lent itself to this. You'd interview an expert or someone who knew about the subject, then you'd go and film what they talked about. It had to be a subject that you could get some cinema verite footage of and something with an expert you could talk to about it.

There was one such documentary I saw about a singer. Sang religious music. They interviewed him in the TV studio and he loved to talk, then they showed him in a recording studio doing some songs. They also played some tunes from his previous CDs and showed shot from a car driving through the country.

The video my class made was of a glass business. They recycled glass, melted it down and made it into knobs, medallions, trophies, ornaments. We interviewed the manager in the studio. We carefully tested out the sound set-up. Then someone asked a question and the instructor pulled out the plug and stuck it back in. And we started shooting without testing it again. And, when we looked at the footage----the sound didn't get recorded.

That was okay----we'd interview him again when we went to the place.

We walked around interviewing him. I just tried to stay back and keep out of the picture. Then they gave me and a kid in the class the camera. I filmed some nice close-ups of the glass objects, of the kid talking to one of the employees.

The gave the kid the camera and he walked around----did tracking shots going over the glass items on the shelves.

They weren't actually working the furnace that day, so some of the others went back later and filmed them actually doing the glass stuff.

The results were pretty good.

One of the people in the class was an older woman. She was the brains behind the whole thing. She was the one who picked the subject, contacted the people and conducted the interviews. She was good at it. She wanted to make another documentary of her own, but she needed to find someone to work with. I offered to help and gave her my number. She never called me. Later I saw she had advertised on Craigs List for someone to work with. I took the hint and didn't contact her.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the day

"Honestly, I’ve never seen an attractive tattoo.  Never.  Not one.  Not 'USMC' (Untied States Marine Corps), not a heart with an arrow piercing it; not a flower, not a butterfly, not a bird, not a horned demon, not a Chinese character purporting to translate as 'Peace,' or 'Harmony.'  Every tattoo I’ve ever seen manages to detract from the person’s appearance.  In truth, seeing that crap plastered on people’s bodies makes me think of graffiti spray-painted on an overpass."

---David Macaray, "Don't Print on Me", Counterpunch, July 27-29, 2012

Spoilers are good?

I noticed when this trend started. They started making movie trailers that gave away every single plot point in the movie. I was sitting in a movie theater with a friend.

"Well. I've seen it the movie," he said after a preview. I can't remember when this was, but it was a movie starring Michael Keaton as a cop who is also a single father.

In contrast, look at the trailer Stanley Kubrick put together for his movie Full Metal Jacket which gave an impression of what the movie was like while revealing almost nothing about the plot:

Spy magazine specifically criticizing the studio head who started this trend. There were people who thought this made people feel they didn't need to see the actual movie.

I was reminded of this when NPR reported on a study from UC San Diego which claims that "spoilers" make things more enjoyable.  They gave test subjects short stories they hasn't read before and gave away the ending to half the of them. They gave some of them a copy of Shirley Jackson's story, "The Lottery" (the professor gives away the ending in the interview.)

"Spoilers are, in fact, enhancers," he said.

"It turns out that when people knew what was going to happen, reading the story was more enjoyable," the reporter said. They interviewed a movie critic who repeats what Alfred Hitchcock noted about suspense---suspense is when you know something is going to happen, not when you're surprised that something happens.

Other disagree. They note that a lot of shows now use plot twists in lieu of "great writing or characters" and someone talks about the difference between a literary work and a movie. "I feel like a novel cannot offer the same kind of visceral shock and pleasure that a great plot twist in a visual medium usually can."

I can't remember where I read it, but there was an attack on M. Night Shyamalan which claimed that, since his movies tend to have twist endings, once you knew the ending, there was point in seeing the movie again. They didn't stand up to repeat viewings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Maker magazine

 I used to read Movie Maker magazine, a British amateur film magazine. They had bound volumes in the university library.

Lenny Lipton's book, Independent Filmmaking, cited Ivan Watson's column in Movie Maker which explained a method an amateur filmmaker came up with for recording live sound.

They talked about cine clubs, about Pudovkin's theories of screen acting. If your actors maintained neutral expressions, the audience would read into it whatever emotion they thought the character should be feeling.

They talked a lot about trying to recruit actors from amateur theater groups and how it rarely worked. The actors weren't interested, they didn't have time. I can see that----they're used to performing plays by real playwrights, then they're asked to perform your amateur script.

They were surprisingly open-minded about art film.

They had to admit that amateur film could be terribly dull. In fact, when video began taking over, they pointed out that a three minute Super 8 film could seem like an eternity. Now people had hours and hours of videotape. It was a shame not to use it. So they would film hours of footage of nothing.

And that was before high definition. They talked about how bad the picture quality was with video. Super 8 was bad enough.

They talked a lot about making sponsored films. They would try to get businesses or organizations to sponsor documentaries about one subject or another.

I didn't realize that recording live sound for film was so difficult. You had to have a camera that ran at a consistent speed. You had to muffle the sound of the camera. You had to synchronize the sound with the picture. If you used a single system, sound-on-film camera, then you had problems editing. The sound and picture weren't together on the film.

Most people trying to make talking pictures would dub. There were magnetic sound Super 8 projectors. You could have a magnetic stripe added to your film and then use the projector to record the sound as easily as you could on a tape recorder-----a really loud tape recorded that sounded like a movie projector. You still had the problem of muffling sound.

The best method seemed to be to simply have the actors say their lines into a tape recorder after they shot the scene. You could put it on the soundtrack and it wouldn't be exact, but there were people who found it worked pretty well.

I thought the way to go was to shoot on super 8 without sound, transfer it to video, then dub the sound onto the videotape.

Editing in general was a problem. And then you had to make prints and super 8 prints of super 8 original films didn't come out very well.

It's so much easier now. And it's finally gotten cheap.

Video vs film---it used to be you could buy a good Super 8 camera new for a hundred bucks. That was at a time when a camcorder would cost around a thousand dollars. So you could buy a nice, compact Super 8 camera which, in theory anyway, produced a far better picture, plus 90 rolls of film and processing---over 300 minutes of footage, more than you'd ever want to sit through, for the same price as a VHS camcorder.

That was a theory, but I'm not sure how well it worked in reality. I didn't have enough money for a camcorder or for film back then. All I did was read the magazine.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chad Everett

Chad Everett has died at age 75. I used to see him on re-runs of Medical Center. In a two part episode, he gave the dad from The Brady Bunch a sex change operation. I was surprised to see he was in Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho.

I remember my sister disliked him after Lilly Tomlin walked off the set of the Dick Cavett Show after Everett listed his wife as one of his possessions. I searched for it on You Tube----it wasn't  there, but apparently it was a common search. A lot of other people were trying to find it, too. Google "chad everett lilly tomlin" and see how many hits you get.

His wife died last year.

Amazing how one moment on The Dick Cavett Show has followed him for decades.

I haven't seen him in anything in years but he's been working steadily according to

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alexander Cockburn, 1941 to 2012

I was shocked to read on the Counterpunch site that Alexander Cockburn has died.

Jeffery St.Clair wrote:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done. Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end. He wanted to live on his terms. And he wanted to continue writing through it all, just as his brilliant father, the novelist and journalist Claud Cockburn had done. And so he did. His body was deteriorating, but his prose remained as sharp, lucid and deadly as ever
In one of Alex’s last emails to me, he patted himself on the back (and deservedly so) for having only missed one column through his incredibly debilitating and painful last few months. Amid the chemo and blood transfusions and painkillers, Alex turned out not only columns for CounterPunch and The Nation and First Post, but he also wrote a small book called Guillotine and finished his memoirs, A Colossal Wreck, both of which CounterPunch plans to publish over the course of the next year.

Alex lived a huge life and he lived it his way. He hated compromise in politics and he didn’t tolerate it in his own life. Alex was my pal, my mentor, my comrade. We joked, gossiped, argued and worked together nearly every day for the last twenty years. He leaves a huge void in our lives. But he taught at least two generations how to think, how to look at the world, how to live a life of joyful and creative resistance. So, the struggle continues and we’re going to remain engaged. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I was 18 or 19, I started reading The Nation magazine in the university library.I had never heard of it before. I came across it in the periodicals section. I went through all the issues and, at first, read only Cockburn's column. I later expanded on that and read Christopher Hitchens' column as well. Then I started reading movie reviews. And I finally started reading the articles.

His column in The Nation was called Beat the Devil, the same name as his father's novel which was made into the movie John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart.

Well, it's very sad. It's a terrible blow. I noticed that Cockburn had missed one column recently, and I was a bit worried. He had previously mentioned an accident he had with a lawn mower. I had been told that you should never pull a lawn mower backwards. If you trip, you'd pull it onto your foot. Cockburn found this out the hard way.

Back in the '80s, I was driving around in my big giant '64 Imperial. It started to depress me. I'd walk around looking at the fuel efficient, reliable late model cars everywhere and I couldn't figure out how people did it. How could they afford them? I read in the paper that Volvo, trying to promote the durability of their vehicles, was going to offer 20 year financing on their cars. I did some math and even with a 20 year loan I could never afford one.

I felt better after I sat down in the library and read Alexander Cockburn's column. He discussed getting stitches in his buttock. He bought an old Dodge Dart, went to pick it up, climbed in, and suddenly discovered that a piece of the rearview mirror had fallen off and wedged itself into the driver's seat. I felt bad about his injury, of course, but if a man of his stature drove a Dodge Dart, I was doing okay,

I later saw him on CSPAN. They filmed him in his house in northern California. We saw his cars. He seemed to favor old Chryslers. They got bad gas mileage, he said, but the old cars cost less to begin with, so it all evened out. They were less reliable, but that was fine. If it broke down, say on a road trip, it gave you the chance to go to a mechanic, hang around and talk to people.

I didn't know the man. But I read Counterpunch daily. I've read his work religiously for over 30 years. He leaves a huge void in my life as well.

Aspiring filmmakers with no interest in no budget movies

I've met a number of would-be or aspiring filmmakers, some of them unemployed and completely broke with no source of funds and no connection of any kind to the movie industry. They live a thousand miles from Hollywood and, as far as I know, have no plans to go there. Which is all fine. In spite of these handicaps, they're committed to their dreams of becoming movie filmmakers. Which is also fine.

But also they have no interest in any movie that cost less that $100 million to make. I'd bring up the extreme low budget filmmakers and get blank stares. They have no interest in watching or making a low budget movie.

I was working as a dishwasher and I asked the dishwasher from the other shift what he was majoring in. He was in the film department. I asked him what sort of work he hoped to do.

"I'm going to go to Hollywood and direct movies," he said.

I was impressed by his confidence. But I brought up some impressive work people had done with hardly any money and he was uninterested. Maybe he knew all about it and had good reason for his disinterest and didn't feel like explaining it to me. But he never went to Hollywood and never made a film.

I was talking to a musician who was looking to make a movie and he was reading some books about it. I suggested he look at Rick Schmidt's book. He said he had looked at it and thought Schmidt was more of a hobbyist. This was based on the book---he hadn't seen Schmidt's movies. And I can see how Schmidt's advice at one point in the book that you buy a keyboard and compose your own music might have made a bad impression. That was stupid advice.

I went to a performance a while back. A drummer I was slightly acquainted with was in town so I went to hear him. He played in a little art gallery co-op downtown. There were other "musicians" there. One was a man with a medieval hairstyle and heavy eye makeup. These other musicians each performed alone, they each had an electronic device. One had a toy guitar she played a few notes on that she sampled on some device and played over and over. A couple of the others had devices that made motor-like noises. The performance consisted of their adjusting the volume and speed at which they played.

I don't know if those guys felt any shame when the real musicians took the stage.

But this might explain why a musician looking to make a movie would shun any hint of amateurism. They don't want to be like these weirdos pretending to be musicians.

Another musician talked with me about working at a community access TV station. I mentioned that they had made some music videos there. I didn't think it would impress him and I wasn't surprised when he smirked slightly at that. But, later, I watched a crew of well-equipped, professional looking videomakers setting up to film a performance of the musician's jazz band. I was consumed with feelings of inferiority. They only dissipated a few weeks later when I learned that they forgot to plug the camcorder into the sound board. They were recording the music from across the room with the lousy built-in mic on the camcorder. The results were terrible. It was a mistake I wouldn't have made.

It just seems like the all-or-nothing approach these people take----Hollywood or bust; a $100 million special effects movie with an all-star cast or nothing----is obviously going to leave them with nothing. If you make an ultra-cheap movie, nothing may come if it, it may not lead to bigger things, but at least you end up with something to show for it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Joker in Colorado

 I watched a little of the movie Natural Born Killers. I don't know what kind of audience they thought it would attract. It cost $34 million to make. They expected millions of people to see it. Even if they thought it was an exceptionally clever observation that people who commit terrible crimes become "celebrities", they might have foreseen that some of the scum who are drawn to movies like that might find it a source of inspiration. There's a long list of murders that were inspired by the movie. It's usually hard to place the blame  for a given crime on a movie, but these are cases where the killers stated directly that they wanted to be like the characters in it.

Stephen King pulled one of his novels off the market----it was about an armed teen who takes a class hostage at school. A kid with a rifle actually took a class hostage and he had a copy of King's book on him when he did it. King decided he didn't need the money that badly.

There are other clear-cut cases. There are the people who died playing Russian Roulette after watching The Deer Hunter. There were kids who lay on the center line on city streets assuming that cars would all go around them, like they did in The Program. And I still don't know if there are confirmed cases of this, but cruise ship operators say they've had to stop passengers from crawling out onto the prow and yelling that they're king of the world ever since Titanic came out. These are things nobody did until they saw it in a movie.

People should know better than to lie in the street or play Russian Roulette, even if they did see it in a movie. But if you make a movie that's going to be seen by millions of people, you know full well that it's going to be seen by people who aren't all there.

And now we have this mass murder in a movie theater in Colorado, the killer calling himself "The Joker". He was inspired by the movie but it's hard to imagine anyone watching Batman and thinking, They shouldn't show things like this because someone might decide to act like the Joker.

If you're making a no-budget movie that's going to be seen by a few hundred or a few thousand people, you don't have much to worry about. But if it's going to be seen my millions, why take the chance of setting off a spree killer? Why have that on your conscience?

Fred Willard's innocent

I don't believe for an instant that Fred Willard engaged in any "lewd act". 

The cops go into pornographic theaters and think they're easy pickin's. They can charge anyone with anything without evidence at all except their own accusation. What do cops go in there for, anyway? To make sure pornographic movie viewers don't see anything lewd?

Pornography is a problem for celebrities. Michael Caine told the story of how he came to America after the movie Alfie came out. Back then, the English complained about the poor quality of the pornography in their country and they looked on America as a pornographic wonderland. So he came to America. He walked past a pornographic bookstore in New York and desperately wanted to go in. But he was a celebrity now. He didn't want to be recognized.

It dawned on Caine that people in pornographic bookstores avoid eye contact with one another. Nobody looks at anyone else. So...he went in. Only to have the guy manning store, sitting on a high stool watching the place, announce over a loudspeaker that British movie star Michael Caine was there.

There's internet porn now, but that involves credit cards and everything one does on line is being recorded. A cash purchase at a pornographic bookstore may be the best way to maintain privacy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tom Cruise threatens to sue the Enquirer like an idiot

I picked up a copy of the National Enquirer. Something on the cover about the real Tom Cruise being a monster and his mansion being a "house of horrors". And now Tom Cruise is threatening to sue the Enquirer. His lawyer wrote a letter saying that Cruise isn't a monster at all and he has a very nice house without any horrors in it.

I'm not sure there's an objective measure of whether someone is a "monster" or not, and I don't know what the objective, legal standard is for calling a place a "house of horrors". It would have to contain more than one horror, I suppose, and who's to say what constitutes a horror?

Cruise reportedly ridiculed the idea of Katie Holmes appearing in a reunion of whatever TV show it is she used to be on, and, judging from his Scientology video, he has big unnaturally white teeth and cackles at things that aren't even remotely funny. Does that make him a "monster"? Yes, I think it does.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Woody Allen

To me, the problem with Woody Allen is that he's gone high concept. All his movies seem to be this way. Stuff with ghosts, time travel, invisibility and all this nonsense. In a PBS documentary about him, we see him going through all his ideas for movies he has lying around and it's all crap like that.

There was a review in the Atlantic Monthly of his latest movie, filmed in Rome. The critic felt that Allen's pace, making a film a year, was too much for anyone. He hasn't taken the time to develop them. It quotes Allen as saying he doesn't think he'll make another great film and if he does, it will be by accident.

Well, the guy is 76. He appears quite healthy and his father died at age 100. My guess is that he's got a good ten years of work left, but if he takes three years to develop a movie, there's a good chance that it won't be made. I know there are some---John Huston and Sydney Lumet are two----who've worked into their 80s, but it doesn't happen often.

In any case, Allen is doing what he wants. It's silly to offer him advice at this point.

I think I stated my opinion here before. Allen started out making movies that simply a long series of gags. He didn't direct Play It Again, Sam because he didn't know if he could make something with a beginning, a middle and an end, even though he wrote it.

But the earlier movies had greater cinematic merit than his later movies. They were movies that couldn't exist as anything but movies. There was no way to do a novelization.

I'm sure he imagines he's reaching greater artistic heights now, but in his more "serious" movies, everything is verbalized; watching the movie and reading the script are pretty much the same experience.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mural artist paints over Joe Paterno's halo

What the hell was Paterno doing with a halo in the first place?

An artist named Michael Pilato painted a giant mural in State College, Pennsylvania, depicting important figures from the university. It was painted twelve years ago, right around the time that Mike McQueary, an assistant football coach, reported Jerry Sandusky for sodomizing a child in the lockerroom.

The mural is 100 feet wide by 24 feet tall. Jerry Sandusky was in it, but Pilato painted over him. Then he added the halo to Paterno after he dropped dead. Then, after the FBI report came out, he removed the halo and, oddly, added a blue ribbon to Paterno's lapel symbolizing what the artist claimed was Paterno's devotion to child abuse victims. What was the thinking there?

Spanier, the university president who resigned in disgrace, is also pictured in the mural. People have been throwing eggs at his likeness.

The artist says that he still thinks "Joe Paterno is an amazing human being. I think he made a major bad decision in his life,"

His "bad decision" was a crime he would likely have been prosecuted for had he not dropped dead in January. And it went on for twelve years. He spent more than half his life as head coach and he spent a quarter of those years knowingly facilitating Sandusky's crimes.

In what way was Paterno "an amazing human being"?

I've told people before not to idolize or name a child after anyone who hasn't been dead for ten years. And don't idolize someone for something stupid, like being a football coach.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hollywood Anti-Americanism

Why was Hollywood so anti-American? It was hard for me to get into Buster Keaton's The General for that reason--Buster plays an engineer who desperately wants to join the Confederate Army and start killing Americans. And look at Gone With The Wind, the racist Hollywood epic glorifying the enemies of America.

I'm sitting here now watching a silent comedy set in the Civil War. I don't recognize anyone in it. A Confederate soldier is given the job of traveling North as a spy and stealing gold from the U.S. government.

We see a general and another man give the guy his task while a battle rages in the distance.

"This will be a secret between the three of us," the general says.

The third man is struck by a stray bullet and falls down dead.

"You mean, the TWO of us!" says the smiling soldier.

Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble"

I watched it. Not bad. Obviously shot on digital video with non-actors and improvised dialog. Takes place in a small Ohio town. They used the actors' homes and apartments as sets.

I looked it up on-line. I was shocked to see that the thing cost $1,600,000. I hope that means that they paid the actors really well. I can't figure out where the money went otherwise. It only grossed about $260,000 and I don't know what it made from other sources. But for God's sake!

Am I this out of touch? Am I this oblivious to the cost of making a movie, even one that looked like it was shot on a camcorder? Maybe if you're a big shot like Soderbergh you just HAVE to spend the money. You can't very well show up in a town with a few thousand dollars and camcorder and announce that you're making a movie.

Joe Paterno's greed

There was one bit of advice I heard for screenwriting.

In a movie, the characters have to have a clear, obvious motive for their actions. It can't be psychological. You need some concrete reason.

For example, if you were making a movie about Joe Paterno and the Penn State child rape scandal, what motive would you give Paterno for covering up Jerry Sandusky's crimes? That he didn't want to disturb people before the weekend (one of the the excuses he gave for not calling police)? That he didn't know it was physically possible for a man to rape a boy (he actually said this)? That he loved Penn State football so much that he would do anything to protect it from scandal?

Or would you show Paterno as a callous millionaire, unwilling to do anything that might undermine his power to continue raking in millions of dollars in university funds and as perfectly happy to see impoverished boys victimized by the predator Sandusky, perfectly happy to work with a man he knew to be a serial child rapist, as long as he made his millions?

That's pretty much how it happened.

Paterno was head coach for forty-five years. And for about a quarter of that time, he was covering up for a child molester.

There's an article about it now from The New York Times: 

From the article:
In the end, the board of trustees — bombarded with hate mail and threatened with a defamation lawsuit by Mr. Paterno’s family — gave the family virtually everything it wanted, with a package worth roughly $5.5 million. Documents show that the board even tossed in some extras that the family demanded, like the use of specialized hydrotherapy massage equipment for Mr. Paterno’s wife at the university’s Lasch Building, where Mr. Sandusky had molested a number of his victims. 

The details of Mr. Paterno and his family’s fight for money seem to deepen one of the lasting truths of the Sandusky scandal: the significant power that Mr. Paterno exerted on the state institution, its officials, its alumni and its purse strings.
Penn State students rioted when Paterno was fired. They were siding with a millionaire against boys, some from foster homes, all of them poor, all of them fatherless, who Sandusky molested.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes are now divorced

That was fast.

Apparently Cruise and the Scientologists didn't like all the bad publicity. Tom Settled things very quickly.

According to TMZ:
-- Katie will have what amounts to primary physical custody, but Tom has significant custodial time with his daughter.


-- The custodial provisions of the agreement are extremely detailed, and religion is one of the topics.  We're told there are restrictions on what Tom and Katie can discuss with Suri on the subject of religion, including Scientology, however, those restrictions are eased the older Suri gets.

In short, we're told the agreement is extremely detailed and outlines a course of conduct for years to come.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ernest Borgnine dead at 95

Ernest Borgnine died today at age 95. And he worked to the end, doing voice work for Sponge Bob Square Pants and a movie completed this year. Looking at, you can see he was appearing in four or five movies a year for the last several years.

He always seemed like a pleasant, likable actor. But look at him in The Wild Bunch or Bad Day at Black Rock. Or The Devil's Rain, for that matter. He could be scary when he wanted to be.

He was one of those actors, like Shirley Booth. They won Oscars but achieved their greatest success on television. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tom Cruise, human trafficking, Sea Org, Suri

It's being reported that Katie Holmes fled with her daughter because Tom Cruise wanted to send the child to "Sea Org", the group within the "Church" of Scientology. People in "Sea Org" wear military uniforms and sign contracts requiring them to work for the "church" for $50 a month for one billion years.

They believe in reincarnation, so not only do members sign away their lives to the "church", but they sign away their future lives.

And, since they believe in reincarnation, they believe that children aren't really children. They are reincarnated adults and should therefore be treated like adults and forced to work like adults. Children as young as five are part of "Sea Org".

This is why the FBI is reportedly investigating them for human trafficking. People are being abused and assaulted, being forced to work, kept from leaving.

Anyone who manages to leave "Sea Org" before their billion years is up is given a bill charging them tens of thousands of dollars for all the church has done for them. They say the bill isn't legally enforceable, but these people are devout Scientologists and they can't get any further "services" from the "church" until they pay up.

What kind of a man would send his six-year-old daughter to something like this? And if he thinks it's so great, why doesn't he join himself? He can always go back to acting when he's reincarnated again in a billion years.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Religulous: Bill Maher stinks

I've seen cinema verite films that I thought looked pretty good. I mean visually. Artistically. So why does this movie, Religulous, look so bad? Directed by Larry Charles---all his movies look terrible. It's filmed on video which shouldn't be problem. I've seen documentaries shot on analog video that had a unique look to them.

Religulous is Bill Maher's documentary attacking religion. Some religions, anyway.

Maher himself is half Jewish, half Catholic, but he only attacks Christianity and Islam. He argues with tourists at a Christian attraction and with an actor who plays Jesus in a play among others. The only Jew he attacks in the movie is an ultra-orthodox rabbi and Maher's only problem with him is that the rabbi isn't pro-Israel. Maher has to walk out on the interview because he can't hold his own. The rabbi won't let himself be interrupted and won't let Maher get away with mischaracterizing what he said.

As always, no one can tell Maher anything he doesn't already know and no one can explain an opinion to him unless he holds it himself. If he can't make an argument, he makes a "joke". If he can't make a joke, he pretends to laugh.

I didn't hear one funny thing in the whole movie.

The movie actually takes us to Israel. It's an anti-religious documentary filming in a country where Judaism is the official religion, but even there all he does is attack the Christian and Muslim minorities. 
Maher never explains why he thinks that only Jews are entitled to the Holy Land, but he thinks it's so self-evident that anyone who doesn't share his view must be completely irrational. Then he ends the movie by telling us how rational and humble he is because of his "doubt".

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Does Tom Cruise want to send Suri to Scientology boot camp?

 Rumor has it that the real reason for Tom Cruise's dismissal by Paramount was an incident during negotiations. A Paramount executive, walking to his car, was mobbed by a group of Scientologists yelling at him "Give Tom what he wants! Give Tom what he wants! Why don't you give Tom what he wants!"

If you've ever watched a YouTube video of Scientologists confronting their critics, you'll know that this is completely plausible.

Cruise has been married three times, two times to Catholics. He demanded that each one convert to his "religion". Why didn't he convert to theirs? At least it's free. You don't have to pay to join the Catholic Church.

Katie Holmes was shocked at how dumb Cruise's other children are. They go to Scientology school and have no knowledge of history, literature, foriegn language, other (real) religions, current events or the world in general. Cruise himself is a well-known dullard and doesn't notice. But Katie didn't want her own child growing up that way. 

Suri has no friends. They own houses all over and they don't stay in one place. Holmes just wants her to live a normal life and is afraid that Cruise wants to send her to a "Scientology boot camp".

She filed for divorce in New York where she's more likely to get sole custody. They own a home there, so there's no problem with legal residency.

One advantage of Catholicism is that Catholic priests are tight-lipped. You can tell those guys anything. If it's a matter of confession, wild horses couldn't drag it out of them. Scientology on the other hand gathers blackmail material on all its members. It's part of the "religion". You go through their "counseling" sessions, answer intensely personal questions and all the answers recorded and kept on file. Others who left the "church" had this information used against them. Holmes can bet that they'll use this material against her in a divorce and you can bet that Cruise will have no objection.

And now TMZ is reporting that there's an SUV with several men, some with heaters bulging in their jackets, parked outside Holmes' apartment building, questioning building residents and following Holmes around. New York City police have told the Daily News that Katie is worried that Scientologists will try to kidnap her daughter.

Cruise is already the "celebrity people would least want as a best friend." He'll now be the "celebrity women (or men for that matter) would least want as a husband."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith, dead at 86

I was looking at Andy Griffith's filmography on There were things I had forgotten about, like the TV series Salvage One and the movie Hearts of the West in which he plays a stuntman performing in early Hollywood westerns. And there were things I never heard of, like The New Andy Griffith Show and a TV series called The Headmaster.

And there was the evil Andy Griffith in the movie A Face in the Crowd. And there was the evil Andy Griffith in a movie called Savages, his first role as a lawyer---an evil one who hires Sam Bottoms as a hunting guide. He ends up hunting poor Sam.

That was 1974. Things were different in those days. Sam Bottoms spends most of the movie in his underwear being hunted in the desert by Andy Griffith. I remember the scene where Griffith cheerfully drinks a nice big glass of water while Sam---without food, water or clothes in the desert heat---watches.

There was the semi-evil Andy Griffith as a folksy con artist on an episode of Hawaii Five-O.  And episode called "Don't Shoot - I'm a Family Crook".

I didn't realize he was in the mini-series Washington Behind Closed Doors or Centennial.

It was reported that Andy Griffith died today at age 86. He had a more varied career than I realized.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Low budget stuff

I wrote just a couple of entries ago about Ray Dennis Steckler, how he would film without a script. That way, instead of having to look for actors, props and locations to fit the script, he would start his production by looking around at what he had available to work with.

It makes sense to me. It seems like a good idea. Recruiting actors and finding props and locations seem rather elemental, steps in the process you should be able to cope with. But if you can eliminate them, why not?

I've read lists of things you shouldn't put into a movie script if you're making a low budget movies. Things like stunts, guns, uniforms, special vehicles of any kind, crowd scenes, children, animals, anything an actor may not want to do, like nude or sex scenes.

Another thing I read said to make all the dialog between two people at a time, but I didn't get the reasoning there.

One book advised that you write the script so you can have each supporting actor do all his or her scenes in one day. I was reading about a low budget comedy made somewhere called Tetherball. They paid Andy Dick and Dustin Diamond to come in for one day each.

Film in the cheapest possible format. If it's a made-for-video movie, film in 16mm, not 35mm (if you insist on using film instead of digital video.)

If you have a location that looks right but may not be usable due to background noise, use it anyway and dub in the dialog, although I know people for whom that theory didn't work.

I would try to figure out locations that didn't require permission.

I watched part of a family film once. The opening scene was a kid in school being paddled by his teacher. For some reason, the poor kid was being punished outside. I realized they had probably filmed it without permission. They got to use a real school but they filmed outside while the place was closed. They didn't have to pay or even ask to film inside.

Chroma key is cheap and easy. It might be something to get some use out of it. Look at old episodes of Dragnet and see how they make use of rear screen projection. They would film establishing shots on location, then all the dialog scenes were done in a studio, often with a rear screen projection. This can be done so easily now.


Hollywoodland----I watched the movie last night while cooking a pizza. It was pretty good. A private detective investigates the death of George Reeves, TV's Superman, an apparent suicide.

The detective, Adrien Brody, is ambitious but a bit below average, perhaps like Reeves himself. It seems like he would refrain from chewing gum while speaking to witnesses and adopt a more conventional hair style. I would have tried to look neater while talking to Reeves' elderly mother. She believes her son was murdered and hires Brody to investigate.

Flashbacks show Ben Affleck as George Reeves and his relationship with the wife of one of the heads of MGM. She bought the real George Reeves the sports car that Clark Kent drove on the TV show.

It ends---shall I tell you the end? If you don't want to read it, stop reading now.


It ends pretty much the way I expected. It's a standard structure in a lot of mysteries. The detective goes off on a tangent, pursuing one theory, working through the details of the characters' soap opera-like lives. Then, in the end, he discards all that and coming to a very simple solution to the initial mystery. David Mamet's movie Homicide is an example of this. I could name a few others that do this, but I don't want to give them away.

In this case, we know that George Reeves was unable to find work. He had been hopelessly typecast as Superman. (He appeared in a small role in From Here to Eternity. According to Wikipedia, it is an urban legend that his role was cut when test audiences recognized him as Superman---all of Reeves' scenes which appeared in the script were left in the film.)

Reeves had one last offer. He could work as a professional wrestler. But the promoters need assurances that the aging Reeves is up to it physically. So Reeves goes out into the yard in a Judo uniform. We see a film he shot to show the wrestling promoters. It shows him alone in the yard showing what he can do. Judo rolls and so forth. And it's clear that, no, he's not up to it and he knows it, too. His back hurts. He's a very healthy 44-year-old, but he's still a 44-year-old.

We're supposed to conclude that this was why he killed himself.

The movie focused on corruption in Hollywood, the power of the studios, what a scumbag E.J. Mannix was at MGM. He was basically a mobster. TV seemed like a pretty wholesome business by comparison. Why would anyone want to be a movie star?

I watched Superman in syndication when I was a kid. The episode with the Mole Men was the only one I specifically remember watching when I was four or five.

I watched it on videotape years later. Superman doesn't do that much. Mostly walks around talking to people.

In one scene, he faces a gun-toting mob. He blocks them from entering a courthouse where one of the mole men is. He won't let them in. The crowd has no respect for Superman---they're not in awe or the least bit impressed. In fact, one of them takes a pot shot at him. The bullet bounces off him, but it almost hit Lois Lane. So Superman decides to take away their guns. He wades into the crowd and starts disarming them.

I don't know if the NRA got their panties in a bunch over that. It was around that time that the NRA launched a letter-writing campaign against Dragnet. There was an episode where a child, an 8-year-old, was accidentally killed with a rifle he had just gotten for Christmas. Jack Webb passed the letters from the gun nuts on to the Los Angeles Chief of Police who publicly stated that he hoped they did more shows exposing the idiocy of giving guns to children.