Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones, the cute one, dead at 66


I was riding a subway in Boston many years ago listening to two men argue about who was better, the Monkees or the Beatles.

It's a matter of taste, all subjective. Maybe the Monkees were better. They were probably better actors. Mickey Dolenz met the Beatles and they were nice fellows. They marveled at the TV show and how they managed to do it week after week.

Today I heard the news that Davy Jones has died of a heart attack at age 66.

He came to America in the '60s playing the Artful Dodger in the stage production of Oliver! which got him a Tony nomination. According to imdb.com, he appeared with the cast of Oliver! on the Ed Sullivan show the same night as the Beatles.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Oscars

I've only seen one movie and that was The Help. There was no one I actually wanted to lose, except maybe Steven Spielberg, and I was pretty happy about The Artist winning.

Woody Allen won for best original screenplay, but he should have been there to accept. He shouldn't keep snubbing these things.

I didn't see the pre-Oscar stuff. I missed Sacha Baron Cohen's crap. Aren't people tired of him yet?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Help


I sort of watched The Help last night. It was on. I sat and read and I cooked some stuff while it was on. I didn't really care for it, but that may not mean anything.

It bothered me more than I thought it would that the main character is a white, bourgeois recent journalism school grad. She returns to her home in Mississippi in 1963. She's enlightened. She's appalled at how the other bourgeoisie treat the black women who work for them as maids. She's also intent on a career in journalism and she figures out a way to achieve her goal. She starts interviewing maids about their lives.

With movies, there has to be some obvious growth and change in the main character over the course of the film. That's why, when Spielberg made his Holocaust movie, he made a Nazi industrialist the main character. When Hollywood did its movie about anti-Semitism, (Gentleman's Agreement, 1947) they showed it through the eyes of a Christian (or at least a non-Jewish) reporter who pretends to be Jewish to get his story.

So it might have made some sense to have white protagonist. But with The Help, you have a white liberal protagonist who's already anti-racist. The growth and change her character goes through is a coming of age thing not related to the lives of the black women she's documenting.

I didn't care for the scatological thing the movie had going. There was constant talk about toilets and after a certain point, there's a lot of talk about one of the maids feeding her erstwhile employer a pie containing fecal matter. This was a major plot point in the movie. But how did the maid know that this wouldn't be detectable? How did she know that such a pie would be edible? Did she sample it herself?

The Association of Black Women Historians put out a statement on the movie:

...The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

...

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion—a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

...In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Click here to read the entire statement.

On the other hand, I might note here that I listened to a discussion on public radio of the book and movie. A number of black women whose mothers and grandmothers worked as domestics called in and were very happy with the movie.

A movie I liked better with a vaguely similar theme was Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes' 2002 feature, made in the style of a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama, about an upper-middle-class housewife who develops a relationship with her black gardener after discovering that her husband is gay.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Weather Underground

I watched the 2002 documentary The Weather Underground. They were a "terrorist" group in the early '70s, during the Vietnam War, a small group of youth, mostly university students, an offshoot of the SDS. I don't know if they made things better or worse, or both better and worse, or neither better or worse. But they were careful not to kill anyone---at least they were careful after that one unfortunate incident.

Some members of the group were killed when a bomb they were preparing exploded. They intended to set it off at a dance for Army NCOs somewhere. I don't know what course things would have taken if they had succeeded, if the bomb hadn't gone off prematurely, but it made them re-think what they were doing, and they decided to be very careful not to harm anyone after that. They would phone in warnings and ask that police evacuate buildings.

Police and FBI at the time were carrying out a massive program of repression and assassination against the Black Panther Party, against Martin Luther King and any other black or anti-war organization. It's surprising there weren't more groups like this.

Once the war ended, the group started to fall apart and they started turning themselves in to police. Interestingly, very few were prosecuted since the police and FBI would have to have admitted to all the laws they violated in their pursuit of them. That wouldn't be a problem for the government today---the bill of rights is no more. They can cry terrorism and do what they like.

It make me think of the European mini-series Carlos, except Carlos was perfectly willing to kill people. But they could both be accused of petit bourgeois vainglory, doing this stuff in place of serious political organizing. The Black Panthers themselves didn't think much of them. They accused them at one point of "Custerism"---of leading their people into a massacre---after they organized a little riot.

Public opinion was firmly against the Vietnam War well before the Weathermen came along, but public opinion made no difference. The war went on and on. Former Weathermen have argued that what they did didn't work, but nothing else worked, either. Hard to believe that setting off a few bombs would do the trick.

Meek's Cutoff and Seven Alone once again

From Meek's Cutoff.

How the hell did I even get on the subject of Seven Alone and why am I still writing about it?

Anyway, I watched Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff last night. A beautiful film. Starting with a long sequence without dialog of the settlers crossing a river. Three covered wagons have left the main trail led by buckskin-clad frontiersman Stephen Meek. They're taking an alternative route so as to avoid hostile Indians, but the settlers have their doubts as to whether Meek knows where he's going.

The real events it was based on were much worse. Meek had led a wagon train off the Oregon Trail. He took them on a course that was so tough that many of them died, many of the animals died, and when they reached the Oregon high desert, territory which Meek claimed to know like the back of his hand, the look on his face "changed to one of complete bewilderment, as if he were seeing the country for the first time," to quote a contemporary source. He had no idea what he was doing. Meek fled the wagon train. He learned that a man whose two sons had died was going to kill him.

Seven Alone again

To contrast Meek's Cutoff with Seven Alone on one point, there's a kid in Meek's Crossing, a very nice boy who wanders away from the camp playing and exploring. His mother tells him, "If you do it again you're father will have to know!" Their parenting style was somewhat more laid back and more plausible. They acted like human beings.

As I said in earlier entries, Seven Alone was a G-rated "family film", produced in Utah in the 1970s. It was based very loosely on the true story of the seven Sager orphans. Their parents died on the Oregon trail. In the movie (but not in real life) the orphans travel on alone across snow-covered mountains and travel down a river on a raft they built and finally reach Oregon.

The father in Seven Alone had his panties constantly in a bunch. He was constantly berating, beating and at one point kicking his eldest son, his eyes bulging, in a constant state of rage. And this was presented as if he were being a good father. And some people actually consider this normal. One user commented on Netflix:
"If it had been fiction, I would have hated it due to the eldest brother's rebellion, laziness, and disrespect. I did appreciate how the father tried to discipline him, but apparently, it was not consistant or enough. By the end, he did seem to grow up, but I had to keep pointing out to my children that his behavior was NOT acceptable."
I watched the two movies together. Meek's Cutoff and Seven Alone, a bizarre double feature, films offering points of contrast and comparison. Both low budget, about historically-related events. One a work of art, the other, just awful.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace


"You are never, ever, going to see anything to equal it … as spectacular as a movie can possibly be." --Roger Ebert

I watched the five part Soviet production of War and Peace. I don't know how many hours it was. The budget was around $100 million in 1966 which translates to about $800 million today, and you can see every ruble on the screen. A huge battle scene with almost as many soldiers as the real thing, filmed on the actual battlefield.

Someone on wikipedia disputed the claim that it cost so much and cited a much lower figure. If that's true, it's even more amazing.

During the opening credits, the camera looks down on the Russian landscape from a plane passing through the clouds. Such a strange choice in a movie set in the very early 1800s.

Director Sergei Bodarchuk also plays Pierre. He had a couple of heart attacks during production, and I can see why. This was a big, big movie.

Russians are smarter than Americans. They read more books. I have a friend in Russia who I know over the internet. She re-reads War and Peace now and then and she asked me to send her a copy to read in English. It's a book very few Americans would try to tackle.

In the bonus material for the DVD, they mentioned that, as they set out to make the movie, the filmmakers received letters from people around the U.S.S.R. telling them not to screw it up. When it was over, they got letters telling them they were happy with it.

Anyway, a stunning movie. You'll never see anything like it.

And, another thing---be sure to get the widescreen RUSCICO copy.

Oscar winning. 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


One thing I noticed in the bonus material---Sergei Bondarchuk does what other directors do. He talks about his childhood, telling things that seem to foreshadow his becoming a director.

In Russia, film strip projectors were a common toy. All the kids had them. Different children's books were available on film strip.

Bondarchuk said that when he was growing in the Ukraine, owning any sort of projector was out of the question. So he improvised. He used a jar of water to act as a lens and used it to project his own film strips he made somehow.

There were some technical innovations in the movie, too. It was filmed in 70mm. Can you imagine a hand-held 70mm movie camera? Watch the bonus material and you can see them in use.

I did it. I watched Seven Alone


If you watch the Seven Alone/Meek's Cutoff double feature I suggested, watch Meek's Cutoff first and be prepared to fast forward through Seven Alone.

Meek's Cutoff is the critically acclaimed 2010 movie about an incident on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. Seven Alone was a rather bad "family film" from the 1970s also dealing with the Oregon Trail. I had suggested in an earlier post that they be viewed as a double feature.

I watched Seven Alone. I probably should have watched it on TV on Roku rather than sitting at the computer. I might have hated it less.

As I said before, I saw it with my school when I was in the 6th grade. The kids didn't mind, but now I understand the sacrifice the teachers made sitting through that thing.

Some of it I remembered pretty well. Other stuff I didn't remember at all.

I didn't remember the adults addressing the kid, John, by his full name, John Sager, all the time.

I did remember John repeatedly threatening to knock people's heads off. "I'll knock your head off!" he kept saying. Not much of a catchphrase. A better catchphrase might have been, "I'll get right on it," or "I didn't want to move to Oregon."

I didn't remember the father being such a jerk. I know this is considered normal in certain communities. The belt-whipping scene was a bit worse than I remembered---it was off-camera, but I didn't remember the kid being so vocal. It may be that it just bothers me more now than it did when I was a kid. Later, the father kicks the son and knocks him into a stream. It was so much nicer after he died. Good riddance to him.

Kit Carson was played by a stuntman. This was his only dramatic role.

Four-walling

The movie was distributed by Doty-Dayton of Utah. They specialized in four-wall distribution. This is where they rent the entire theater, show the movie and keep all the box office revenue for themselves. Normally, money from ticket sales is split between the theater and distributor.

In the 'seventies, this form of distribution was used for a lot of G-rated movies and for crap documentaries like Chariots of the Gods and In Search of Noah's Ark.

The movies would only play for one or two weekends then move on before word-of-mouth took its toll. But for it to work, they had to saturate the after-school viewing hours with ads.

I was slightly acquainted with a producer who worked on the four-walled epic, Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot. As she explained it, they made the movie cheaply and put their money into advertising. Sadly, it didn't work in that case---they went broke and took several ad agencies down with them. They wrecked people's lives, sacrificed them on the altar of cinema.

Joe Camp said he produced the movie Benji as an antidote to the cheap, crappy G-rated movies four-walling had wrought.

Another such movie I attended

I told this story before, but here it is again.

When I was 11 or 12, they started saturating the after school airwaves with ads for something called Bigfoot Man or Beast.[sic] I don't know if I had ever heard of Bigfoot before. So I went with my brother and his friends to see this thing.

Kids were lined up around the block to see it. We were standing there. There were two grown men with beards standing near us talking loudly and very, very enthusiastically about the movie. The kids I knew were excited about the movie, but we weren't that bad.

Then an usher came out of the theater. He wasn't one of their regular employees. He announced that the movie was sold out.

"NOOOOO!" the men yelled. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

One of them held up some bills.

"I'LL PAY YOU TWENTY DOLLARS TO SEE THIS MOVIE!"

The guy explained that there were no more seats.

"WE'LL STAND! WE'LL STAAAAAAAAND!"

The kids in the crowd started yelling this, too.

No, no, the usher said. But he suggested that people could buy tickets for the next show.

"TICKETS? WE CAN BUY TICKETS? WHERE CAN WE BUY THESE TICKETS?" one of the men said.

At the box office, the usher said. He seemed bemused.

So these two scumbags went off to buy their tickets. They were plants, there to make sure the kids bought tickets to the late show. It would be past their bedtimes, so they probably wouldn't have gone to the thing otherwise.

My brother bought our tickets.

It turned out that the Bigfoot movie itself was only about 24 minutes long. It was apparently intended as a TV episode, but it was so bad it didn't go anywhere.

To stretch it out, they showed it with a nature documentary. They barely mentioned it in the ads. It was a horrible, ugly, grainy documentary about some moron who lived alone in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. We see him hunting. We see him walking through the woods with blood-soaked bags on his back. It was the most vile nature film I've ever seen.

People cheered when it was over and the Bigfoot movie started rolling.

The first shot was a treetop. We see an eagle. It comes and lands on the tree. The audience became quiet. Was this another stinking nature documentary?

No, it turned out that the only decent shot these clowns ever got on film was the shot of the bird landing on the tree. So they used that as their logo, even though it was too long.

The movie started. It was over quickly enough. We went home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Double Feature idea: Meek's Cutoff and Seven Alone


I haven't seen Seven Alone since grade school, and I haven't seen Meek's Cutoff yet. But it might make an interesting double feature, sharply contrasting films dealing with historically connected events, one a serious independent film, the other a vaguely right-wing family film.

As I mentioned in the post before last, the real life Meek who was a character in Meek's Cutoff had a niece who was staying at the Whitman Mission with the seven Sager children from Seven Alone when the two Sager boys were killed in the Whitman Massacre. The girls were carried away by Cayuse Indians (who settlers were trying to avoid in Meek's Cutoff) and were later ransomed. Meek's niece, Helen, died in captivity.

Both movies are now available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Maybe I should watch them before suggesting them as a double feature.

But I'm on Part Three of the Soviet production of War and Peace. I have two more parts to go before I'm free. An incredible movie. It cost $100 million to produce in the 1960s, equal to at least $800 million today. And production costs tended to be lower in the U.S.S.R., so it might have cost well over a billion dollars if it had been made in Hollywood. It makes a monkey out of Avatar.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hugh Hefner's son arrested

Hugh Hefner's son, Marston, was arrested in Los Angeles for assaulting his playmate girlfriend.

And here's the shocking thing: His son is 21-years-old!

I figured he'd be about sixty.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Seven Alone---the movie vs. the grim reality

The movie Sager family...

...and the real Sager family.

Well, okay, about the movie Seven Alone, the G-rated movie my school went to see in the mid '70s:

It was based loosely on a true story. I quickly looked at Netflix and imdb.com for information. One of the descendants of the kids the story was about had posted comments about it.

I didn't remember the movie that well. But in the film, the seven Sager kids are orphaned, then apparently make their way on to Oregon by themselves. They had a chance to stay the winter at a fort along the way, but instead they trudge, Donner Party-like, through the snow covered mountains and go down a river on a crude raft they put together. I remember none of this---I was just looking at stills from the movie.

But Wikipedia had what I assume was a more accurate account of what actually happened.

In real life, the father didn't kill any Indians and he didn't die of blood poisoning after being injured by Indians. He died of "camp fever" (typhus) in Wyoming. The mother had been weakened by childbirth and died along the way in Idaho. The children were sent to live in the Whitman mission near what is now Walla Walla, Washington. They lived with the Whitmans, a doctor and his wife. They were Protestant missionaries. This was in the 1840s.

One of the Sager girls died of Measles in an epidemic that wiped out half of the Cayuse Indians---for them, it was worse than the Black Death had been in Europe. Nearly all the Cayuse children died. The Cayuse were unhappy with the influx of white settlers, they blamed Dr Whitman for the deaths from Measles, and, reportedly, the competing Catholic missionaries as well as a local trouble-maker named Lewis who hoped to loot the Whitman's mission spread the rumor among the Indians that the doctor had, in fact, been spreading the disease and poisoning the Indians.

The Cayuse Indians massacred the Whitman mission. The two Sager boys, who by then would have been about 15 and 16, were killed. Mrs Whitman was shot in chest by Lewis then lured outside and shot some more. Dr Whitman was killed rather horribly.

The Sager girls were taken away by the Indians and eventually ransomed. They were then split up and sent to live different families. They all married young and had way too many children. Here's a picture of the three surviving Sager girls fifty years later in 1897.
Much of this was detailed in Ken Burns' documentary, The West.


There are limits to what you can do in a modestly budgeted movie, but they could have pulled it off.

Look at the movie Meek's Cutoff, set around the same time in the 1940s. Meek himself had a niece who survived the Whitman Massacre but died in capitivity a short time later. In the movie, wagon train takes a different route called "Meek's Cutoff" to avoid the Cayuse Indians.

Of course, the true story of the Sager kids wouldn't have been much of a G-rated family film. So the makers of Seven Alone added the casual killing of Indians, made the murdering racist Kit Carson a character, had the kids, including a baby, trudge off alone across the snow covered Rocky Mountains which they would never have survived; they showed the father killing a man, and had Pat Boone sing the theme song. That was their idea of wholesome family fare.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The time my school took us to a movie


After news that the Dallas school district squandered over $50 thousand of Title I funds intended for low income students by taking all the boys to the movie Red Tails, leaving the girls behind at school, I thought back to the one time my old school went to a movie.

This was in the '70s. They took us to a movie sight unseen, apparently, mainly because it was rated G and vaguely related to Oregon history. There weren't that many G-rated movies in those days.

The movie was Seven Alone. The Sager family, including seven children, head west on the Oregon Trail in the 1800s. The father dies of blood poisoning after a fight with Indians. I don't remember how the mother meets her end. But the children press on and reach Oregon.

It was one of those independent productions from the '70s, not great, but okay. Directed by Earl Bellamy who also directed Against a Crooked Sky. He directed a vast number of TV episodes.

For some reason, the teachers didn't anticipate the movie being anti-Indian. So, a couple of days later, they taught about some of the less ghastly crimes committed against Indians.

I do remember sitting in the theater and being surprised and rather appalled that shooting and killing Indians didn't disqualify the film from receiving a G rating.

After the fight in which the father gets his eventually fatal injury, several of the pioneers stand around the body of the Indian he just killed and exchange pleasantries. "You're Kit Carson? Let me shake your hand!" The father is untroubled and unshaken at having just killed a man in combat.

I was in an alternative school. The teachers didn't feel they should order kids around or even supervise them. So at the theater, some friends and I wandered off then came back and found we had been left behind. It wasn't a problem. The whole school had walked to the theater anyway, so we just walked back by ourselves instead of in a group. But I had always wondered about the kids who got left behind on field trips. What was wrong with them? Now I was one myself.

We got back to school.

"We got left behind," I told the teacher.

He didn't care.

Macaulay Culkin looks terrible


When Macaulay Culkin was a teenager, he had a loud party and neighbors called the cops. Contemporary press accounts said that he still couldn't be left HOME ALONE.

When he got married at age 17, they said he wouldn't be HOME ALONE anymore.

He got divorced a couple of years later, and I was pleasantly surprised that the press had the good taste not to say that he would be HOME ALONE again.

But, now, the boy is 31 years old and there are pictures of him looking really awful, extremely thin. He doesn't look good at all.

And now they're making Home Alone jokes again. One site says he's been "home alone too long".

His publicist says he's fine, in perfect health. I hope to heck it's true.

Dallas school district squanders over $50 grand sending boys to George Lucas movie


And now the Dallas School District has bussed 5,700 boys to see George Lucas's movie, Red Tails, at a cost to the taxpayers of over $50 thousand. This came from Title I funds earmarked for low income students. This was for Black History Month. The school saved money by sending only boys. Girls got to stay behind and---well, I guess there wasn't much for them to do at school that day. With half the students gone, they couldn't do much in class. Sort of like what boys used to go through on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I don't know why boys needed to see the movie and not girls.

It may be just as well. As I understand it, the movie was aimed at tweenage boys. I don't think Lucas is capable of producing a movie a for adults. The cast is nearly all-male, and they don't even mention having ever had girlfriends, wives or female relatives.

Instead we have one of the airmen going after an Italian woman. He sees her from his airplane a thousand feet up flying at 400 miles per hour and he keeps gushing that she's "the most beautiful woman" he's ever seen and she's going to have his babies.

Now Lucas needs to take some of the millions and millions of dollars he's made from the children of America off movies and aggressive merchandising and reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of sending those kids to his movie.

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!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

That woman who interupted the Oscar speech


Yes, I know---this happened in 2010 and I'm just talking about it now

I try not to watch the Oscars. I don't care who wins, I feel sorry for all the ones who lose, and it makes me nervous watching a live broadcast where there's such a tremendous potential for public humiliation.

So I missed the thing in 2010. Roger Ross Williams won an Oscar for best documentary short. He happily trotted down to the podium. He began to give a pleasant, cheerful acceptance speech when a loud, abrasive woman shoved him aside.

"LET THE WOMAN TALK. LET THE WOMAN TALK. ISN'T THAT THE CLASSIC THING," she said. Then she delivered a speech that wasn't nearly as inspiring as she thought it was, gesturing with one hand as she spoke, stretching it out with pauses:

"YOU KNOW, IN A WORLD IN WHICH MOST OF US ARE TOLD-----AND TELL OURSELVES-----THAT WE CAN'T------WE HONOR THE BAND BEHIND THIS FILM----TEACHES US THAT WE'RE WRONG----AGAINST ALL ODDS----THEY DID----SO WE CAN.---- SO THE BOTTOM LINE IS-----TO ME-----MY ROLE MODELS AND MY HEROES----" she names some band members, "-----THE WHOLE REST OF THE BAND AND ESPECIALLY PRUDENCE----"

"Who is here---who is back here tonight," Williams said.

They cut to a shot of Prudence, the singer in the band in the documentary, the people applaud, then the music starts and the people on stage who are supposed to help manage things step forward to politely hustle the two off stage.

You can watch it all here.

William's speech was much better, more inspiring, how he never thought when he started the film that he would end up getting an Oscar. He said the same thing she did, about doing something he didn't think he could, but he said it quickly and got to the point.

The woman was Elinor Burkett. She had been a co-producer on the film, but she had walked away from the project a year earlier, sued Williams over a creative difference. She got screen credit as producer as part of the out-of-court settlement, but she had nothing more to do with it.

Only one person was supposed to speak at the Oscars (at least in this catagory). The Academy picked Williams and it was a pretty obvious choice. I think Burkett later admitted that she knew this. She could have sat back and collected her Oscar. She would have been an Oscar-winning producer. Now, after this, she's an Oscar-winning producer who no one in their right mind would ever have anything to do with.

Burkett appeared on a couple of talk shows justifying her actions. I'm sure she still thinks she had behaved in a perfectly rational, dignified manner. She said she had to rush down there because she just knew that Williams would "only talk about himself" and she thought he should only talk about the band. Which is stupid.

But notice what happened. Williams came in at the end and introduced Prudence, the disabled singer from the film who had come there from Zimbabwe for the ceremony. He allowed Burkett to steal the moment from him, but he wouldn't allow her to steal it from Prudence, the singer who Burkett pretended to be so concerned about.

Anyway, I started wondering what ever happened to these two. I googled them. Williams made a documentary for the series Independent Lens and is in post production for another documentary about Uganda.

I can't find anything for Burkett. She had only one other film credit anyway, and that was from several years ago, so that may not mean anything. She had been a writer before this and I can't see that she's written anything since then, either.

She appeared on talk shows after the Oscar incident, justifying her action in her loud, rasping voice. She said she missed most of the Oscar ceremony because she was outside smoking cigarettes.

Maybe she was right after all

Maybe she was right to go up to the podium. She was a co-winner and should have been down there at the podium, too. You can see in the background of the video the Oscar presenter is moving out of the picture holding Burkett's Oscar as Williams starts speaking.

He should have waited for her.

Williams interpreted the rule that one one person could speak to mean that only one person would go down to accept the Oscar, but that wasn't right. But then she shoved her fellow producer aside. When she said "LET THE WOMAN TALK," she meant that only she should be allowed talk.

In fact, I read the comments of people who had seen appearances and interviews that Williams and Burkett gave together before she pulled out of the project. The same thing happened. She was a loud and abrasive and would take over every discussion whether she had anything worth saying or not. She would steamroll him.

I remembered the incident at the Oscars. I wasn't that curious about it at the time. I just started wondering now what happened to those people, what they've done since and I started reading about the incident for the first time. Articles and comments about it, other than a couple of interviews with her, are almost all anti-Burkett. The one article I saw which supported her completely turned out to be sarcastic.

Be careful who you form partnerships with. Make a movie with someone and you'll be bound to them for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A couple of DVDs and their commentaries


Two independent features, Acne and Swoon

Several years ago, I saw a movie called Acne. A spoof of a 1950s horror movie. It might have been better if the auteur hadn't set out to make a horror movie with no violence. Horror movies necessarily have to contain horror.

I listened to the commentary on the DVD. It was the director and a couple of the actors.

What they said in the commentary should be a warning to anyone who wants to direct.

At one point, the director said that when the time came to direct this, his first movie, he suddenly realized that he had no idea how to direct a movie.

"The key is organization," one of the actors said sardonically.

The movie cost $38 thousand if I remember correctly. It took four years to film. Apparently this was because the director kept filming and filming and filming on every scene in the movie. He didn't know when to stop. They were on location filming a scene. They kept filming re-takes and coverage and then more retakes. The special effects guys who did the latex make-up finally lied to him and told him they were out of latex just so they could go home.

No one was paid. One person died during the years it took to film it.

One scene was filmed in a convenience store. The place closed at 10 p.m. and the film crew moved in to start filming. It was a simple scene, a minute or two long. Some youth go into the store and get food that contributes to their acne.

For some reason, this scene took all night to film. They started at ten p.m. and didn't leave until after the sun came up. The store owner, who had been up all night, went to the director to be paid. The director handed him twenty dollars.

"Is that all this was worth?"

The director gave him the rest of his money, about a hundred dollars. He laughed in the commentary that they had probably eaten more than that much merchandise during the filming.

And the worse thing. They had a scene. A "funny" scene. There's 12-year-old kid. The director used to babysit him. In the scene, two teenagers are standing over him and each vomits on him. And they shot re-take after re-take.

In another scene, the camera was rolling.

"Start talking!" the director yelled.

"What am I supposed to say?"

"I don't know. Just start talking!"

That footage was left out of the film.

They also noted that one of the actors had paid for the surplus military uniforms in the movie but had never been paid for them.

I wonder what the movie would have cost if the director had used his time more wisely.

I had also watched the movie Swoon, about the Leopold and Loeb case. The film was part of the new gay cinema, made in 1992. The two scrawny teenage thrill killers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, were played by a couple of thirtyish actors, one stereotypically gay, the other a healthy, strapping stereotypical hetrosexual.

According to the commentary, the director, on at least one night of filming, had the opposite problem the Acne director had.

They were filming a scene. I think it took place right after the murder. The director got tired and wanted to go.

"You didn't get what you needed, did you?" the cinematographer said.

"No."

"Well go back and get it!"

He went back and filmed until he got the footage he needed.

They talked about the child actor who played murder victim Bobby Frank, the fourteen-year-old whom Leopold and Loeb lured into their car and killed. He would be 102-years-old if they hadn't gotten to him.

The director was trying to be very sensitive not wanting to traumatize the poor boy. He's was hit over the head, dragged over the front seat of a car into the back seat and beaten and choked to death. The director wanted to be very gentle with him. But the kid didn't care. He was having fun! He wanted more blood! The kid's mother stood around waiting. She didn't care either. This sort of stuff is traumatic for the adults, but kids love it.

Maybe the kid in Acne liked being puked on. If he did, they didn't say so in the commentary.

Carlos mini-series

I watched the French-German TV miniseries Carlos, about the terrorist, "Carlos the Jackal". It was great. Several hours long and you weren't bored for a minute.

I didn't realize there was so much sex and nudity on European television. It might have gotten an NC-17 rating in America. More full frontal male nudity than female.

Carlos walks around naked in his apartment. He admires himself in the mirror, and who can blame him. What was kind of amazing was that, later, Carlos lets himself go. We again see him walking around naked but he's put on weight. There's no way to fake that. It shows how dedicated the star, Edgar Ramirez, was. He put on 35 pounds to portray a somewhat older Carlos.

There was also a tremendous amount of smoking. I've never seen so much cigarette smoking in my life, even in the old TV shows that were sponsored by cigarette companies back when they claimed that smoking was actually good for you.

I guess it makes sense. It was set in the '70s. Today, you see smokers smoking a few cigarettes a day. Back then, it was two or three packs a day.

The violence in it----the violence seemed sort of like Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia in that it looked like all you needed was a gun and a willingness to shoot people. I guess they had some training, but, like the piano player turned action hero in Sam Peckinpah's old movie, it made it look like anyone could carry out an attack. In fact, Carlos recruits new people simply by asking them if they want to help.

This was in the 'seventies. The Israelis were carrying out murders and bombings throughout Europe. I've heard that western European governments tolerated this. The Israelis were supposedly retaliating for the Munich "Massacre" but all they did was murder Palestinian diplomats and activists. It's not surprising that others would adopt Israeli tactics.

As Carlos sets out on this course, his girlfriend accuses him of vainglory, of being a petit bourgeois playing "revolutionary" instead of doing serious political work.


When I was in high school, I was talking to an elderly Communist. This would have been around 1980. He had been a farmer. In 1917, he had a wagon load of lumber he picked up down at the train station when he saw a large group of American soldiers heading off to World War One. He climbed up on his wagon and spoke to them, telling them they had no business fighting John D. Rockefeller's war. For that he spent several years in Leavenworth. When he was released, he joined the new Communist Party. He went to the Soviet Union to work in the 1920s.

We talked about some current events and he handed me a pamphlet from the Communist Party called "Terrorism: Is it Revolutionary?" It seemed to be discussing groups like The Weathermen.

It said that these groups were largely inspired by The Battle of Algiers---by the movie, not the actual events. In the movie, a wave of terrorist attacks trigger the nationalist revolution in the city of Algiers, but the movie doesn't make it clear that this is part of a much bigger war of national liberation being waged by Algerians throughout the country. These groups in the U.S. thought their acts would spark a revolution. It would be led by black Americans just as Arabs led the Algerian revolution. They didn't take into account that Arabs were the vast majority in Algeria.

You saw what might have been an element of that in Carlos. When some of their people are arrested, Carlos launches a series of attacks "like Battle of Algiers" to put pressure on the French to negotiate their release.


A period film, several hours long, set in the '70s, in several languages, with a large cast and action scenes. Filmed in nine countries and three continents. And it was all done for a terribly modest $18 million.

Compare that to $15 million for Woody Allen's recent productions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The time I bought a roll of Super 8 film

From left to right, 35mm, 16mm, Regular or Double 8, and Super 8.

I went into a camera store some time in the '90s. I bought a roll of Super 8. I was in my 30s.

"Are you a student?" the clerk asked.

"HE MUST BE IF HE'S STILL WILLING TO USE SUPER 8! HA HA HA HA!" said the other clerk.

I wasn't a student, but they gave me a student discount.

I took it as an insult, but now I'm not sure if that's how he meant it. Perhaps he admired my refusal to use videotape.

Now even Super 8 costs a fortune. At least $18 a roll just for the processing. I'm not sure the film itself costs.

I wouldn't mind using Regular 8. I like the old spring-driven Regular 8 cameras. And you got an extra thirty seconds running time. Lenny Lipton dismissed Regular 8 as obsolete in his book Independent Filmmaking. He said he had used it before and lost track of what he was doing and run it through the camera more than once and got double exposures. I never had that problem.

Back then it would cost $10 a roll. You could buy a roll of film for $7.00 and get it processed for $3.00. You can't get Regular 8 at all now unless you special order it.

Romney's "not concerned about the very poor"

And now----and now we have Mitt Romney. He said in an interview on CNN that he wasn't "concerned about the very poor" because they have a safety net. He's only concerned about the middle class.

Don't middle class people have the same safety net the very poor have? If things go really bad for them, can't people from the middle class go to the same soup kitchens as the very poor? Aren't the same homeless shelters there for them?

Of course, Romney also says he wants to cut Medicaid and cut food stamps, and he wants poor people to pay income tax. I don't know what kind of religion he has.

Romney meant what he said. He didn't misspeak. He considers the poor and the middle class to be different human categories. His idea is a "safety net" for the poor is to stave off starvation (or at least death by starvation) while a "safety net" for the middle class is to keep them permanently middle class.

Theory in action

I had a friend who was living in New York City. A man dressed in a business suit carrying a briefcase rushed up to him.

"My wife's having a baby! I need five dollars for a taxi! Quick!"

"What? Oh my God! Do you want to come in and use my phone?" (This was before cell phones were everywhere.)

"No, no..." The man looked annoyed and walked away.

A few weeks later, the man rushed up to my friend again.

"My wife's having a baby! I need five dollars for a taxi! Quick!" he said.

"Wha--uh---didn't she have a baby a couple weeks ago?"

The man walked away annoyed.

It's a fairly common ploy, pretending to be middle class while panhandling.

Once I came out of the subway. A man was standing there in a suit. He had some change in his hand.

"I just need thirty more cents to get to work! Just thirty more cents!"

I was a bit naive. I stopped and took the change he had in his hand and gave him a subway token.

"Oh, uh. Thanks," he said, disappointed.

As I walked away, I realized that that wasn't what he wanted. I felt guilty.

It seems to be a common enough thing. A lot of people have more sympathy for the suffering of the petit bourgeoisie than for the poor. After the earthquake in San Francisco, people were only given emergency shelter if they could prove that they had a home before the earthquake. Public housing gave preference to people rendered homeless by the earthquake over people who were already waiting for help.

When a high tech company opened here, they got tax breaks from the local government on the condition that they hired displaced workers from the declining timber industry rather than people who had never had a good-paying job at all.

Why is downward social mobility considered more tragic that lifelong poverty?