Thursday, November 28, 2013

Is it wrong to hate celebrities?

J. Elvis Weinstein tweeted:
I remember a time when celebrities one didn't like inspired a chuckle or indifference instead of a deep, seething hatred.
Am I wrong to hate Tom Cruise? There are lots of celebrities I don't really like, but he's the only one I'm really disgusted by. A combination of not liking his screen persona, hating his acting style that the rubes think is brilliant, and not liking his actual personality which seems to be a Scientology thing.

I'm not sure if Weinstein does remember such a time, anyway. I remember old people who couldn't stand John Wayne because he didn't enlist in World War Two. There are the right-wingers who hate Jane Fonda, of course.

When my sister was in high school, she hated everyone. She was apparently offended that Stevie Wonder had once been billed as "Little Stevie Wonder" and was mad that someone got up to help him find his way to the stage during an awards show.

"He's blind," my brother pointed out.

"Well, he's been blind a long time. He ought to be able to find his way around by now."

She hated John Huston because he said in an interview that he was happy with his performance in Chinatown. She interpreted this to mean that he was exactly like the character he played.

There were the actors who were blacklisted, prosecuted or driven out of the country for political reasons.

Maybe that's the problem----that the studios used to keep actors in line, keeping them out of politics and not letting them do anything annoying.

Of course, Josh Weinstein has a point. Why hate celebrities? Paris Hilton isn't hurting anyone. The Kardashians only hurt themselves. Dustin Diamond is just pitiful.

On the other hand, if you're going to inspire public adoration, you've got to expect some seething hatred.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cheap used standard definition prosumer camcorders

I used to try to stay a step behind everyone else. I was using Regular 8 long after the world had moved on to Super 8. I did start using Super 8 after everyone else went into video and I had a couple of old spring driven 16mm cameras. I bought a couple of very nice used Super VHS camcorders after that format was obsolete, although it did have the same definition as standard definition digital video.

I was proud of myself when I bought a brand new three chip consumer camcorder, a little Panasonic Mini DV camera. I was stunned at how cheap it was. Then I found out why. It was standard definition and everyone had moved on to HD.

That's what made me snap out of it. I was wasting money.

Now high definition camcorders are dirt cheap. You can buy a Flip-type high def cameras for $25.00 if you look around.

But now I'm looking on the internet and am seeing obsolete standard defintion prosumer camcorders for sale. A few years ago, they would have cost $6,000. Now you can get one for less that a tenth of that.

And I know it's stupid, but I want one!

I would feel like a rich guy felt fifteen years ago, like I did driving my old Chrysler Imperial. They still look impressive.

Well, I'm not going to buy one, but I could.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kardashian and Kanye West and their baby North

Naming their baby "North" was a bad move for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

Now, every Christmas, you can bet that two or three people will cleverly give the child a copy of the movie North, the story of a young boy who divorces his horrible parents and sets out to find a new family.

Going to give the kid ideas.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Solondz' Life During Wartime

Long ago, I was watching old episodes of Dark Shadows and noticed that the whole thing was made up of conversations between two people at a time. Once in a while there would be a small group talking or a third person would step into the room momentarily. I assumed it was just easier to work this way, easier for the writers to crank out 120 pages of script a week and to make production simpler. It was essentially a live show, live on tape.

Sitting here now watching Todd Solondz' Life During Wartime. Interesting movie. Almost every scene is a conversation between two people. It works pretty well.

It took me a little while to figure out that it was a sequel to Happiness. It had an entirely different cast and the kid from the first movie was now in college. The father has just gotten out of prison----pretty short sentence considering.
The women in the family have no luck with men. One was married to a homosexual pedophile rapist, the other is with a reformed criminal who hasn't entirely stopped one particular offense. Their father recently left their elderly mother.

Characters whose lives would be pretty good if they'd just cheer up.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Temporary becoming permanent

I watched Alec Baldwin on MSNBC interview the two actors who played astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Learned among other things that the music for the movie was originally put on there temporarily so they've have something on there when they showed it to test audiences. They paid to have original music composed and recorded then liked the temporary stuff so well they decided to keep it.

According to a documentary about Harry Nilsson, this was how "Everybody's Talking" got to be the theme to Midnight Cowboy and it's old news that this was how they selected the music for Easy Rider.

Similarly, there was the shot in the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O'Toole holds up a lit match. We expect him to put it out with his fingers, but he blows it out and the picture cuts to a shot of the sunrise over the desert. The script called for this transition to be done in a long dissolve. Had it been edited on a computer, this is probably how it would have ended up, but because they edited on film and the dissolve would have to be added later with an optical printer, they saw how good it looked as a direct cut and stayed with it that way.

There there was the movie Snakes on a Plane. They didn't have a real title, so they put that crude description on the script until they could think of one. And they decided that was about as good as it was going to get. I haven't seen it, but I hear that the title may have been the best thing about it.

I don't really have a point here. I was just watching a documentary about Harry Nilsson and they mentioned the thing about "Everybody's Talking".

Nilsson was born in 1941. His father was in the Navy and he grew up thinking he had been killed in World War Two. Then he discovered in the '60s that he was alive and well and was married with a family in Florida.

It always comes as a shock. Both Jack Nicholson and Bobby Darin learned as adults that their much older sisters were their mothers and that their parents were actually their grandparents. Lars von Trier learned that his father was actually his step-father and that his biological father was a German guy. It was a good thing his mother didn't tell him----she wanted a child with the German guy because he was from a creative family. She wanted creative genes for her child. If Lars had known, he wouldn't have reacted against that and become an accountant or a gas station attendant----both occupations that are far more useful than movie directors.

It's probably a good idea to tell the kids the truth. Within reason. Don't mention botched attempts at contraception or alcohol playing a role in their conception like John Lennon did talking about Julian.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Skyfall: Revenge is stupid

Years ago, I saw some stupid Tom Clancy novel movie. The Irish Republican Army goes to the ends of the Earth to get revenge on Harrison Ford because he thwarted an attack they were carrying out. Seems like an attack not going exactly as planned would be something IRA members would have been emotionally prepared for. Surely they were aware that their operation might go badly. Seems silly to get a bunch more guys killed, not to mention the nuisance, expense, risk of prosecution and the distraction from their stated purpose.

And last night I watched Skyfall, a recent James Bond movie. I know I'm behind the times here. It's not a new release. But apparently a former British spy wants revenge on "M" who is now a horrible elderly British woman. Apparently the guy has assembled a massive organization with scores of henchmen willing to go to their deaths just to get her.

James Bond movies were always kind of disappointing. This one was better than the others I've seen. He didn't drive a Ford like in Casino Royale. But the only times I've liked him are when we see him working a crappy government job, having to deal with his surly superiors and then getting out of the office, getting to travel and be his own boss for a while.

In this, we see James Bond's childhood home which wasn't how I would have pictured it. He should have had a more normal childhood, maybe with alcoholic parents.

We find out that the British secret service likes to recruit orphans. In the U.S., I've heard that the Secret Service hires a lot of Mormons and a lot of Mormons work for the CIA. But that's unrelated to the movie.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Andy Warhol, J.J. Murphy

I guess I should mention here that I listened to filmmaker J.J.Murphy on public radio tonight. He wrote a book called The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol.

Murphy dismissed the thing I among others have said, about art film being mostly conceptual and that you can pretty much skip the movie. He actually sat through the full eight hours of Empire as well as Sleep which was over five and a half hours. Gushed over how great both of them were, but I'm still not buying it.

He said:
...It was shot in black and white. I believe it was shot in negative film and negative is very difficult film to deal with and he obviously brought it to a lab that didn't know how to handle the film very well and consequently there are a lot of blotches and marks on these very strange patterns that actually appear on the film stock. So between the depth of the image and the material of the film, there's this sort of tension but it really starts to appear like stars in the galaxy. It's a little bit like the Vija Celmins "Starry Night" painting series. That's the experience of the film for me. Each section is different and I describe it in some detail just because it was important to get at what happens, but it's not that nothing happens. There's actually quite a bit happens in the course of that film as different lights get turned off and things change that you have these marks on the film. You seem to be on this journey. So I think it's very interesting that he didn't film it during the course of the day which is, you know, I think most people would have thought he would do but that he figured out to do it that way. Warhol was into high concepts. Like the idea of five hours plus of a person sleeping and everybody thinks then, "Oh, I don't have to see the film." And the same thing with eight hours of the Empire State Building.
You can read the full transcript or listen to it here.

Also you can look at Murphy's website here. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tom Cruise's deposition

I read some excerpts from Tom Cruise's deposition in his $50 million lawsuit against a couple of tabloids that reported that he had "abandoned" his daughter, Suri, after Katie Holmes had the good sense to dump him. The lawyer for the tabloids question him about how little he saw his daughter after the break-up and yet had plenty of time to go to his idiotic "church", flying off to London at one point for a Scientology event but not doing the same to see his pitiful daughter.

Cruise was forced to admit that Suri is no longer in Scientology which, according to the cult, means that she is now a "suppressive person" and should be shunned by all "church" members. No exception is made for children who Scientologists believed are reincarnated and billions of years old.

In fact, Scientologists who were forced to shun their own families were angry that Cruise got to continue seeing his daughter.

Cruise floundered when asked to explain these aspects of Scientology. He reportedly considers himself the number three man in Scientology. Can he really not explain their beliefs or did he just not want to?

Cruise compared himself on location in a movie to a soldier going to Afghanistan and to an Olympic athlete. From the LA Times:
He said he might train "months, a year, and sometimes two years ... for a single film" and then compared himself to an Olympic sprinter who has to race 30 or 40 times a day instead of only once.
Yeah, being a fifty-year-old movie star is much harder than being an Olympic sprinter.

He was forced to admit that Holmes left him to protect her daughter from the cult:
Q: Okay. My question to you, and I apologize if you find it offensive. And again, I repeat, I’m sorry we’re here. I don’t want to be here. My client doesn’t want to be here. They don’t think that this warrants a litigation. But—

A: I believe it does.

Q: I know you do, that’s why we’re here.

A: Yes. Yes.

Q: But unfortunately, we are here and you have to answer the questions. And the question is whether you believe the published contentions that Katie Holmes left you in part to protect Suri from Scientology, whether those are false?

A: Do I believe that?

Q: Do I believe—do you believe that that is a false statement?

A: I believe it is a false statement.

Q: And Ms. Holmes has never indicated in any way that that was one of the reasons that she left you?

A: That is—that she left me because of?

Q: To protect Suri from Scientology.

A: Did she say that? That was one of the assertions, yes.

Q: So those publications were not false?

A: I mean I—those publications I don’t know—first of all, I don’t know everything that they said in that, and there are many different other aspects to the divorce.

Tom Cruise is a sputtering dullard.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is it possible to "tell a film"?

You might want to try to succeed where Jafar Panahi failed. In This is Not a Film, he tried to "tell a film" rather than make a film. Can it be done? Would anybody watch it? Anyone at all?

Panahi was doing this because the script he wrote didn't make it past the censors. In your case, do it because you have no money.

I think it's like what I heard on the radio, that I wrote about before. An opera fan had advice for non-opera fans hoping to attend the opera. Study it ahead of time. Learn who the characters are, what the plot is, what happens from scene to scene, because you're not going to figure any of that out by listening to the lyrics. Learn all about it in advance so you can relax and listen to the music.

That's what you'd have to do----don't act out the movie for the camera.

Look at Pasolini's Notes Towards an African Orestes, a documentary about a film that was never made. I had seen it years ago and remember him discussing different approaches to take to the story.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

This is not a Film

The protests over the 2009 elections in Iran were a CIA plot aimed at starting another "color revolution". Mousavi hadn't held office in ten years, he suddenly decided to run for president three months before the election, he barely campaigned and only in two cities, then he declared himself the winner before the polls had even closed and called on his supporters to take to the streets.The election results were perfectly in line with the credible polls taken before the election.

I'm not terribly sympathetic to Jafar Panahi, the subject of the documentary, This Is Not A Film. He was a CIA stooge, planning to make a movie supporting Mousavi.

The movie starts with him in his very nice apartment. He talks on the phone to his lawyer who was appealing his sentence----six years in prison and a 20 year ban from working in the movies. She thought she could knock both down quite a bit.

The movie looked beautiful. Seemed to be filmed in existing light on a prosumer camcorder with some lousy-looking additional footage shot on a cell phone.

Panahi wants to act out the script he wrote for an earlier movie that was rejected by censors. He puts some masking tape down on the floor to represent the set, sort of like the "sets" in Lars von Trier's Dogville. It's not working and Panahi gives up.

If you can tell a film, why make a film, he says.

He probably could have talked about it at length without actually acting out the movie for the camera. It seems like there are ways to do it. It's like writing a movie review without discussing the plot. It can be done.

Well, good luck to him.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mario Bava's Knives of the Avenger

How many remakes of Shane have there been? Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider, there was a terrible science fiction movie I can't remember the name of about a warrior who helps some futuristic farmers and teaches their young son to meditate by standing on his head. And I would count Sling Blade.There was a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Nowhere to Run.

And here's another one: Mario Bava's Viking movie, Knives of the Avenger, available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Cameron Mitchell as a Viking who fights mainly by throwing knives befriends a widow and her young son. There's a scene where a dog in a bar, sensing that there's going to be trouble, gets up and slowly walked across the room to a safe place like the dog in Shane.

Shane wasn't very violent compared with this. Even the kid is violently attacked a couple of times.

Sling Blade was the only one that understood that Shane was a killer and that Joey really shouldn't have been hanging around with him.

One writer put Shane in a category with two other de Wilde movies, Hud and All Fall Down, where he plays a boy who idolizes a man he shouldn't. 

If you ever want to remake a samurai movie, it might make more sense to do it as either an Ingmar Bergman-like medieval Swedish movie or an American hillbilly movie. People keep remaking samurai movies as Westerns and it never comes out quite right.

According to, it was filmed in six days, perhaps helped by the fact that the Italians didn't record live sound. All they had to do was get the visuals right. They didn't have to do retakes for flubbed lines.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Video remakes of Andy Warhol's Empire

I looked on You Tube. It turns out that people HAVE done video remakes if Andy Warhol's idiotic movie, Empire. Warhol falsely claimed to have filmed a single shot of the Empire State Building for eight hours. In fact, much of the footage was repeated.

One person posted a clip that was five or ten minutes long which he claimed was part of an eight hour video. Which seems wise. Just film ten minutes of it and CLAIM it's part of a longer movie----nobody's going to watch the whole thing anyway. Unwatchability seemed to be the whole point of the original.

Much of art film is conceptual anyway. All you have to do is get the idea. But, before digital video, you couldn't do it unless you had a lot of money to throw away. Now anybody can do it. Is this a good or bad thing?

Ed Anger in the Weekly World News thought it was time to replace the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel ceiling because Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo may have been good in their day, but anyone with a Polaroid camera could make a better likeness now.

I have to be careful not to degenerate into an Ed Anger. I'm all for art film. Now we need to figure out precisely what distinguishes digital video from film artistically and get the most out of this new medium.

Photography became a genuine art form when it stopped imitating painting, cinema became an art form when they stopped filming stage plays.

But I'm not sure there's that big a difference is between high definition digital video and film.