Thursday, November 26, 2015

After Six Days, (La Sacra Bibbia) 1920

I'm a non-believer and Thanksgiving isn't exactly a religious holiday, but I watched a 1920 Italian silent Bible epic. It was re-released in the US with music and narration added, probably aimed at a Jewish audience judging from the Star of David in the opening credits and the fact that they stopped before they got to the New Testament. It had a surprising amount of nudity, all of it male as far as I could tell. We see Adam in long shot walking away from the camera and several extras about to be drowned in the Noah's ark scene were naked.

I stopped paying attention. Then I looked up to see some guys throwing a child down a well.

That was in the Bible? I thought.

It was Joseph. He was rescued and taken to Egypt as a slave.

I think they screwed up the dream analysis part. The Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows eaten, ironically, by seven skinny cows. Joseph interprets this to mean that there will seven good years followed by seven years of famine, but the narrator tells us that the Pharaoh dreamed of seven good years followed by seven lean years to begin with. So what did he need the dream interpreted for?

I hoped they would show grain being stored in the pyramids like Republican candidate Ben Carson said, but no such luck.

Would have been okay without the lousy narration.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rogue Trader

I have an in-law, a young woman who had been dating a guy who went to college to prepare for a job in the financial industry. He was on the top of the world. He may have been a Harvard boy---I don't remember. But he headed for New York to go to work just as the financial system collapsed. I wasn't the least bit sympathetic. I only met the guy once. But I was rather baffled when my in-laws felt sorry for him. The guy's goal in life was to get rich while being completely unproductive. 

Watched the movie Rogue Trader. I kind of liked it. It was all one-note. Based on the autobiography of the rogue trader himself, Nick Leeson, sent to run the Singapore office of Barings, the world's second oldest merchant bank. Leeson managed to put it out of business. The Leeson character throws up a lot to show he's under stress.

Available for instant viewing on Netflix.

In real life, Leeson fared pretty well. Spent a few years in prison in Singapore. Was released after being diagnosed with cancer, but he pulled through and now works as a guest speaker and lecturer. He's written a couple of books and was CEO of an Irish football club.

For a second feature, watch Quicksand, a film noir of sorts starring Mickey Rooney. Mickey borrows twenty dollars from the cash register at work knowing he has a few days to pay it back, but is forced to commit more and more serious crimes to cover it up. With Jimmie Dodd, the grown-up on the old Mickey Mouse Club, Peter Lorre, James Cagney's sister, Jeanne, and a young Jack Elam.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Love Story

I watched this movie one New Years Eve about thirty years ago. We watched Easy Rider and Love Story, the surprise hits of 1969 and 1970.

Perhaps we would have been deeply moved by the ending, but one of my friends started repeating all the shock lines from the movie.

"Dammit! Dammit, Preppie! Dammit, Cavaleri! Dammit, you Radcliffe bitch! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!"

Another time, it came on TV. Ryan O'Neal said the opening bit of voice over. And everyone started laughing. And these were middle aged people, people who had once been the target audience.

They never did say what she died of.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen

From an article in The Guardian:
Her role as Jasmine Francis, the brittle Park Avenue princess fallen on hard times, would go on to win Blanchett a second Oscar. But the experience of shooting it was no bed of roses. She describes Woody Allen’s directing style as one of “benign neglect”, although it doesn’t sound altogether benign to me. “The first day was brutal,” she recalls. “He came up to me and said, ‘This is awful and you’re awful.’ As if he were talking about someone else, some other actress, and that maybe I could go and have a word with her. And then three weeks later it turned out that he didn’t like the costumes, he didn’t like the locations, he didn’t like the scene. He said, ‘You’ve got to help me rescue this movie.’”
The trick, she decided, was to take charge of the situation; to bombard the director with questions. “I realised I had to demand things from him. And sometimes he would look at me just bewildered. But I’m not particularly needy. A lot of times, actors ask questions and what they’re really asking is, ‘Was I good? Did you like me?’ But my questions were all technical. ‘Should I stand here? Should I say it that way?’ And he would answer my questions maybe half of the time.”
What about the other half? “The other half he didn’t hear me.” She laughs. “Or he was pretending not to hear me.”
Maybe Allen was always like this. I've heard that he never really directed actors. He would just tell them they were no good and keep shooting retakes. But when you describe a guy who's pushing 80 as looking "bewildered", you're creating a certain impression.

Allen turns 80 on December 1st. (One of his adopted daughters turns 17 the same month.)

There are a few directors who made movies into extreme old age. Manoel de Oliveira directed his last movie at 106. And Allen's father was over 100 when he died and had a job when he was in his 90's; His mother was in her 90's when she died. I figured Allen would keep going into his 90s. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Norman Mailer, Maidstone

Thirty years ago, I stumbled upon a book about the movie Maidstone at the university library. The movie was made by Norman Mailer and it sounded incredibly stupid.

I finally saw the movie on Fandor. Made in 1970. Filmed with multiple cameras. They shot 45 hours of footage cut down to 110 minutes, and it still stunk.

Mailer plays a brilliant movie director named Norman Kingsley. (Kingsley was Mailer's middle name.) Kingsley's father was a Russian immigrant named Raymond Kingsley. Yeah, that sounds Russian. They didn't say what his patronymic was.

Kingsley is planning to run for president. He's also filming a sex movie set in a unisex brothel and it doesn't occur to anyone that this might hurt his chances in the election.

The dialog is improvised. The actors take way too long to say very little. Norman Mailer is obnoxious and sometimes speaks in an English accent.

And there's a government organization called PAX which stands for "Prevention of Assasination eXperiments". (Experiments?) PAX is deciding whether to murder Kingsley themselves.

I don't think I've ever read anything by Norman Mailer. I have seen film of him humiliating himself on the Dick Cavett show. Judging by the movie, if he ever wrote anything good, it was a complete fluke.

I'll mention one other thing. Charles Bukowski's novel, Hollywood, tells about an encounter with Norman Mailer. The movie Barfly, written by Bukowski, and Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance were produced by Golan-Globus at about the same time. The two went to a birthday party for Menachem Golan and almost got into a fight. Bukowski had embarrassed himself by mistaking another guy for Golan. Mailer sat there smirking at him until Bukowski asked if he wanted to make World War Three out of it.

According to a biography of Bukowski, this really happened. They were both pretty old. Mailer said that Bukowski's health was declining and Mailer was ready to fight him.

Elsewhere, the book told about another incident. Bukowski went to a reading by William Burroughs. He got mad because he thought Burroughs snubbed him. He was fuming to Harold Norse. He said, Look at him---I could knock him down with one punch. 

Norse said, Yeah, but you'd be dead because he'd shoot you.

Burroughs was known for carrying guns.

The point being that Mailer and Bukowski, tough as they acted, were physically no match for frail William S. Burroughs. I would have admired Burroughs for that if he hadn't shot and killed his wife.