Fahrenheit 9/11 may get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (or not), but director Michael Moore has decided against submitting it as a Best Feature Documentary hopeful. Hoping to turn as many swing voters against President Bush as possible, Moore has declared on his website he’d like his film to be shown on broadcast TV before the election, even though he admits that Fahrenheit 9/11‘s DVD distributor, Columbia Tristar Home Video, probably won’t allow this. He’s saying it’s “more important to take that risk and hope against hope that I can persuaded someone to put it on TV, even if it’s the night before the election. If there is even the remotest of chances that I can get this film seen by a few million more Americans before election day, then that is more important. Having a second [Best Documentary Oscar] would be nice, but not as nice as getting this country back in the hands of the majority.”
Nikki Finke’s disturbingly funny take on suited Hollywood’s sensitivity to the recent Presidential poll turnarounds is a half-echo, half-lament that the Swift Boat Veterans for Bullshit strategy (along with those ads playing Kerry’s testimony about U.S. soldiers committing atrocities in Vietnam) is working with the undecided’s. It also reminds how quickly currents can change. I’m presuming things will turn back again in Kerry’s favor, especially after he and Dubya lock horns in debate, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling hugely deflated by those polls. Is Kerry an incarnation of the high-minded Henry Fonda character in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man? A candidate who’s too effetely principled to hit back in ways that really matter when the rough-and-tumble demands it?
Strange that this didn’t pop up earlier, but EW critic Owen Gleiberman’s remark in last week’s issue about how Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate should have concluded is brilliant. If Candidate “had been a truly audacious update of the original, [Demme] would have shown the government sectretly in league with al-Queada.”
I want to put this carefully so as not to be misinterpreted. I’m trying to formulate what I consider to be a modest and temperate industry initiative. The unmalicious goal is the total termination of acting jobs given to Rhys Ifans, the downmarket, stubble-faced tall guy with dirty-blonde 1971 hippy hair who, in his movie roles, is often given to beatific expressions and saying lines in such a way as to produce vague mystifications.
It’s just that Ifans, a 36 year-old, six-foot-two Welshman, has been cast as more or less the same guy in film after film, and the cumulative effect has finally reached repulsion levels. Whatever the character, whatever the story or film title…Human Nature, Danny Deckchair, portions of Vanity Fair, Roger Michell’s Enduring Love…Ifans lumbers up to the plate and goes into his gangly, grungy, S.P.C.A. mode.
Did Ifans’ performances in The Shipping News, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and Hotel deliver the same? Memory isn’t serving; I may have erased the hard drive out of some insuppressable instinct.
In Enduring Love, which I saw Thursday night, Ifans plays what struck me as hands-down the most profoundly icky and repulsive stalker character in the history of film. I didn’t want to see Ifans killed in some quick tidy way; I wanted to see a little torture thrown in first. The story, set in England and based on the Ian McEwan novel, is about the after-effects of a bizarre falling death upon two men (Ifans being one) who happen to witness it. It seemed only natural that Ifans character should be dealt with similarly. A plunge off a nice tall building, say. For symmetry’s sake.
Lamentably, Michell is too original a director to go for such a stock indulgence. This is a strong disciplined film with nothing so mundane as mere audience satisfaction on its agenda. It doesn’t compromise or indulge in half-measures.
I know I soundmuddled, but in its own way Enduring Love is a very commanding
But I really, really don’t want to see Ifans playing a downmarket, stubble-faced tall guy with dirty-blonde 1971 hippy hair given to beatific expressions and saying lines in such a way as to produce vague mystifications ever again. I don’t know anything or presume anything. As ship’s engineer Steve McQueen said to the first mate in The Sand Pebbles (and yes, I’ve referenced this line before), “I’m just tellin’ ya.”
I’m not trying to be cruel or cause pain. If I know this industry, Ifans will continue to work for years to come. (He’s apparently now making, or about to make, a new movie with Human Nature director Michael Gondry.) Casting directors generally have minds of their own and couldn’t give two shits.
Anyway, he’s got money. The IMDB says Ifans has “donated nearly a million pounds” to Welsh university called Ysgol Brynhyfryd, Ruthin, in order to provide a stage and better drama facilities.
Well, guess what? The new Hollywood Elsewhere site had a few too many loose ends to finesse as of Thursday morning, so after pacing back and forth a bit I made the decision to delay the debut until next Wednesday (9.8). A case of having bitten off more than I could chew, even with the help of a group of good-guy web designers, henceforth to be known as Team Elsewhere.
Everyone I know has left town for the Labor Day weekend or the Telluride Film Festival, so it’ll probably be better to launch it next week when everyone’s back (or at least at the Toronto Film Festival, which starts on Thursday, 9.9).
In fact, all these added concerns are the main reason why the column was late in going up today.
Some of the new columns will post on Wednesday; others may take a tiny bit longer. I’m not especially looking forward to all the extra work, to be honest, but slapping it together has been fun so far. The exhausted, frazzled kind, I mean.
Things are going great with the new columns and columnists. (Two have threatened to quit so far, although they’ve since reconsidered. This is fine. Creative people tend to be temperamental.) A friend has suggested posting an interview column devoted solely to a weekly q & a with industry types….okay. Another friend has advised that I don’t take on too many new burdens at once and take things a bit more slowly. Never! Brazilian critic Pablo Villaca has agreed to write a weekly column, and we’re trying to figure out a title. How does “Burden of Dreams” sound?
It’s been so much fun putting this thing together it’s nearly taken the sting out of my not going to Toronto or Telluride. I’ll be taking a half-assed stab at “covering” Toronto since I’ve been given a look at some of the films in advance L.A. screenings.
Thanks to everyone for sending in Visitor pitches and Best and Worst lists. Don’t stop, please.
I wouldn’t want to suggest that U.S. Senator Zell Miller, the conservative Democrat who delivered that hellfire speech a few days ago at the Republican National Convention that tore into John Kerry (and which was followed by an orifice-ripping interview with “Hardball” host Chris Matthews) isn’t a swell, stand-up guy.
And I’m not suggesting his aura is anything close to that of Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor in the Star Wars films. Miller traffics in honest rage. McDiarmid’s malevolence is quiet and serpent-like. But the fury in Miller’s eyes is something
else. He’s more than a scrapper; he’s a born hater. That junkyard dog snarl, those threats of physical initimidation when he spoke to Matthews….whoa. You wouldn’t want to get into any kind of fight with him. He’s probably the kind that
I sometimes get this feeling that I’m dawdling somehow when I write about DVDs. It’s a pretty lame attitude, of course. Today especially. We all share the same new-movie expectations that percolate every Friday, but when the big theatrical debuts are Wicker Park, The Cookout and Paparrazzi…well, pass. Give me the comforts of home, a little air conditioning and the new Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection (Warner Home Video, out 9.7).
This is easily the coolest, spiffiest, most treasure-stocked Hitchcock collection ever sent to home video. You get this kind of hyperbole from DVD reviewers all the time, but this one’s really exceptional. Hitchcock used to call his films “slices of cake,” and damned if these DVD’s aren’t equivalent to the most delectable dessert you’ve ever tasted.
It’s a collection of nine films, all but one newly remastered (the exception being North by Northwest, which was given a first-class makeover a few years ago), and each newie looking more handsomely detailed and finely tuned than ever before. Six are classics — Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, I Confess , North by Northwest, Suspicion and Foreign Correspondent . Three are intriguing so-so’s — The Wrong Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Stage Fright.
The great thing about these films looking so crisp and radiant is that they look almost “new,” in a way. The best theatrical screenings I’ve ever seen of each (at the Academy or MOMA or wherever) simply don’t compare. I’ve used this analogy before, but they look, scene by scene, like straight-from-the-lab “dailies.”
And they’re all knock-outs, extras-wise. They’ve all got appreciation or making-of docs produced by the great Laurent Bouzereau, who’s done a slew of Hitchcock docs for past Universal Home Video releases. The same Hitch authorities are interviewed for each — Peter Bogdanovich, Time critic Richard Shickel, TCM host Robert Osborne, film historian Bill Krohn, Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia — but others turn up here and there.
The most decked-out extras package accompanies Strangers, and is contained on a whole separate disc. The extra “heads” include star Farley Granger, Robert Walker Jr. (son of costar Robert Walker) and Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano.
There’s a serenity thing inside Walker, Jr., whose mom was actress Jennifer Jones. His descriptions of his father’s alcoholism, which he says his dad never imposed on him, and the story of his Walker’s accidental death (the injection of sedative by a psychiatrist when Walker was already stewed to the gills) are surprisingly touching. Walker died in August 1951, or about seven weeks after Strangers opened.
Strangers on a Train seems to get better every time I see it. It’s one delicious bite after another. It’s odd that Stage Fright, one of Hitchcock’s worst films, was made just before Strangers, as the differences couldn’t be more yin-yang. Strangers is assured and masterful; Stage Fright is a trifle and close to an irritation.
Strangers has one of my favorite all-time cuts (a fast fade, not a jump), with Granger’s “I said I could strangle her!” followed by that closeup of Walker’s hands. And has there ever been a more concise portrait of obsessive malice than that shot of Walker staring at the tennis-playing Granger from the stands, sphinx-like, while everyone else’s head is whipping back and forth?
Walker’s Bruno, portrayed with an effeteness that was fairly brazen for its time, is one of the dandiest bon vivant psychopaths in motion picture history.
Composer Dimitri Tiomkin (who also did the music for Dial M for Murder) is known for underlining and bombast. His Strangers score goes there at times, but it’s one of his fullest and most particular. That passage when Granger is seen walking up the stairs of Walker’s mansion in the darkness, with that big Great Dane growling at him from a landing, is, I believe, one of the creepiest pieces ever composed for a film, and at the same time one of the most thrillingly performed.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot for those brassy Tiomkin fanfares that play over the Warner Bros. logo. The one that heralds the beginning of Dial M for Murder is so emphatic it’s almost humorous, although yet there’s something oddly alluring about music that tries to wallop you into submission with such skill.
The fine detail and luminous tones in Dial M for Murder can’t be praised too highly. It makes it almost as much fun to study as the 3-D version, which I saw at New York’s 8th Street Playhouse around 1980. In that slightly oversaturated mid-1950s way this 1953 film looks wonderfully fake…and yet more precise than it’s ever seemed before. The black in Ray Milland’s tuxedo doesn’t, for the first time, seem to be shaded in a strange dark blue. The DVD is so exacting you can just about see everyone’s pancake makeup. You can see the difference in texture between Ray Milland’s real hair and his toupee.
DVD images give everything away, of course. The fine wires lifting up the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, holding up the spaceships in War of the Worlds, etc. Now they’ve exposed a couple of Foreign Correspondent tricks.
I’ve always enjoyed that scene in which George Sanders, portraying a good-guy British journalist, jumps out of a fourth-story hotel window to escape Nazi villains. He breaks his fall by punching feet-first through a street-level cloth awning. Now you can see it’s a crude dummy (barely human-looking, much less resembling Sanders) crashing through, quickly followed (of course) by a shot of Sanders himself hitting the street.
You can also “step” your way through the plane-crash-at-sea sequence and see the paper screen ripping apart. Back up…some of you haven’t read about this. To make the crash look convincing, Hitchcock projected footage of the sea getting closer and closer on to a thin paper screen, and then sent a vat of water crashing through right at the moment of “impact.”
The Wrong Man, a mistaken-identity police procedural with Henry Fonda in the lead role, is an expertly made thing. It’s also grim and flat-feeling. Hitchcock’s apparent intent was to convince viewers of its true-story origins (and to fortify the general tone of sadness and frustration) by shooting things in a low-key, non-flashy way. Anyway, he overdid this aspect by half.
But it has one near-great scene. Fonda’s troubles are about witnesses having identified him as a hold-up man. The real guilty man,who looks almost exactly like Fonda, is finally arrested near the end and brought to the same 110th Precinct where Fonda was first questioned and booked. Just as the guilty guy is being led in, one of the two detectives (Charles Cooper) on the Fonda case is walking out.
Cooper glances at the perp but doesn’t react. He steps outside and walks down the stoop and onto the sidewalk, the camera tracking with him. He takes twelve brisk steps before it hits him. He takes eight increasingly slower steps until stopping. The camera goes in for a closeup. For the first time Cooper isn’t wearing that steely smug-cop look he’s had all through the film. He looks bothered. Dealing with an unconventional thought seems to almost scare him, but he finally accepts it. He turns and walks back into the precinct, and we know Fonda’s troubles are over.
Suspicion, an intriguing parlor drama about a mousey wallflower type (Joan Fontaine) who marries a dishonest swindler and possible murderer (Cary Grant), is mainly known by connoisseurs as Hitchcock’s cop-out film. The initial plan was to
show Grant disposing of Fontaine with poison, and then unwittingly posting a letter that will convict him. But Hitchcock caved to studio pressure (Grant can’t play a killer, etc.) and filmed a sappy turnabout finale that nobody over the age of
five or six could accept. The DVD makes the film look better than ever, though, and the appreciation doc is first-rate.
I saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith on the tube 15 or 20 years ago, and that was sufficient, I think.
As I’m no longer an official Poop Shooter (although the column will stay on the site for another few weeks, courtesy of Kevin Smith), I’m no longer bound by Poop Shoot copy rules. So no more caps when it comes to movie titles, TV shows, books or anything else. Back to italics.
The folks at Columbia TriStar Home Video pulled a boner when they released that pan-and-scan version of Castle Keep a couple of months ago, but they got right on the stick and decided to put out the proper widescreen (2.35 to 1) version as quickly as they could. It’ll hit the stands on 11.2.
A disc of George Stevens’ Gunga Din, another selection from my recent list of 20 most-wanted DVDs, will be released by Warner Home Video on 12.7 The special features will include a making-of doc, “On Location with Gunga Din,” with commentary by Rudy Behlmer. (The color footage comes from Stevens’ silent home movies. The Image laser disc version that came out in the mid ’90s had the same color footage, but with Stevens and, as I recall, his son George Jr. narrating.)
I’ve also been told that Paramount Home Video is putting out a High and the Mighty DVD with an appreciation/making-of doc. The 1954 film has been going through a restoral process at a post-production outfit located in Valencia. The DVD will be finished and released sometime in ’05.