Zak’s biopsy results came back today, and he doesn’t have skin cancer. Rather he has (or had) some kind of systemic fungus infection in his system. The name of the problem is cryptococcus neoformans — a localized or systemic fungal infection, contracted through the nasal passages, and from there passes into the brain, eyes, lungs and other tissues. He just has to take daily pills for a month or two, and then he’ll be out of the woods.
Amir Bar Lev‘s Long Strange Trip (Amazon, 241 minutes) is a first-rate chronicle of a great, historic American band. Don’t let the four-hour running time stop you because this time the length fits the scale of the tale. This is one sprawling, Olympian, deeply dug into, nook-and-cranny achievement.
It takes the time to fully explain the appeal of Grateful Dead music and the whole Deadhead ’80s culture thing, which I paid no attention to when it was happening. I loved the frequent use of Frankenstein clips and echoes, and I adored Al Franken‘s comments (“I’m not a Dead authority but a fan”) during the last third.
And I laughed out loud when Robert Hunter recites the “Dark Star” lyrics — “Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes / Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis / Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion / Shall we go, you and I while we can / Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?” — and asks “what is not clear about that”?
The Dead were brilliant at making sloppy haphazard chops sound mesmerizing and anthem-like, but according to their ex-manager Sam Cutler they were mostly terrible in business matters, at least in the early days. But the decision to let fans tape all the shows during the ’80s was genius.
Act One (’65 to ’71 or thereabouts) is a good, comprehensive mid-to-late-’60s history lesson — efficient, amusing, well-honed and sometimes great. But Act Two (or the last two hours) really brings it home. This is where the heart is, what turned the light on — the thing that told me what Amir Bar Lev is really up to.
The last 15 or 20 minutes of Long Strange Trip is about the sad druggy wind-down and death of Jerry Garcia, and that saga seems to end four or five different times. But it finally gets there and poignantly at that.
Long Strange Trip is more about what happened inside — creatively among the band members, managers and hangers-on, and particularly among the Deadhead throngs in the ’80s — than any kind of rote, surface-y rundown of their performing and recording history (this happened, that happened).
Whenever I’m in any kind of tough spot or tight corner, I always say to myself, “How would Steve McQueen handle this if it was happening in Bullitt?” This is truly the basis and the reasoning behind most of my public behaviors — I pretend I’m Frank Bullitt and act accordingly. But let’s take this idea to the next step and imagine something else. We’re on that Pan Am jet at the end of Bullitt, waiting to depart San Francisco Int’l airport, and instead of Albert “Johnny Ross” Renick sitting in that window seat it’s Bullitt, off to Italy and a romantic rendezvous with Jacqueline Bissett.
But suddenly a couple of security guys come up the aisle and tell Bullitt that his ticket is invalid, and that he’ll have to leave his seat and catch another flight. Bullitt argues, shakes his head, refuses to leave. The security guys finally grab him and yank him out of his seat, and this is how Bullitt responds. Two questions: If Bullitt had made these sounds when the security guys grab him, what would happen to McQueen’s super-stud image with moviegoers and how popular would Bullitt have been at the box-office?
Imagine that scene in The Big Sleep when Humphrey Bogart‘s Philip Marlowe is talking to John Ridgely‘s Eddie Mars inside Arthur Geiger’s Laurel Canyon home. Mars calls in his boys, Pete and Sydney, and tells them to frisk Marlowe. But Marlowe flinches when Pete starts searching and before you know it they’re punching each other on the floor. Except Pete lands a couple of good ones and Marlowe gets rattled and starts howling. Be honest — how would this scene affect Bogart’s reputation as a chain-smoking, two-fisted tough guy?
Charlton Heston‘s Judah Ben-Hur is sitting pensively in the belly of a Roman battleship as Jack Hawkins‘ Quintus Arrius inspects the crew. Something about Ben-Hur intrigues Arrius. To test his character Hawkins lashes the oarsman’s back with a whip, and Heston, to Hawkins’ surprise, reacts with a series of screams. If Heston had howled like a little bitch, would he have won the Best Actor Oscar and would Ben-Hur have won for Best Picture?
Elite journalists looking to see Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Carne y Arena, a 390-second virtual reality experience at next month’s Cannes Film Festival, will have to take a shuttle to some Cote d’Azur location away from the Grand Palais, where they’ll strap on the VR headset and take the trip. I’m guessing that the whole process — being picked up, driven to the viewing location, watching the short and then taking a shuttle back to base camp — will take an hour at least, and probably a bit more. But essential, of course. The latest collaboration between Inarritu + dp Emmanuel Lubezski, etc.
It’s a solemn emotional experience. A heart and humanity thing. What a would-be Mexican immigrant goes through in trying to cross the U.S. border, or something in that realm. I’m told that viewers won’t necessarily sit in a cozy chair as they watch it. They’ll just as likely stand or lie on the floor.
The full title is Carne y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible). Pic was produced and financed by Legendary Entertainment and Fondazione Prada, and will be presented during the entire Cannes Film Festival (5.17 to 5.28). A longer three-act version (the 390-second short augmented by a first and third-act experience of some kind) will be presented at Milan’s Fondazione Prada from June to December ’17. You can call it an “installation” as well as an experience, especially if you catch it in Milan.
The first official roster of Cannes ’17 films has been announced. My immediate reaction: “Uhhm, okay, another shortfaller and what else is new? But at least there’s the Andrezj Zvyagintsev, the half-silent Todd Haynes, the Noah Baumbach and the 390-second Alejandro G. Inarritu virtual-reality short to look forward to.”
Many interesting-sounding films were on the early-speculation lists, but only those with nothing to lose and everything potentially to gain from an early Cote d’Azur peek-out will show up. Those with even a teeny-weeny bit to lose (i.e., films which may turn out to be admired but not loved)? Forget it.
In my book there are six Cannes ’17 hotties — Andrezy Zvyagintsev‘s Loveless (very high expectations for the director of Leviathan), Todd Haynes‘ Wonderstruck, Michael Haneke‘s Happy End, Noah Baumbach‘s The Meyerowitz Stories, Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s 390-second virtual reality short Carne y Arena (which rsvp’ed viewers will have to journey on a shuttle to see, apparently within a viewing space some distance from the bunker) and a special screening of Eugene Jarecki‘s Promised Land, which reportedly “juxtaposes contemporary American socio-political history with the biography of Elvis Presley.”
Oh, yeah, right…the first two episodes of David Lynch‘s new Twin Peaks series…calm down.
As I noted a month ago, the festival’s biggest highlights will most likely be European-produced, and that the American-made films that will likely appear are going to rank as…who knows? “I’m not calling it another deadbeat Cannes in terms of U.S. entries,” I wrote, “but the counsel of Oscar strategists along with generally cautious instincts across the board have all but killed this festival in terms of potential award-season titles.
Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight, 10.13) was test-screened last October to excellent notices and is, I gather, 100% finished and viewable, but it won’t be screening at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Frances McDormand‘s Best Actress campaign will launch around Labor Day instead.
Alexander Payne‘s much-anticipated Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22) was shown last night in Sherman Oaks and is therefore not that far from finished (raggedy, half-completed features are rarely shown to Joe and Jane Popcorn for research purposes), but it won’t be going to Cannes either. Appetites were whetted at Cinemacon last month when attendees were thrilled by a 15-minute excerpt (I thought it looked brilliant), but just because Payne took Nebraska to Cannes doesn’t mean he’s obliged to follow suit this year.
And while it’s entirely possible that Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.21) — another Cannes no-go — won’t be “ready” to screen in mid May, many of us suspect that a very-close-to-finished version could be shown if Nolan and his Warner Bros. handlers wanted to go there.