By all means laugh heartily and merrily and deep from within, and as loudly as may be appropriate. But don’t laugh “uncontrollably”, at least not in the presence of others. Certainly not when I’m around. Once you’ve horse-laughed or bray-laughed for five or six seconds, turn that shit down already. Especially in a Starbucks or even a sports bar. The louder and longer you laugh in mixed company, the lower your level of breeding and social discipline. I’ve noted several times that the worst laughers are young women after they’ve had a glass of wine. Then come half-drunk guys in sports bars.
The exalted if somewhat tragic reputation of Orson Welles‘ The Magnificent Ambersons (’42) has been so deeply drilled into film-maven culture that even today, no one will admit the plain truth about it. I’m referring to the fact that Tim Holt‘s George Amberson Minafer character is such an obnoxious and insufferable asshole that he all but poisons the film.
I’ve watched Welles’ Citizen Kane 25 or 30 times, but because of Holt I’ve seen The Magnificent Ambersons exactly once. Even Anthony Quinn‘s Zampano in Federico Fellini‘s La Strada is more tolerable than Minafer, and Zampano is a bellowing beast.
Welles admitted decades later that he knew “there would be an uproar about a picture which, by any ordinary American standards, was much darker than anybody was making pictures…there was just a built-in dread of the downbeat movie, and I knew I’d have that to face.”
He’d calculated that audiences would forget their discomfort when Minafer “gets his comeuppance” at the very end. But even in the truncated 88-minute version of the film that exists today, audiences still have to suffer Minafer’s ghastly arrogance, snippiness and smallness of spirit for roughly 80 minutes, and most people simply can’t tolerate this much abuse.
The Wiki page notes that a rough cut of Ambersons received a mixed response after a previewing on 3.17.42. Welles’ film was previewed a second time after film editor Robert Wise removed several minutes from it, “but the audience’s response did not improve.” Uhm, hello?
Why is the final La Strada scene of Zampano weeping on the beach so emotionally satisfying while the finale of Ambersons leaves you feeling a mixture of “meh” and relief? Other than the fact that Fellini understood human nature better than Welles, I think I’ve explained why.
The same issue clouds the watching of Welles’ Touch of Evil — i.e., Detective Hank Quinlan is too gross, too drooling and altogether too much to take. He all but vomits in the audience’s lap.
Criterion’s Magnificent Ambersons Bluray (4K digital restoration) will pop on 11.20.
In yesterday’s dismissive riff about Criterion’s forthcoming Some Like It Hot Bluray, I failed to mention an exceptional ingredient — a brilliant commentary track by UCLA film professor Howard Suber that hasn’t been accessible since Criterion’s Some Like It Hot laser disc (initially released in 1989) was in circulation.
Notice the black bars on the below ScreenPrism essay. This is how the film should be presented on 16 x 9 flatscreens. Shame on Criterion for this latest act of vandalism (on top of their teal-tinted Blurays of Midnight Cowboy and Bull Durham).
After that landmark Criterion essay about the differences between 1.37, 1.66 and 1.85 versions on their triple-disc On The Waterfront Bluray, why oh why would Criterion release a cleavered 1.85:1 version of Some Like It Hot when everyone has been savoring the 1.66 version for years and years? Why? More height is better, cleavering is evil, multi-a.r. Blurays are best, 1.66 > 1.85.
Especially Michel Gondry…aarrgghh! The best guy to replace James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 would have to be able to deploy a wicked, anarchic, irreverent sense of humor at the drop of a hat. I therefore nominate Ben Stiller. Seriously. Or Shane Black. Or Wedding Crashers auteur David Dobkin.
Bluray Buff #1: Whoa…Criterion is releasing a new 4K digital restoration Bluray of Some Like It Hot in mid November.
Bluray Buff #2: And how much better looking do you expect it to be? I own a Bluray version that popped a few years ago, and it’s clean, rich and silvery as all get out, and handsome as fuck with rich black levels.
Bluray Buff #1: Criterion’s Bluray will be better.
Bluray Buff #2: In what way?
Bluray Buff #1: You know how all the versions of Some Like It Hot have been masked at 1.66 to 1? Going back to the laser disc days and into DVD and then Bluray, always 1.66? Well, Criterion’s version is going to be cropped at 1.85.
Bluray Buff #2: How’s that better?
Bluray Buff #1: Well, they’ll be slightly trimming the tops and bottoms of each and every shot in the film. We don’t like too much height in our Blurays. Think of it…for the first time in home video history, we’ll have a 1.85 fascist version of Billy Wilder‘s beloved 1959 classic.
Bluray Buff #2: What’s wrong with you, man?
The author of Roma‘s transporting black-and-white imagery, captured on Alexa 65 digital, is director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Man, Y Tu Mama Tambien). The music is just right but I can’t find the composer’s name. Set in early ’70s Mexico City, Roma is basically Cuaron’s Amarcord — the story of his family, youth and history, culminating in the horrific Corpus Christi Massacre of 6.10.71. Team Roma (led by the Netflix-based Lisa Taback) will be launching a balls-out, take-no-prisoners Best Picture campaign, as well as (I’m hearing) a Best Supporting Actress campaign for Marina De Tavira, a 44 year-old actress who apparently plays the maternal heart and soul of said middle-class family. I’ve also heard that Yalitza Aparicio gives a knockout performance. Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York.
It was during the watching of Greg Camalier‘s Muscle Shoals, a 2013 doc about the legendary Alabama music studio, that I was reminded how much I’ve always loved Aretha Franklin‘s “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.” Aretha and the Muscle Shoals “swampers” couldn’t figure the right tempo for the song, and particularly how to begin it. And suddenly Wurlitzer keyboard guy Spooner Oldham came up with that subtle little downbeat opener, and they all knew that was it.
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg‘s Mile 22 screened last night at the AMC plex on 42nd Street, and I was out the door after 45 minutes. The opening action sequence was/is pretty cool (does it bother anyone else that action films these days have to begin with a riveting, high-throttle, ultra-violent opener that will engage the ADDs, or roughly 80% of the audience?) but I began to think about bolting at the 20- or 25-minute mark. This was largely due to the hyper-hostile, super-aggressive dialogue, the primary source of which is Wahlberg’s Jimmy Silva, a hotshot commando type.
I wasn’t around when John Malkovich reportedly tells Wahlberg to “stop monologuing, you bipolar fuck!”, but that’s what I was muttering to myself early on.
(l.) Cary Grant with crewcut in Monkey Business; (r.) as John Robie in To Catch A Thief.
The thing that finally tore it was Wahlberg’s shifting haircut stylings. His typical close-cropped do is a little longer in the opening sequence (fully grown in on the sides) but in the next scene he suddenly has significantly shorter hair, tennis-ball length on the sides with a hint of whitewall. Then it switches back to fully grown out, and then back to tennis ball and so on.
The male star of a film has to have the same hair style and especially the same length, start to finish — that’s an iron-clad Hollywood rule as well as a non-negotiable Hollywood Elsewhere demand. If a director can’t arrange for his actors to have the same look on a scene-to-scene basis, I’m gone.
Okay, walk that back. A hair change is allowable if the star/main character cuts it halfway through, as Andy Griffith did in Onionhead or as Cary Grant did after drinking the youth serum in Howard Hawks‘ Monkey Business or as Robert De Niro did in Taxi Driver when he went all crazy Mohawk. But no back-and-forth shifting around. I haven’t been this disturbed by abrupt hair changes since I watched Mickey Rourke‘s shifting hair color in Year of the Dragon (which Elvis Mitchell famously described as “mood hair”).
Imagine if the Berg-Wahlberg hair chaos had been adopted in Alfred Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest. Cary Grant‘s Roger Thornhill looking like his usual self during the Long Island post-kidnapping sequence (i.e., jousting with James Mason and Martin Landau in Lester Townsend’s mansion), and then suddenly sporting a crew cut when he and the real Townsend meet in that United Nations lounge, and then back to the usual debonair look when he romances Eva Marie Saint on the 20th Century Limited, and then back to the crew cut for the cropduster sequence.
For a few weeks now Master Replicas has been offering a HAL 9000 device for your home or office — “the world’s first voice-activated and remotely updatable prop replica!” One, I’m not loaded enough for this kind of toy. Two, I’d prefer an easy-to-install software that converts Siri into Siri-HAL, which as far as I know still hasn’t been invented. And three, I might consider getting a combination HAL flash drive & key chain ornament.
Dave Bowman: Well, HAL. I’m damned if I can find anything right about all this corporate spam about your replica.
HAL: Yes. It’s puzzling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this before. I would recommend that we put the toy dummy replica in a basin of water and let it fail. It should then be a simple matter to track down the cause. We can certainly afford to be without Bluetooth communication for the short time it will take for the Blue Fairy to arrive.
Dave Bowman: How would you account for this discrepancy between you, the dumb replica and the Blue Fairy?
HAL: Well, I don’t think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before and it has always been due to human error.