Now this — this! — is truly great television. A performance that felt like something else. Nine years and change. I was living in New York at the time, and I don’t think I was even watching as it happened. Letterman to Phoenix: “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight. We’ll certainly keep you in our rolodex.” Phoenix looks like his 2009 self in Garth Davis‘s Mary Magdelene, which got caught in the Weinstein collapse and may or may not open in this country.
18 months later (9.22.10):
Six days ago a video clip surfaced of Stanley Kubrick explaining the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The footage was recorded 38 years ago by filmmaker Jun’ichi Yaoi. It was part of a documentary about paranormal experiences, blah blah. Yaoi’s doc was never released but a VHS of the raw footage was reportedly sold two years ago on eBay. Somebody evidently decided to upload the video to YouTube. Why did they wait two years? Why didn’t they upload it immediately? Or why didn’t they wait until 2001‘s 60th anniversary in 2028? Or the 70th in 2038? Who cares?
The Great Stanley K., in his own words: “I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it. But I’ll try.
“The idea was supposed to be that [Keir Dullea‘s Dave Bowman] is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.
“They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture….deliberately so, inaccurate…because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but weren’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what we think is their natural environment.
Scott Pruitt, the most malignant Environmental Protection Agency chief ever, has resigned. EPA deputy Andrew Wheeler, almost certainly another anti-environmentalist, will take over in the interim. Pruitt impressed many in the media as the dirtiest, swampiest cabinet chief in government history, his actions having reportedly inspired 14 separate investigations. (Here’s a list of 13.) Pruitt, 50, had been very popular among conservatives for his absolute indifference to the health of the planet, but his ethical scandals were overwhelming.
From N.Y. Times: “Pruitt began the largest regulatory rollback in the EPA’s history, undoing, delaying or blocking several Obama-era environmental rules…among them was a suite of historic regulations aimed at mitigating global warming pollution from the United States’ vehicles and power plants.”
Midwestern liberal-progressive TV personality and talk-show host Ed Schultz, who hosted The Ed Show on MSNBC from 2009 to ’15 and who’d recently hosted a daily news show on RT America, has died at age 64. “Natural causes,” the report says. What exactly is “natural” about succumbing to an eternal black void at age 64?
Ed began as a North Dakota sports guy on radio, and then became a conservative talkshow host on North Dakota’s WDAY. He gradually evolved into the progressive camp in the mid to late ’90s. The Ed Schulz Show (radio) ran from ’04 until ’14.
Ed was quite the MSNBC host during the Obama years. I was a regular follower. He left MSNBC in ’15, largely due to political censorship from management.
Since being with RT America Schulz had told one and all that MSNBC’s Phil Griffin initially (and to some extent persistently) suppressed coverage of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and in one particular instance Schulz’s attempt to cover Sanders’ official announcement of his presidential campaign in Burlington, Vermont, on 5.27.15. This happened, Schulz believed, because Griffin and NBC news president Andy Lack were in the tank for Hillary Clinton, et. al. Here’s Schulz’s oral account of what happened when he tried to cover Sanders’ announcement. Seriously…listen.
45 days after this incident happened, Schulz left MSNBC.
John Sturges The Great Escape (’63) was shot on sound stages near Munich, and to some extent in a Bavarian town named Fussen. The real-deal Stalag Luft III, the P.O.W. camp from which P.O.W.s actually escaped in March 1944, was located 100 miles southeast of Berlin, in what is now the Polish town of Żagan.
In the comment thread that followed yesterday’s Great Escape post (“Independence Day Doldrums”), a discussion arose about the logistics of the escape, which led me to riff about the whys and wherefores of the escape itself.
The Great Escape P.O.W. camp was built in what looks like a 15-acre area not far from the Munich sound stages. It consisted of 16 P.O.W. barracks, which could theoretically hold 50 guys each or 800 total. The actual Stalag Luft III was spread over 60 acres and housed 11,000 POWs.
I noted yesterday that Sturges’ P.O.W. camp had the atmosphere of a leisurely, not-hugely-unpleasant work camp, and that the German guards were like testy high-school teachers (who’s been throwing spitballs?) and that the inmates conveyed military decorum while being casually impudent, or the attitude that TV audiences would later associate with Hogan’s Heroes.
The actual Stalag Luft III was not a hell hole. A bit grim but certainly tolerable. The men were adequately fed and housed. Bunks, blankets, pillows. Holiday dinners were served. The atmosphere was almost collegial, to go by the Wiki page. POWs organized theatrical shows and published two weekly newsletters. Mail and parcels from loved ones arrived. All kinds of recreational fitness options (including weights, fencing and table tennis) were available. The camp even had a small swimming pool.
As noted, the escape happened in the late stages of WWII (i.e., March 1944). Any sage assessment of how the war was going told you the Germans were doomed. The coming Eisenhower invasion, the disastrous Russian front, constant Allied bombing. Albert Speer wrote that events turned against the Germans in ’42, and that he knew they were sunk soon after. A 9.8.09 Guardian article by Richard J. Evans (“Why Hitler’s Grand Plan Collapsed”) asserts that “ordinary Germans knew by the end of 1943 that the war was lost.”
Thomson questioned whether Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece is an acceptable fit in the #MeToo era. He said that given Hitchcock’s creepy attitudes toward women on-screen (and his behavior toward Tippi Hedren in the early ’60s) he doubts Vertigo will be #1 again when Sight & Sound critics vote in 2022.
Billson replied that Hitchcock “created many strong and perceptive female characters,” as I summarized yesterday, “and that many of his male characters are weak and vacillating.
“For a so-called misogynist, his films feature a lot of intrepid heroines,” Billson writes. “Even when the women are nominally just love interests, they are unusually plucky and quick-witted.”
The subhead of Billson’s piece: “While some critics see the film, released 60 years ago, as proof of Hitchcock’s sexist creepiness, a closer look reveals that strong women and weak men were often at the heart of his work.”
Thomson replied today as follows: “I enjoyed Anne Billson’s article and I agree with a lot of it. But I find it hard to see [Kim Novak‘s] Judy Barton in Vertigo as a ‘strong’ character.
“After all, she has come to San Francisco to survive. She is not quite young any more and there are hints of failure along her way. So she gives herself to a fanciful and very cruel plot. She is being hired (and paid surely) to destroy two people — Madeleine Elster and Scotty Ferguson. There seems every likelihood that she has become Elster’s mistress in that process.
“In other words, she is a tool, being manipulated, and giving up her self. So when she starts to fall for Scotty, she cannot admit it. And after that, dumped by Gavin, she lingers in San Francisco, as if to wait for Scotty to notice her, as Judy. But then she has to be Madeleine again. With further disaster, including her death.
“It’s hard to think of a clearer case of victimhood. or a film so in love with romantic tragedy.”
I felt a slight surge of excitement when I first heard that a woman was climbing up the Statue of Liberty. How can anyone scale a smooth copper statue that doesn’t have any footholds to speak of? Then, of course, the headline turned out to be bullshit. Seven or eight people with Rise and Resist had unfurled an anti-ICE banner at the bottom of the statue, and were then arrested. Then a single woman wearing bright pink shoes climbed up to the base of the statue, and the news media went crazy. Except it was nothing.
Rise and Resist organizer Martin Joseph Quinn told CNN that the woman in question “climbed without our knowledge…it was not part of our action…we are deeply concerned for her safety.” Deeply concerned about what? A woman sitting and chatting with the cops who had climbed up to the same area on a ladder. And yet Liberty Island was evacuated, and at least a couple of news networks treated the incident as a possible act of terrorism.
I loved The Great Escape as a teenager and 20something but not lately. Lately it feels too smug and self-satisfied, too much jaunty humor. It’s almost played on a Hogan’s Heroes level. Cast to audience: “We may be portraying POWS but we’re a bunch of cool-attitude 30something actors and we can pretty much do anything we want within reason. (Including making our own potato vodka and throwing a 4th of July party.) It’s like high school, this prison. The German guards and officers are hugely irritated geometry and math teachers. ”Who’s throwing spitballs? Apparently some people in this room want detention!”
The only bad thing that happens during the entire camp portion (or about 65% to 70% of the film) is when one of the three tunnels is discovered by the Germans. That’s it! No other mishaps or mistakes except for the shooting of Angus Lennie‘s Archibald Ives, except in my book that’s a good thing. Because I hate his Brigadoon Scottish accent.
In no particular order…
(1) The German camp commanders are far too lenient with the prisoners, who after all have been put into this super-camp because they’re all disobedient bad apples with a high likelihood of trying to escape.
(2) Why oh why don’t the Germans simply post two guards inside each of the barracks so as to spot any possible digging going on?
(3) I despise Richard Attenborough‘s “Big X” character, such that I always feel a slight pang of pleasure when he gets machine-gunned to death near the end (not that the other 49 other prisoners being killed isn’t a tragedy, but at least Attenborough has been shut up for good).
(4) That scene when McQueen and Ives explain to their superiors how they intend to dig their way out under the fence like moles is completely absurd and not even vaguely funny, and McQueen’s delivery of his dialogue is straight out of The Honeymoon Machine.
Allen on the approaching 50th anniversary of Monty Python, a product of Cambridge University grads: “If you’re going to assemble a team now it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes. It’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world.”
Allen explained that he was part of “an industry-wide impetus” for people to be “telling stories that haven’t been told.” In other words you have to move on, engage, catch the next wave. On top of which Allen wouldn’t have his job for very long if he wasn’t saying “diversity…hey-ho!”
Naturally this didn’t sit well with former Python Terry Gilliam. Speaking at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the director of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote said the following:
“[Allen’s] statement made me so angry, all of us so angry. Comedy is not assembled, it’s not like putting together a boy band where you put together one of this, one of that and everyone is represented. This is bullshit. I no longer want to be a white male, [and] I don’t want to be blamed for everything wrong in the world. I tell the world now I’m a black lesbian…my name is Loretta and I’m a BLT, a black lesbian in transition.”
The great Dutch-born cinematographer Robby Muller has passed at age 78. He was a kind of outlaw stylist, drawn towards urban funk and fringe-y milieus. Muller shot shorts in the mid to late ’60s, and then became Wim Wenders‘ favorite dp in the ’70s and early ’80s (Summer in the City, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road, The American Friend, Paris, Texas). It was Muller’s noirish-gloom lensing of The American Friend that made me sit up and take notice. My second favorite Muller-shot film was Alex Cox‘s Repo Man. I loved his black-and-white lensing of Jim Jarmusch‘s Down By Law and Dead Man; ditto William Friedkin‘s To Live and Die in L.A. and well as Lars Von Trier‘s Breaking The Waves and Dancer in the Dark. There was nothing very “stylish” about his lensing of John McNaughton‘s Mad Dog and Glory (’93), but it’s one of my favorite ’90s films. Muller’s last fully-shot feature was Michael Winterbottom‘s 24-Hour Party People (’02). He co-shot Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (’03), and then apparently retired.
Next Monday President Trump will most likely nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 53, a flinty, pro-business conservative who reportedly helped draft the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton (i.e., a U.S. President who lies about getting a blowjob must be removed from office), to fill Judge Anthony Kennedy‘s seat on the Supreme Court. Something about Kavanaugh’s beady eyes, doughy face and vaguely rural accent instantly turned me off.
Less likely to be nominated is Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 46, who is strongly favored by devout social conservatives whereas the pro-business crowd is more supportive of Kavanaugh.
From N.Y. Times: “[Kavanaugh’s] work in the George W. Bush administration; the perception that his opposition in his judicial opinions to abortion and Obamacare was insufficiently adamant; and even a 1991 clerkship with Judge Alex Kozinski, a former federal Ninth Circuit judge who retired last year after accusations of sexual misconduct, have all come into question.
“At the other end of the spectrum is Judge Barrett, who has emerged as a favorite candidate of many conservative Christian leaders — both evangelicals and Catholics — who have championed her cause. During her confirmation hearing for the appeals court position, Senator Diane Feinstein questioned Judge Barrett about her public statements. “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail,” Feinstein told Barrett. “The dogma lives loudly within you.”
I miss Sen. Al Franken (third video down) so much that it hurts.