I love that they’re trying to sell the new four-disc Ben-Hur
DVD to the religious right, offering to Christian retail outlets a “Ben-Hur Bible Study Guide” by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his son, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, the co-chairmen of Crystal Cathedral Ministries. This is just as phony a sales pitch as the original author, General Lew Wallace, calling his book “A Tale of the Christ.” As co-screenwriter Gore Vidal explains on the “making of” doc, Ben-Hur is the story of unrequited love, betrayal and revenge between a Jewish boy and a Roman boy. Rage and bitterness are washed clean at the finale by Christ’s blood trickling into a stream, fine..but Ben-Hur never would have never been made into a film if the character of Judah Ben-Hur had followed the Nazarene’s teachings. If Judah (Charlton Heston) had returned from Jack Hawkins’ villa in Rome and decided to turn the other cheek and forgive Messala (Stephen Boyd) after learning that his boyhood friend had condemned his mother and sister to prison and the scourge of leprosy (instead of doing what he does in the film, which is to challenge and then defeat Messala in the chariot race, which results in Messala being trampled to death by horses), Ben-Hur never would have been greenlit.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Anne Thompson, Steven Soderbergh says the “skewed studio system” — i.e., the overall economics of cost vs. revenue — “needs to be rethought. People need to be made true partners in the real risk/reward ratio. Everybody needs to be talking about fair compensation and participation. It can be done. The force of economics is irresistible.” In other words, stars should risk it like the producers do…in line with the Robert Evans philosophy of “everybody risks it…if the movie hits, everybody makes out…if it doesn’t, at least nobody gets hurt.” That means putting a harness on their agents and pay-or-play deals…right?
You’re hearing it here again, and I don’t know anything except for having read the Jarhead script way back when and knowing how unshakably hard-core the “Troy” character is: Peter Sarsgaard is going to score big with his performance as this guy…the steely- eyed Marine buddy to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Anthony Swofford character…the hard guy who never wavers or shudders or loses focus…who always has his shit wrapped tight. I haven’t been to an early screening — this is merely what I got when I met this guy on the page, and I’m just tellin’ ya…
On the other hand, I can understand a reader’s reluctance to buy what I’m saying because I also claimed that Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown was going to be the shit based on having read the script…and look what happened in Toronto. (The shorter version is about to be screened for the junketeers, but let me repeat that the longer version isn’t a total wipeout because it finds the groove at roughly the halfway mark…it gradually becomes a film about what makes life joyful and worth hanging onto.) Scripts are blueprints — when you read a good one you start directing the “movie” in your head. But you also expect that this good script will be further tweaked before it’s actually filmed (most films are tweaked and tweaked within an inch of their lives), and there are so many ways to emphasize this or de-emphasize that. All I can say is that I wrote a pretty good piece in the mid ’90s called “Loved the Script, Hated the Movie.”
What happens when you see Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan a second time? (My first exposure was in the Varsity 8 last Friday at the Toronto Film Festival.) This masterful doc, which I saw yesterday on the Paramount Home Video DVD, gets a little bit better because the basic theme seems that much clearer, and the half-ecstatic, half-tragic arc of Dylan’s experience from ’62 to ’66 is that much harder to miss. Dylan’s basic motto/game plan was to always live and work in a state of becoming — no standing still, no looking back, always the next thing, etc. This was the basic mindset that led to his early-to-mid-60s genius run. It was what took him to the top of the plateau, and also what enraged his folkie fans to the point that many of them wanted him pushed off when he went electric. The extras are cool (full-length clips of Dylan singing this and that song, four or five tribute numbers by other artists) but the coolest thing about it is the slight but distinct improvement factor which, after all, is what happens with all great films.
In a 3.16 lead piece called “9/11 Pitch Meeting,” I argued that the story behind the forthcoming Oliver Stone 9/11 movie, about a couple of Port Authority police officers named Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin who found themselves buried inside a small pit under 20 feet of rubble after the collapse of the North Tower, and were eventually found and dug out, isn’t nearly as intriguing as the story of Port Authority employee Pasquale Buzzelli. I’ve passed this along before…Buzzelli was the guy who was in a stairwell on the 22nd floor of the North Tower when it came crashing down and who somehow survived. (He awoke a couple of hours later on a concrete slab situated 30 feet above where Jimeno and McLoughlin were trapped.) Buzzelli’s story is ten times what Jimeno and McLoughlin’s is because of the surreal, full-throttle, hand-of-God quality of what happened to the guy…he’s almost the mythical “building surfer.” I’m mentioning this because Buzzelli’s story is one of many included in “102 Minutes,” the what-happened-inside-the-towers history by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. Their book has been adapted into script form by Shattered Glass director Billy Ray for a possible film to be produced by Columbia-based Mike Deluca. Anyway, here’s the shot: before leaving Manhattan in late August I spoke to a friend who’s read a recent draft of Ray’s script and…my face turned ash-gray when I heard this…Buzzelli’s story isn’t in it. Don’t know if this is true, but if it is…?
In Glenn Whipp’s interview piece with Jodie Foster, she relates a story about seeing March of the Penguins with her two kids at a Sunday noontime matinee and getting into an argument with a woman who went “beserk” because one of her kids was talking in the usual piercing way that little kids talk and disturbing the vibe. “One son’s older, so he was quiet all the time, but my little one says things like, ‘Is that the baby? Is he carrying the egg?'” Foster relates. “And I’m trying to keep him quiet, but he’s not screaming or anything. He’s just asking questions, and kids don’t know how to talk quietly really. And this woman in front of me is just beserk. She started with the shushing from the get-go. ‘Fine. You can shush forever.” And then she starts yelling at me. Finally, I just turn into the most perfect police officer where I was whispering, ‘You know, you’re really disturbing everybody, and I think it would be a good idea if you moved if you’re not happy.’ It almost came to blows. I’m pretty sure I did say something offensive at some point, something like, ‘Well, you’re awfully young to be that bitter.'” I understand, I’ve been there, I went through it for years, but except for Foster’s contention that her adversary “lost her mind,” I’m afraid I have no choice but to side with beserko-lady. If your kids are yapping and you can’t keep them quiet, you have to leave the theatre. You have to respect that others paid the ten bucks to see the movie and that your kid is messing with their experience and that’s that…no two ways… Sunday matinee or not.
If you want a demonstration of how fair and thorough David Poland’s Movie City News is in terms of links to showbiz stories on its main page, click on it right now. (I wrote this Friday morning at 7:19 am.) The link at the top of the page says “Kilday On The Doc Race for Oscar…But Leaves Out A Lot Of Titles, Including Sony Classics’ Sundance Directing Winner The Devil & Daniel Johnston , Which Is Oscar Qualified.” And of course, naturally …you expected otherwise?…Poland ignored my lead piece on the exact same topic, which went up last night around 6:30 pm.