In recognition of Friday’s limited release of When You’re Strange (Abamorama), Tom DeCillo‘s 90-minute Doors documentary, I’m reposting my 1.15.09 review, written at the start of the Sundance Film Festival.
“The short reaction to When You’re Strange is (a) it’s a much more perceptive dive into the legend of the Doors than Oliver Stone‘s film was, (b) it’s in love with Doors music (which I feel is a very good thing); (c) it has a good amount of heretofore unseen footage of Morrison and the band; but (d) it’s stymied time and again by tritely-written narration. And I mean ‘give me a fucking break’ trite.
“There has to be some way to recount the turnovers and disturbances of the hallucinatory ’60s without sounding like Tom Brokaw. You have to write and talk about those times with a sense of psychedelic impressionism. Or you have to talk about them like Peter Fonda did in The Limey — i.e., with subdued feeling and authority.
“I can only report that I began to go crazy listening to DeCillo’s litany of pat cliches. It’s not that the narration gets it “wrong” per se, but it makes one of the most electric and tumultuous times in American history sound so damn tidy and sorted out…almost vanilla.
Update: I haven’t seen a new version of DeCillo’s film, and wasn’t aware that Johnny Depp has re-recorded the narration. A mistake. For all I know the narration has been re-written since the version I saw 15 months ago. I’ll try and catch it this weekend.
“Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek has said he’s had no input into the film, but that he’s seen it and likes it, calling it ‘a tale of American shamanism‘ with a touch of the ‘supernatural.’ He says there’s also some rare footage in there that even stumped the Doors archivist. That’s all true as far as it goes. I don’t want to sound dismissive of this film, but it occasionally irritated the fuck out of me.
“Manzarek told Billboard earlier this year that When You’re Strange is ‘the anti-Oliver Stone… the true story of the Doors.’ Fine. Close enough.”
I want to put this carefully so as not to sound cruel or harsh. If Larry Cohen‘s The Winged Serpent (a.k.a., “Q” or Quetzacoatl) was to corner Russell Brand at the very top of the Chrysler building and peck him to death (and then tear strands of meat from his lifeless body and gulp them down voraciously), I would not cheer. Nor would I stand by idly if I saw this happening — I would do what I could to save Brand. But if I couldn’t save him I would not be incapacitated by grief. I’d move on with my life.
An IFC friend and supporter asked me the other night why I’d never written anything about Oliver Assayas’ Summer Hours, and my pitiful answer was that I never saw it. It was highly respected and I should have made the effort — no excuse.
Judging by the slight plumpness, I’m guessing this was shot sometime around 1955 or ’56.
Monday, 4.5, 7:50 pm — 55th Street near 6th Avenue.
From a mid 1950s film that’s plagued by bad performances from everyone, from the stars to supporting players to screaming extras. There’s only one aspect that’s good, and revealing that would give the game away.
Stephen J. Whitty‘s 4.4. piece about the Film Forum’s four-week series on newspaper films (4.9 through 5.6) alerted me to the fact that Jack Webb‘s -30- (1959), a wise-cracking but grossly sentimental ensemble newspaper drama, hasn’t been included.
This is perhaps due to curator Bruce Goldstein‘s inability to find a decent print, or maybe because he thought -30- just isn’t good enough. I wouldn’t argue with him. I saw it 20 or 25 years ago on the tube, and it’s definitely a flatly-mannered, heart-tugging Webb confection through and through.
But it does serve up a heaping assortment of late 1950s-era newspaper characters (although they seem part of a much earlier era), and the whole thing does occur in a newsroom, start to finish. So if the idea of the FF series is to taste the atmosphere of a dying industry when it was thriving and vigorous, -30- certainly delivers that.
Talk about a film rank with the smell of newsprint, printing presses, underarm perspiration and bad coffee in styrofoam cups, and seething with newsroom cliches — crusty but benign editors, eager-beaver copy boys, hungry female reporters, old-time press agents, cynical reporters with mushy hearts, etc. I can’t breathe!
The other thing is that -30-, a Warner Bros. film, doesn’t exist anywhere — not on the Warner Bros. archives site, not on DVD, and only from second-hand sources on VHS.
Update: It turns out that -30- is buyable/rentable on iTunes. I didn’t spot it because iTunes is calling it Thirty.
Former liberal-turned-arch-conservative screenwriter Mark Tapson (The Path to 9/11) has reviewed John and Jez Butterworth‘s screenplay of Fair Fame, the Doug Liman-drected political thriller costaring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.
Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as Joseph Wilson in Doug Liman’s Fair Game.
He puts it down, of course, for being too anti-Bush administration. Tapson’s view isn’t surprising given the right-wing enzymes in his system, and I’m certainly not excerpting his critique as something to seriously wade into. But it does offer an idea about how the right-wing media and blogosphere may come after Fair Game when it opens next fall, or perhaps even as soon as next month, if and when it screens at the Cannes Film Festival.
You almost have to admire Tapson’s determination to find ways to diss a script that adopts and advances the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame perspective on the ignoble outing incident, and which presents Karl Rove and Scooter Libby (being played by David Andrews) as the bad guys.
Tapson’s key retort is that Bush-Cheney-Rove-Libby were not responsible for Plame’s outing, explaining that the culprit is/was State Department official Richard Armitage — “a Bush critic, not an evil neocon, who leaked Plame’s name, and who hid his involvement for many months while Rove and others unfairly bore the brunt of the investigation and of the public excoriation.”
The Fair Game screenplay “is a full-out assault on Bush’s ‘war of choice’ and on what Roger Ebert, whose career has degenerated into making petty insults toward decent Americans, calls ‘neocon evildoing,'” Tapson writes.
“Must I issue a spoiler alert for this one? Would it really come as a surprise to hear that the script paints the entire Bush administration as power-mad schemers, and the Wilsons as courageous patriots putting themselves on the line to save the lives of American soldiers and defend our Constitutional rights?
“That it asserts that Bush’s abuses, not Saddam Hussein’s central role in international terrorism, constituted the real threat to this country?
“That a whole slew of critical CIA operations was abandoned, thanks to the vengeful outing of Valerie Plame, leaving many agents exposed in the field?
“And that as a result, Iraqi nuclear scientists (‘the real WMDs,’ as Watts/Plame says) defected to a welcoming Iran instead? If so, then I have some property in Death Valley I’d like to sell you.
“President Bush and other top level White House figures appear in the movie only in actual news footage, selectively chosen to suggest that they are conspiring in a ‘coordinated’ coverup. But lesser players Rove and Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, are more central to the script, which shows Libby intimidating CIA analysts so intensely that they burst into sweat and waves of nausea.
“He and Rove are also shown engaging in backroom manipulations to ‘bury’ Plame and Wilson (the title itself comes from a quote which Hardball host Chris Matthews attributed to Rove, about Valerie being ‘fair game’ – a phrase Rove says came from Matthews).
“But the truth is, it was State Department official Richard Armitage who leaked Plame’s name. In other words, as David Horowitz writes in Party of Defeat, ‘The entire affair was concocted out of whole cloth by opponents of the war.’
“And yet Armitage’s name never appears in the script. And how could it? That would defuse the filmmakers’ intent to demonize Rove and Bush and to condemn the war as shameful, unjust American aggression.”
Late last night the Hollywood Reporter‘s Alex Ben Block reported that Taylor Hackford‘s Love Ranch, a ’70s period drama about Joe and Sally Conforte‘s Mustang Ranch, will finally get a limited U.S. release in June through E1 Entertainment.
Joe Pesci plays the (in)famous Mr. Conforte and Helen Mirren (i.e., Hackford’s wife) plays Sally. Most of us are a little scared, I think, of husband-and-wife collaborations on films (they tend to disappoint) hence the muted enthusiasm about this one.
The screenplay, however, is by celebrated author and longtime New York magazine contributor Mark Jacobson, who based it on a story he wrote about the ranch, so maybe.
The film, which began shooting in January ’08 but hasn’t been seen at any film festivals, has been tied up in legal wrangles due to the producers, Capitol Films David Bergstein and Ron Tutor, having failed to make payments on loans and being foreclosed upon in late ’08, blah, blah. But financial boondoggles never prevent a film from being shown at a festival or two, as critical acclaim at Toronto or Sundance can obviously add value to the core asset. If it’s worth showing, there’s always a way.
My guess is that Love Ranch hasn’t shown at any festivals because it isn’t all that good. How do ya like them apples?
ABB reports that “it will open in seven to ten North American cities, including New York and Los Angeles,” and “if it gets positive reviews and does good business the release would be expanded.” Oh, give me a break!
Here are Hackford and Mirren talking about Love Ranch with Peter Bart and Peter Guber God knows how many months ago.
Update: A journalist and HE-reader whom I know to be legit says he “saw Love Ranch last year at a test screening. Taylor Hackford was there. The film was flat and un-involving but you do get to see the great dame Helen Mirren swear up a storm, which was kinda funny. She even throws in a Queen of England joke. Pesci has so much makeup on he looked like a tranny. The unknown guy who plays Mirren’s Argentinian lover is also miscast.
“The film was so boring I couldn’t bring myself to do a proper write-up. It would make a good fit for HBO.”