Variety‘s Jeff Sneider joined Sasha Stone and I for a discussion of this and that in an Oscar Poker-ish, grab-bag, drill-down fashion. We talked about right now…howz that? I refuse to describe it any further. Dang-ah-lang-ah-ding, dang-ah-lang-ah-lang-ah-ding. Here’s a stand-alone mp3 link. Note: Link corrected…sorry for earlier error.
Take a gander at this Democracy Corps/Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner report and tell me the election isn’t all but settled now in Obama’s favor. Note: A little more than 24 years ago my ex-wife Maggie and I (then married) went around West Hollywood and West LA and wild-posted Robbie Conal‘s anti-G.H.W. Bush “It Can’t Happen Here” art sheet.
On 8.30 the Venice Film Festival will honor director-screenwriter-producer Michael Cimino with a Persol Award, and then screen a digitally restored edition of Heaven’s Gate (’80). In a statement, festival director Alberto Barbera called the ceremony “a belated but long overdue acknowledgment of the greatness of a visionary filmmaker” who was “gradually reduced to silence after the box-office flop of a masterpiece to which the film producers contributed with senseless cuts.”
Nope, that’s not accurate. Heaven’s Gate has always been and absolutely always will be a stunningly bad film, very handsomely composed, yes, but flaccid and showoffy but absolutely seething with directorial wanking and certainly without any narrative or thematic substance, at least as I define these. And yet Cimino kept his hand in after Heaven’s Gate and made four subsequent films — Year of the Dragon (’85), The Sicilian (’87), The Desperate Hours (’90) and Sunchaser (’96).
For those who haven’t read Steven Bach‘s “Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate” (which was later retitled as “Final Cut: Art, Money and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate“) or seen Michael Epstein‘s 2004 doc based on the book, please take the time. The entire Epstein documentary, lasting 78 minutes, is on YouTube in eight parts.
I hated Heaven’s Gate when I first saw it nearly 32 years ago, and I couldn’t stay with it when I tried it a second time at home about nine years ago. Should I try it a third time when Criterion puts out their Bluray version?
I attended the second critics screening at the Cinema I on November 17th or 18th of 1980, and stood at the bottom of the down escalator as those who’d seen the afternoon show were leaving. I asked everyone I knew what they thought on a scale of 1 to 10. I’ll never forget the deflated, zombie-like expression on the face of journalist Dan Yakir as he muttered “zero.”
Don’t buy the Criterion Bluray (if and when it appears), and don’t buy the bullshit. This whole “Heaven’s Gate is a misunderstood masterpiece” crap was started by F.X. Feeney way back when. I dearly love Feeney, one of the most impassioned and mountain-hearted film essayists around (and also a first-rate screenwriter) but I respectfully dispute this revisionist drool.
In a 7.25 Boston Phoenix piece about Somerville projectionist David Kornfeld (“David Kornfeld’s High Noon”), Chris Marstall passes along a couple of laments from the widely respected Chapin Cutler, co-founder of Boston Light & Sound.
Lament #1 is that Cutler “Cutler doesn’t go to movies in [Boston] any more because of widespread projection problems. The last time he went, he took his son to see True Grit. The picture was wildly out of focus, and hot-spotted in the middle. He talked to the manager about the problems, but they didn’t get fixed and he felt blown off.
Lament #2 is that “in terms of presentation quality, dimness is the big issue. Dimness can be caused by several factors, Cutler said. Bulbs pushed past their rated lifetime, bulbs that are underpowered for their room, bulb focus, dirty port glass, dirty lenses, dirty screens, damaged reflectors — all factors that apply to both film and digital projectors.
“The message I heard over and over again in speaking to projectionists and theater managers,” Marstall summarizes, “was [that] to avoid a steady degradation in quality, you have to invest in a program of monitoring and maintenance.”
Cutler is the resident projection guru at the Telluride Film Festival. Here’s a brief interview I did with him at the end of last year’s festival:
On August 9th screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discussed the touchy issue of critical pans during their “Scriptnotes” podcast. These guys are intelligent and fun to listen to, but I’m mentioning this episode in particular because Mazin recalls a back-and-forth that happened (he says) between myself and Kevin Smith, and I regret to say he’s not remembering very clearly.
The exchange happened at a 2000 ComicCon panel called “Caught In The Net: Movie Webmasters on Hollywood, the Internet, and the Future of Their Bastard Child.” I asked a question, says Mazin, and Smith, he claims, looked at me and (I’m paraphrasing) said, “You’re Jeffrey Wells? Gee, you’ve written some nasty shit about me but now that I can see what you look like I don’t feel so bad.” Except I distinctly remember a moderate goodvibe feeling between myself and Smith that day. A couple of years later Smith hired me to write my column for his site so what does that suggest? I do recall Smith saying to someone “oh, you’re so-and-so?” but i don’t think it was me.
I’m not saying my memory is 100% bulletproof but I really don’t recall being Smith-dissed. Four years ago I wrote a looking-back piece about this panel, and I didn’t include any mention of Smith backhanding anyone.
Mazin is probably misremembering because I might have written something negative about Superhero (which he directed and wrote) or about Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4, which he wrote the screenplays for. I’m guessing he was transposing or substituting on some level.
The “Caught in the Web” panel, moderated by Den Shewman, featured David Poland, Film Threat‘s Chris Gore, Smith, Coming Attractions‘ Patrick Sauriol, CHUD’s Nick Nunziata, Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, and X-Men producer Tom DeSanto.
This Dick Cavett Show clip was obviously taped sometime after Peter Bogdanovich‘s The Last Picture Show opened on 10.22.71. Things were never better for Bogdanovich that at this very moment. Anyway, Bogdanovich mentions something I’d never heard before, which is that John Schlesinger wanted to make Sunday Bloody Sunday (a 1.66 Criterion Bluray is coming on 10.23) in black-and-white, but his producers and financiers said no.
Mel Brooks, whose last film at the time was The Twelve Chairs (’70), says that “black and white could be an arty trick…unless it’s truly indigenous to the local and theme and the story…if it’s proper, it’s proper.” Three years later Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, shot in 1930s-style monochrome, would open nationwide. This would only be ten months after Brooks’ Blazing Saddles preemed on 2.7.74.
Robert Altman was also a guest, but his last film at the time — McCabe and Mrs. Miller — had opened on June 24, 1971 and there was no home video release at the time so what was he doing there? Not to talk about Images, which wouldn’t come out for another year or so. Different world back then.
It’s odd to watch Bogdanovich pull out a cigarette and pop it into his mouth — how radically times have changed.
There are two films opening five days hence — Friday, 8.17 — that are definitely worth seeing. And no, I don’t care and it doesn’t matter that ads for these two are currently adorning this site. One is Craig Zobel‘s Compliance (Magnolia, opening in NY with LA and other burghs to follow) and the other is Chris Kenneally and Keanu Reeves‘ Side by Side (Tribeca Films, LA only with more cities to follow).
David Cronenberg‘s Cosmopolis (Entertainment One) is toxic (or so I felt after seeing it in Cannes). I won’t see The Expendables 2 until later this week but what can you expect? Nor have I seen Paranorman, Focus Features’ stop-motion animation. And I haven’t seen Robot & Frank. And I wouldn’t see Sparkle with a knife at my back. I only know that Compliance and Side by Side are grabbers as you watch them and that they stay with you weeks and months later.