“All my life when I have seen more than two men together I have seen foolishness and I have seen cruelty,” Mary says about the disciples of her martyred son. “But it is foolishness that I have noticed first.”
For some reason this line woke me to what I believe is probably a very sincere longing on the part of many strong women today. They don’t just want more economic opportunity and increased power in business realms. They don’t want just a fair and equal voice in civic and cultural affairs and in government. With ample justification they feel genuine contempt for the way men have been running things over the last several centuries, and they’d like to basically take over and run the show their way and get it right. They want to live under a sane, less warlike and at least a semi-rational matriarchal society. I swear to God the older and wiser I get the better this idea sounds.
If a fundamental matriarchal power-grab would mean replacing bullheaded pistoleros like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the nihilistic Republican Congresspersons who don’t have a constructive or a fair-minded bone in their bodies and who would rather pull the temple down on everyone’s head than accept reasonable solutions then bring it on. And anything else you can throw in. Women are crazy in their own ways, of course, but they couldn’t mess things up any worse than Boehner and the rightie wackos have. Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren winning the White House in 2016…you name it.
Postscript: I have only one nagging hesitation about what I just wrote. I worked under exec producer Linda Bell Blue at Entertainment Tonight in ’98, and it was the most horrifically political and terrifying work environment I’ve ever known in my life. It was all about petty office power games and anxiety and who’s up and who’s down. Nothing in that environment was the least bit calm or serene. It was all about performing in front of your co-workers in order to convince them that you wouldn’t say anything bad about them when they weren’t around. Women were always conferring in their offices with the doors closed, and the subject was always other women who were huddling in their offices, etc. I naturally wanted to keep getting paid but I hated it there. Half the time I wanted to take gas so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the bullshit. I was 40% upset when I was canned but 60% relieved.
Steven Spielberg has told a Canal Plus interviewer that he’s developing Stanley Kubrick‘s Napoleon screenplay for production as a TV miniseries. Which is cool. But he says in the interview that Kubrick “wrote the [Napoleon] script in 1961, a long time ago.” Sorry but nope. Off by seven years, I’m afraid.
Note: The Canal Plus embed code is crap, but watch the video here. Spielberg’s comments begin around the 9:20 mark.
Kubrick began work on Napoleon in 1968 just after 2001: A Space Odysssey was finished, and had completed a screenplay draft by July 1969. Perhaps Spielberg was thinking of The German Lieutenant, a never-produced WWII drama that Kubrick co-wrote with Richard Adams in the early ’60s?
Kubrick’s Napoleon history is common knowledge. I’ve read Kubrick’s Napoleon screenplay (the one dated 9.29.69), which I think is the same version contained in “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made,” which Tashen published in 2011. This German Kubrick site (which has English translation) concurs about the intensive ’68 to ’69 Napoleon period. Kubrick’s Napoleon history is also summarized in an 11.19.12 Andrew Biswell piece in the Telegraph.
Another thing that Spielberg possibly misunderstands (he certainly doesn’t mention it) is that in various ways (tonally, stylistically, attitude-wise) we’ve already seen Kubrick’s Napoleon. It’s called Barry Lyndon.
A reading of the 9.29.69 screenplay makes it fairly obvious that Napoleon would have had the same vibe as Barry Lyndon, and been spoken the same way and framed and paced the same way. Okay, the lead character would be a determined egomaniacal genius instead of an amoral Irish lout and Napoleon would have more than one battle scene, but beyond these and other distinctions we’re talking the same line of country. Everything Kubrick desperately wanted to accomplish or put into Napoleon he put into Lyndon — simple.
The Biswell piece quotes a note written by Kubrick in 1968, in which he states that “newly developed fast photographic lenses would allow him to film interiors using ordinary window light — or even candlelight — which, he said, ‘will look much more beautiful and realistic than artificial light.'” Which of course he delivered in Barry Lyndon.
Remember the scene when Ryan O’Neal‘s Lyndon asks the pretty blonde fraulein if he could pay her for a meal, and then the follow-up scene inside her cottage when they carefully and delicately get around to talking about him staying that night and being her lover, etc.?
Consider this scene from Kubrick’s Napoleon — same tone, same idea, same sexual undercurrent. A lonely soldier, a poor young woman, etc.
EXT. LYON STREET – NIGHT
It is a witheringly cold winter night, in Lyon. People, bundled up to the eyes, hurry along the almost deserted street, past empty cafes which are still open. Napoleon, hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold, passes a charming, young street-walker, about his own age. He stops and looks at her, uncertainly. A large snowflake lands on her nose which makes him smile.
GIRL: Good evening, sir.
NAPOLEON: Good evening, Mademoiselle.
GIRL: The weather is terrible, isn’t it, sir?
NAPOLEON: Yes, it is. It must be one of the worst nights we have had this winter.
GIRL: Yes, it must be.
Napoleon is at a loss for conversation.
NAPOLEON: You must be chilled to the bone, standing out of doors like this.
GIRL: Yes, I am, sir.
NAPOLEON: Then what brings you out on such a night?
GIRL: Well, one must do something to live, you know. And I have an elderly mother who depends on me.
NAPOLEON: Oh, I see. That must be a great burden.
GIRL: One must take life as it comes. Do you live in Lyon, sir?
NAPOLEON: No, I’m only here on leave. My regiment is at Valence.
GIRL: Are you staying with a friend, sir?
NAPOLEON: No…I have a…room…at the Hotel de Perrin.
GIRL: Is it a nice warm room, sir?
NAPOLEON: Well, it must be a good deal warmer than it is here on the street.
GIRL: Would you like to take me there, so that we can get warm, sir?
NAPOLEON: Uhhn…yes, of course. If you would like to go there. But I have very little money.
GIRL: Do you have three francs, sir?
A film that for me was easily one of the slowest, draggiest and most suffocating viewing experiences of 2012 has earned more than $1 billion worldwide. What does that tell you about the future of the species, much less the taste levels out there? The same kind of lazy, thoughtless, ball-scratching consumerism is the cause of many social ills.
As far as I’m concerned the Chinese now have two things to answer for — forking over $37.3 million in 10 days to see The Hobbit and continuing to buy elephant ivory in the belief that it increases sexual potency.
I loved the 48 fps format, but beyond that I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey “a major slog,” as I wrote on 12.3. “I began looking at my watch at the 25-minute mark, at which point I moaned and muttered to myself, ‘God…over two hours to go!’ It’s like being on a long dull plane ride to Alaska without wifi. It’s ponderous, meditative and glacially paced, and sporadically or episodically cranked up in the usual Jackson style.
“The acting is always broad (except for Martin Freeman‘s low-key Bilbo Baggins), but everything is always frenzied and amplified and compounded with the heroes facing terrible, insurmountable odds, and the action scenes always ending in a cliffhanger with the ‘oh my God!’ rescue never happening until the very last second, and with nobody ‘good’ ever getting seriously hurt, much less killed. They might be unconscious and look dead, but they’ll wake up sooner or later.”
Once again defending high frame rates: “Once you’ve seen a big, empty, splashy, FX-driven film at 48 fps, you’ll never again be fully satisfied with seeing a big, empty, splashy, FX-driven film at 24 fps. 48 fps is perfect for comic-book whack-offs, Star Trek or Star Wars flicks, monster movies, vampire movies, pirate movies, adventure flicks, zombie flicks, animated features…anything that isn’t straight drama or any kind of impressively written, character-driven adult fare aimed at anyone with a year or two of college.
“My personal preference is that straight adult fare should be shot at 30 fps because it looks a lot cleaner than 24 fps and reduces pan blur and makes the action seem smoother. And all the rest of the films (i.e., those described above) should be shot at 48 fps. And believe me, the harumphs will eventually ease up and settle in.”
In a Sunday N.Y. Times piece called “Hollywood’s Priceless Sounding Board,” Tom Roston collects anecdotes from several Steven Spielberg-influenced directors (JJ Abrams, Matt Reeves, David Koepp, Chris Columbus) about how Spielberg has passed along valuable advice about how to improve their films.
One interesting tale is about Spielberg reading an early draft of Koepp’s Premium Rush, the 2012 bike messenger flick that had a lot of of footage of Joseph Gordon Levitt pedalling fast and hard around Manhattan.
Spielberg’s advice to Koepp was to show JGL “entering the screen consistently from one side when he was going downtown, and to enter the other side when he was going uptown, to help orient the audience,” Roston writes. Make no mistake — that’s an excellent idea. Having an instinctual visual sense has always been Spielberg’s ace in the hole. He’s always respected geography and choreography.
“[Spielberg] is exceedingly practical and grounded in the storytelling,” Koepp remarks. He adds that in passing along this advice Spielberg “referred to how Peter O’Toole‘s character, in Lawrence of Arabia, does the same thing when his character crosses the desert.”
Nope — flat-out wrong. Throughout the film O’Toole’s Lawrence, when trekking across the desert on his own steam, always travels from left to right. On his initial trek with his Bedouin guide (Zia Mohyeddin) to the Maxwell wells and then to Prince Faisal’s camp. During the journey from Faisal’s camp across the Nefud and on to Aqaba. The attack on Aqaba itself. The final campaign against Damascus. All left to right.
The one time O’Toole conspicuously travels in the opposite direction is at the very end, when he’s a passenger in an Army jeep and the British driver goes “Well, sir…goin’ ‘ome!” This may be what Spielberg was alluding to, but this final scene is not about Lawrence “crossing the desert” per se.
One more thing: Koepp, who’s worked as a writer and director on several Spielberg productions, says that “I think, for Steven, sometimes it’s the most fun to weigh in on someone else’s work when there are no consequences. He is free to just talk about the creative part.” This Keopp utterance is what’s known as “obiter dicta” — words in passing that give the game away, and in this instance possibly Spielberg’s.
When Koepp says “consequences” he means (a) consequences of either a structural or story nature, (b) practical-logistical consequences (i.e., how hard or easy will the idea be to film?) or (c) financial or box-office consequences. He’s probably referring to all three, but the very thought of “consequences” always interrupts and for the most part kills the creative process. Allowing “wait…hold on” into your imaginative stream is a perfect recipe for mediocrity. These words are known in the scriptwriting profession as “stoppers.”
I know — I used to consider consequences when I was writing reviews and being careful to shield or camoflauge my true feelings in “film critic-ese” or deciding whether or not to include a dicey or inflammatory quote in an interview piece, and it led only to middling results. I did the same damn thing when I was trying to write scripts in the mid to late ’80s. Only when I stopped being scared of this or that consequence did my writing start to get interesting.
As Spielberg has always been about making audience-pleasing films that earn a lot of money, one can reasonably assume that the “consequence” Koepp was thinking about, the “consequence” that Spielberg didn’t have to keep in mind while brainstorming about somebody else’s film, is ticket sales. Keopp’s quote is vague and therefore not smoking-gun material, but it’s precisely this way of thinking — “Will this scene or bit make the film more likable or entertaining in the eyes of Average Joe audience members and therefore help to increase profitability? — that has defined Spielberg all these decades, and why he’s the kind of filmmaker (with the exception of Schindler ‘s List and to a lesser extent Lincoln) that he is.
Don’t talk to me about Lawrence of Arabia. I know that film up, down, over and sideways. In May 2009 I took this shot of Seville’s Plaza de Espana, the palace-like building where Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first arrives after being driven into “Cairo” following his trek across the Sinai desert with Farraj (Michel Ray) and Daud (John Dimech).