I’m announcing with great comfort and satisfaction that I haven’t watched a single episode of HBO and David Kelley‘s The Undoing, and that includes the grand finale, which aired this evening. Thank you. Here’s a recap, filed this evening by tvline.com‘s Michael Ausiello.
Originally posted on 11.26.11: Speaking of miserable, I was at one of my lowest ebbs in the late summer or early fall of ’78. I was living in a roach-infested Soho tenement on Sullivan Street and writing reviews for free, pitching freelance articles to people who thought I was marginally competent as a writer (if that), working at restaurants as a host for chump change, barely able to pay the rent at times, borrowing money from my father when it got really awful, occasionally taking a train to Connecticut to work as a tree surgeon on the weekends. Swamped by feelings of powerlessness, futility, despair.
But one fairly warm day I was walking near West Broadway and Prince and noticed some people clustered in front of an art gallery with generator trucks and cables leading upstairs. So without asking questions or making eye contact with anyone I walked right in and bounded up the staircase. Upstairs was a large, high-ceilinged space with many people milling about. A casual vibe. Nobody said “excuse me, can I help you?” I just walked over to craft services like I was part of the crew and helped myself to an apple and a cup of coffee. I figured I’d spot a recognizable someone — a director, an actor — and figure out what the “show” was.
And then I walked into the main gallery room and there, sitting in a canvas chair and reading something intently, was young Woody Allen. He was being left alone, nobody hovering. Glasses, dark brownish-red hair, green-plaid flannel shirt…and sitting absolutely still, like a Duane Hanson sculpture. He might have had a bit of makeup on, or so I recall.
But it was Woody, all right, and right away I said to myself, “I’m gonna get busted if I stand here and just stare at him.” So I walked around a bit more with a guarded expression and then went downstairs and asked somebody what the movie was called. “It’s a Woody Allen film….that’s all I know,” some guy said.
I’m not sure anyone knew the title at the time, but the following April, or about seven or eight months later, the movie opened with one — Manhattan.
My emotional and financial states were so precarious and I was so close to depression at the time of the Allen sighting that just glimpsing him sitting there gave me a real lift. For a minute or two I was part of a very elite and highly charged environment, if only as a secret visitor, and I felt good about myself for momentarily slipping inside and smelling the air of that set. The experience lasted for maybe three minutes, tops, but I’ve never forgotten it.
I was still living on Sullivan, still eeking out a living when Manhattan opened on 4.25.79. I knew relatively few people in the film-journo world, and some of the older ones I was vaguely acquainted with regarded me askance. I was working at restaurants to make ends meet and enjoying damn little comfort. And one of the reasons I loved every minute of Manhattan is that it provided a great fantasy trip into the kind of New York world I wanted to know and live in, but couldn’t afford.
Of course it was a smart Woody Allen uptown dream movie. Of course it bore little relation to the city I was confined to, or to the one that I imagined most New Yorkers knew. I wished time and again that year that I could live in a world that was at least akin to Manhattan‘s — cultured, clever, moneyed and buffed by Gordon Willis in black and white and a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The fakery was what everyone found so delightful about the film. Because it was very sharp and sophisticated and nicely burnished.
Life can be so miserable when you’re poor, especially when you’re unsure of your creative or professional abilities.
Final paragraph from welles.net essay by Orson Welles biographer Joseph McBride, posted on 11.28: “The critical acclaim Mank has been receiving (though hardly unanimous, since some reviewers and feature writers are aware of its dramatic fabrications) shows that our culture has not progressed much beyond Hollywood’s benighted 1939 view of the still-troubling wunderkind, Orson Welles.
“Perhaps most Americans prefer to cling to their anti-intellectual view of artists as sinister people who should be ostracized. We still view maverick artists not as valiant figures but as egomaniacal monsters who mistreat hapless underlings and demand credit they don’t deserve.
“When [Gary Oldman‘s] Herman J. Mankiewicz is shown at the end giving his Oscar speech for the Kane screenplay to a newsreel camera, he says it was written ‘in the absence of Orson Welles,’ and an unseen man’s voice is heard asking, ‘How come he shares credit?’ Mank says in the film’s last line, ‘Well, that, my friend, is the magic of the movies.’
“If [Mank director] David Fincher wants us to believe that kind of nonsense, he would need a better script. Mankiewicz himself would probably scoff at Mank. He was too smart and self-aware and generous at heart to do otherwise. But the mythology of Kael and Mank will likely endure, for it is a tale our belittling culture needs to cling to. As Welles prophetically told Peter Bogdanovich, ‘Cleaning up after Miss Kael is going to take a lot of scrubbing.'”
Author, film professor and Orson Welles biographer Joseph McBride posing with Welles sometime in the early to mid ’70s.
Dave Prowse, the physical embodiment of Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films, has died at age 85. Full HE respect for a legendary 20th Century figure. Hugs and condolences to family, friends, colleagues, fans. The Daily Mail and The Sun are reporting that he passed from coronavirus.
Prose’s most noteworthy acting in The Empire Strikes Back was when he formed a fist with his left hand and shook it for emphasis when James Earl Jones (who is still with us) said “if only you knew the power of the dark side.”
Prowse’s most interesting performance was as Patrick Magee‘s weight-lifting assistant in A Clockwork Orange.
Earlier this month I wrote that “if there’s been one steady-drumbeat message that has thundered across the Twitterverse for several weeks now, it’s that Pete Docter‘s Soul (Disney +, 12.25) is a truly exceptional animated feature…an emotional, spiritual, jazz-embroidered film so rich and resonant and full-hearted that it deserves to be in Best Picture contention.”
That, trust me, will never happen. Best Animated Feature, sure, but not Best Picture. Because I finally saw Soul last night, and despite an absolute avalanche of charm and energy and whimsical, wild-ass associations, it’s just not good enough. Too fast and busy, too scattered, too all over the place, too hyper. And because it pushes a fundamentally false or at least conflicted concept of life. And because (this is minor but significant) it tries to normalize obesity with the casting of the fattest animated cat you’ve ever seen in your life.
I knew something was up a few weeks ago when Variety‘s award-season columnist Clayton Davis, known for his extra-friendly instincts when it comes to multicultural Oscar bait, tweeted on 11.10 that he wasn’t a Soul fan.
And yet a general impression remains that Soul is a major Pixar creation with a big Oscar future. Some HE commenters have insisted that it should leap over its own category and compete for the Best Picture Oscar. (Hah!) Partly because they love the many winning aspects (heart, humanity, cleverness, abundant energy), but also because it’s about a black character and a black community.
In line with this, the critical response has been, I feel, fairly cowardly. They’re terrified of saying anything even slightly negative about such a film. And so right now Soul has a 100% RT rating and the Metacritic number is at 91%.
This morning I tapped out a spoiler-laden assessment of Soul. I realize, of course, that dozens of critics have already reviewed it at length. But please understand (repeating myself) that my remarks INCLUDE SPOILERS.
But before reading this, here’s Pixar’s boilerplate synopsis: “Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher, has long dreamed of performing jazz music onstage, and finally gets a chance after impressing other jazz musicians during an opening act at the Half Note Club. However, an untimely accident causes Gardner’s soul to be separated from his body and begin to proceed to the Great Beyond.
“And yet Gardner manages to escape to the Great Before, a world where souls develop personalities, quirks, and traits before being sent off to Earth. There, Gardner must work with souls in training at the Great Before, and in particular a soul named ’22’ (Tina Fey), a pre-spectral spark with a dim view on the concept of life, in order to return to Earth before his body dies.”
Her perceptions about this brilliant (if conflicted) family melodrama are joyously spot-on. My immediate reaction was “say what you will about Kael’s occasionally skewed perceptions, but she sure saw right through this film…in fact, she saw what this film was with more clarity than the people who wrote it.”
Before reading her piece, consider a Hud riff that I posted 11 months ago. It recalled how Martin Ritt‘s 1963 classic, written by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., was intended as a solemn moralistic drama about a selfish, snarly human being (Paul Newman‘s titular character), but ended up being enjoyed and even admired because of the charms of said shitheel.
The below excerpt from a 2003 conversation with Ravetch and Frank. Michigan Quarterly Review‘s William Baer explains the basics.
Baer: “Well, Hud was certainly a unique picture in many ways, but, most significantly, it dared to portray a central character who was a pure bastard, and who remained totally unredeemed and unrepentant at the end of the picture.”
Ravetch: “Yes, we sensed a change in American society back then. We felt that the country was gradually moving into a kind of self-absorption, and indulgence, and greed. Which, of course, fully blossomed in the ’80s and ’90s. So we made Hud a greedy, self-absorbed man, who ruthlessly strives for things, and gains a lot materially, but really loses everything that’s important. But he doesn’t care. He’s still unrepentant.
Frank: “In our society, there’s always been a fascination with the ‘charming’ villain, and we wanted to say that if something’s corrupt, it’s still corrupt, no matter how charming it might seem. Even if it’s Paul Newman with his beautiful blue eyes. But things didn’t work out like we planned.
Baer: “It actually backfired.”
Ravetch: “Yes, it did, and it was a terrible shock to all of us. Here’s a man who tries to rape his housekeeper, who wants to sell poisoned cattle to his neighbors, and who stops at nothing to take control of his father’s property. And all the time, he’s completely unrepentant. Then, at the first screenings, the preview cards asked the audiences, ‘Which character did you most admire?’ and many of them answered ‘Hud.’ We were completely astonished. Obviously, audiences loved Hud, and it sent us into a tailspin. The whole point of all our work on that picture was apparently undone because Paul was so charismatic.”