Here’s a tip-of-the-hat to whomever makes the in-flight video programming decisions for Continental Airlines. All airlines program contemporary crap (i.e., Land of the Lost, Transformers 2) but very few include classic films. I’m just saying it was enormously comforting to watch John Ford‘s The Grapes of Wrath and Howard Hawks‘ Bringing Up Baby during Wednesday’s JFK-to-LAX flight. It mitigated an otherwise close-to-hellish experience (i.e., stuck in a cramped seat on a seemingly interminable flight).
From 10.23 through 11.9, BAMcinematek is running a series of 1962 films. It’s partially about celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the New York Film Critics Circle, and also about making up for the fact that the NYFCC didn’t present awards that year due to a newspaper strike. NYFCC chairman Armond White, the apparent architect of the series, has written that 1962 “was equal to Hollywood’s fabled 1939 [so] we welcome this great opportunity to learn and revise film history.”
Glynis Johns in George Cukor’s The Chapman Report.
The films being shown are, for the most part, excellent choices — Jacques Demy‘s Lola, John Ford‘s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, David Lean‘s Lawrence of Arabia, Sam Peckinpah‘s Ride The High Country, Robert Aldrich‘s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, George Cukor‘s The Chapman Report, Jerry Lewis‘s The Errand Boy (actually released in the fall of 1961), Howard Hawks‘ Hatari, Francois Truffaut‘s Shoot The Piano Player, Francois Truffaut‘s Jules and Jim, Agnes Varda‘s Cleo From 5 to 7, and Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Il Grido (which opened in Italy in mid ’57 but not in the States until ’62).
But if White and BAM are seriously trying to pay tribute to 1962 (which was an exceptional year) and they’re including mid-level pablum like The Chapman Report, why did they blow off Otto Preminger‘s Advise and Consent, Peter Ustinov‘s Billy Budd (an excellent film), John Frankenheimer‘s Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate and All Fall Down, J. Lee Thompson‘s Cape Fear, George Seaton‘s The Counterfeit Traitor, Frank Perry‘s David and Lisa, Blake Edwards‘ Days of Wine and Roses, Pietro Germi‘s Divorce, Italian Style, Terence Young‘s Dr. No, John Huston‘s Freud, Don Siegel‘s Hell Is For Heroes, John Schlesinger‘s A Kind of Loving, Roman Polanski‘s Knife in the Water (actually released in the U.S. in ’63), Alain Resnais‘ Last Year at Marienbad, Michelangelo Antonioni‘s L’eclisse Stanley Kubrick‘s Lolita, the great Kirk Douglas western Lonely are the Brave, Sidney Lumet‘s version of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, the internationally-directed The Longest Day, Samuel Fuller‘s Merrill’s Marauders, Arthur Penn‘s The Miracle Worker, Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty, Jules Dassin‘s Phaedra, George Roy Hilll‘s Period of Adjustment, Ralph Nelson and Rod Serling‘s Requiem for a Heavyweight, Serge Bourguignon‘s Sundays and Cybele (a.k.a., Les dimanches de ville d’Avray), Richard Brooks‘ Sweet Bird of Youth, Robert Mulligan‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, Orson Welles‘ The Trial, Robert Wise‘s Two for the Seesaw, Vincente Minnelli‘s Two Weeks in Another Town, Denis Sanders‘ War Hunt (which costarred Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack) and Philip Leacock‘s The War Lover?
That’s 36 or 37 films released in ’62 — ranging from fairly decent to good to excellent, no pikers in the lot — vs. a mere twelve showing at the BAM/NYFCC series. So the program is showing roughly 25% of the worthy films that opened in the U.S. that year. They couldn’t even manage half! A faux tribute, at best.
A.O. Scott‘s inspired video essays always look smallish and slightly degraded on the Times site, but they look significantly improved at a width of 560 pixels on YouTube. (Just search with “NY Times critics’ picks A.O. Scott”.) This essay on John Ford‘s Fort Apache is one of the better ones, particularly for the parallels Scott raises between Ford’s U.S.cavalry vs. native Americans conflict and current U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At some point in Douglas Brinkley‘s “Bob Dylan’s America,” a Rolling Stone cover story keyed to Dylan’s new album “Together Through Life,” is a passage about director John Ford. And I have to be honest and say that it bothers me somewhat.
cover of current Rolling Stone; director John Ford.
“At heart Dylan is an old-fashioned moralist like Shane, who believes in the basic lessons taught by McGuffey’s Readers and the power of a six-shooter. A cowboy-movie aficionado, Dylan considers director John Ford a great American artist. ‘I like his old films,’ Dylan says. ‘He was a man’s man, and he thought that way. He never had his guard down. Put courage and bravery, redemption and a peculiar mix of agony and ecstasy on the screen in a brilliant dramatic manner. [And] his movies were easy to understand.
“I like that period of time in American films. I think America has produced the greatest films ever. No other country has come close. The great movies that came out of America in the studio system, which a lot of people say is the slavery system, were heroic and visionary, and inspired people in a way that no other country has ever done. If film is the ultimate art form, then you’ll need to look no further than those films. Art has the ability to transform people’s lives, and they did just that.'”
Yes, of course — the director of The Grapes of Wrath, The Informer, How Green Was My Valley, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Horse Soldiers, Drums Along the Mohawk and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a superb visual composer and one of Hollywood’s most economical story-tellers bar none. His films were always layered and ripe with sub-currents that never flowed in one simple direction. His films always seemed fairly obvious and sentimental…at first. Then you’d watch them again and reconsider, and they always seemed to be about a lot more.
Except being a man’s man only goes so far. And I’m disturbed by Dylan being either oblivious to or deliberately overlooking the John Ford downside. The occasional staginess and jacked-up sentiment in just about every one of his films. The Irish clannishness, the tributes to boozy male camaraderie, the relentless balladeering over the opening credits of 90% of his films, the old-school chauvinism, the covert racism, the thinly sketched women, the “gallery of supporting players bristling with tedious eccentricity” (as critic David Thomson put it in his Biographical Dictionary of Film), and so on.
How could the guy who wrote “the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face” not at least acknowledge the conflict between the majestic Ford and the whorish Irish sentimentalist? It’s depressing to consider a man who “once held mountains in the palm of [his] hand” being content to rely upon a distillation of a classic frontier ethos as the bedrock of his philosophy. I realize Dylan is a big Barack Obama fan, but it bothers me to think of him as a bit of a cultural conservative. Because Shane isn’t about old-fashioned morality, dammit. It’s nominally about a heroic, stand-up figure in buckskin, yes, but it’s really about a man grappling with — resisting — his basic nature only to finally give in to it at the end.
I became convinced after watching Joe Swanberg‘s Alexander The Last that star Jess Weixler would be a near-perfect choice to play the Susan George part in Rod Lurie‘s reimagjned remake of Straw Dogs. Weixler puts out waves of soulfulness and emotional connectivity in Swanberg’s film, and I have an idea that she’d deliver something deeper and more layered (in a whole-hearted feminine sense) than what George and director Sam Peckinpah came up with for the 1971 original.
As long as we’re on the subject, are there any ideas as to who else could handle George’s part with a little something extra? And who, for that matter, could step into the Hoffman role? Keep in mind the international marquee factor.
Lurie’s Straw Dogs is taking place in the south, by the way, and not rural England. I for one admire his bravery in plunging ahead with it. He knows that a certain sector is going to trash him for daring to fuck with a Peckinpah classic no matter how his version may turn out. If you’re going to be a director, as John Ford once told Nunnally Johnson, you have to be a bit of an S.O.B. But you also need the courage of your convictions.
Jeffrey Wells to William Friedkin: The French Connection was obviously your film when you were developing, shooting and cutting it, and certainly your film when you were promoting it in ’71. And you were most responsible for winning the Best Picture Oscar, clearly. But those days are over, pal, and while you may feel some form of residual parental ownership rights today, you’re out of line. At least as far as revisionist futzing rights are concerned.
Frame capture from David Lean’s revised version of Lawrence of Arabia.
Whatever your attorney has told you or the contracts may say, you do not own The French Connection, Mr. Freidkin — the moviegoing public does. The fans who’ve been watching and worshipping this film for the last 38 years do. Your ownership rights went out the window, sir, once that legendary New York crime film became a huge hit, and they sure as shit were null and void after it won the Best Picture Oscar of 1971. And you can’t just stroll into a post-production house on Highland or Seward and re-visualize it and put out a snow-bleachy version on Blu-ray and say, “This is it — the best version of this film ever made!”
Well, you can because you have. But you have no legitimacy in doing so.
I’m referring to what cinematographer Owen Roizman strongly stated last week, which is that you’ve desecrated The French Connection with a new high-contrasty, snow-grained, color-bleeding, verging-on-monochrome digital transfer that is now watchable on Blu-ray.
The word on the street is that you intend to do the same thing to The Exorcist down the road. I got the idea from listening to you speak the night before last that if you had a chance you’d probably do the same to upcoming remasters of Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A..
I’m writing to tell you, sir, that this has to stop because in the eyes of the Movie Gods you haven’t the right to do this, despite what your pallies at Fox Home Video and others in the film-cultivating community may have told you.
You can’t mangle what belongs to the public and to history, Mr. Freidkin. Art belongs to the artist until he or she creates it, and then it belongs to the world. Period. That means forever. That means no retroactive whimsical messing-around rights can kick in. And that means no Greedo-shoots-first revisionism of any kind unless the intention is to try and bring genuine (i.e., nonrevisionist) improvement to the original vision. Richer, fuller, crisper, cleaner…fine. But no “atrocious” and “horrifying” revisions.
That means if Pablo Picasso comes back from the grave he can’t go to Spain and decide that “Guernica” works better in color because he had a recent vision in heaven that painting it in black and white in 1937 was the wrong way to go. That means that the ghost of David Lean can’t come back to earth and decide to reimagine and remaster Lawrence of Arabia as a black-and-white period movie in the vein of John Ford‘s The Lost Patrol (1934).
The same thing goes for The Exorcist, Sorcerer and To Live and Die in LA.. You don’t have the right because they’re not your films, buster. You made them, obviously, but they have a life and a culture and a spirit of their own now. And I am telling you, speaking for myself and I suspect for many others, to back off and leave those movies alone. I mean it. Stand aside, sheath your sword, holster your pistol and find some other way to be creative.
You can do what you can to improve the appearance of these films on DVD, Blu-ray and hi-def digital downloads feeds. You can help to make sure they look precisely as they did when they were shown as brand-new prints in first-run theatres, or help make them look even sharper and cleaner and more vivid than they did back then if you so choose, but that’s all.
Otherwise you’re a brilliant and accomplished filmmaker, and an excellent fellow to discuss the ins and outs of the movie business with. And Bug deserved more attention and acclaim than it got. And all hail Michael Shannon!
Several years ago film historian Ron Haver raised a point about the Skull Island wall in the original King Kong (’33) that was so fundamental that it had been ignored for decades. Why, Haver asked, did the natives build a huge gate in the wall that was big enough to allow 30-foot tall apes and dinosaurs to walk through?
I have a similar-type question about John Ford‘s relentless use of Monument Valley as a backdrop in his westerns, particularly his use of it in The Searchers. Why are people there in the first place? There was no reason at all for settler types to live there in the old days because MV is a 100% worthless area for farming and cattle-raising. No rivers for trade, no railroads, no cottage industry of any kind. It’s just scenery.
The dry typography tells you there’s not much in the way of rainfall. There don’t seem to be any rivers or lakes nearby. There’s no grass for cattle herds to feed upon. One look tells you there’s no nutritious soil to grow crops with. There was no such thing as tourism in the settler days. The only settler-sustaining industry of any kind was uranium mining, which reportedly happened between 1948 and 1967.
And yet decade after decade film monks have been praising the John Ford Monument Valley westerns without so much as mentioning — not once! — the absolute idiocy of anyone living in such an environment during the 1800s or early 1900s. The reason for this willful logical shutdown is that Monument Valley is infused with such a tremendous sense of myth and grandeur that it’s regarded by film buffs as a kind of spiritual cathedral.
Every time I watch The Searchers, I ask myself “what the fuck are all those settlers doing there? What’s the damn point?”
“Sooner or later, you know you will crash into the densest of Armondic icebergs, i.e., Steven Spielberg. White regards the maker of E.T., Schindler’s List, and 1941 to be ‘the greatest of all American humanist directors, every bit the equal of John Ford…the measure by which all films and filmmakers must be judged.’
“The possible notion that Spielberg, eternal box-office boy-king of Hollywood, may embody the Reagan-Clintonist consumerism White claims has ruined serious film appreciation in this country is rejected with little more than a sardonic chuckle. For White, defending Spielberg is a waste of his breath, ‘a distraction.’ If you can’t grasp the self-evident greatness of A.I. and Munich, that’s your problem, not his.” — from Mark Jacobson‘s New York magazine profile of N.Y. Press critic Armond White, published on 2.15.
Yesterday a hospital worker killed his wife, his five kids and himself , allegedly because he and his wife had both been fired from their jobs. That’s not the all of it, trust me. When the going gets tough, some run and hide — and some get out the pistol. The weak ones, I mean. Being jobless and destitute is ghastly, of course, but it’s also an opportunity to man up and become stronger. Tom Joad didn’t shoot himself. What about the underlying spirit of that “what’s it to ya?” diner scene in John Ford‘s film version? Kill yourself if you can’t take it, but you don’t kill your kids.
Andrew Breitbart is starting his own conservative-minded Hollywood-oriented site — Big Hollywood — tomorrow, and he’s got Steve Mason as his box-office analyst,” a D.C.-based reader asked this morning. “Will you still quote Mason from time to time, or does this put him on your shit list?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “Breitbart’s a good man and Mason knows his stuff so it’s all fine.”
It’ll be fun to debate (i.e., mock, deride, joke about) the right-wing views espoused on Big Hollywood , which Breitbart says will “be a continuous politics and culture posting board for those who think something has gone drastically wrong and that Hollywood should return to its patriotic roots.
“Big Hollywood’s modest objective: to change the entertainment industry. To make Hollywood something we can believe in — again. In order to give millions of Americans hope.”
In order to create this sense of hope, one presumes, a good right-wing site will, as a sideline, need to fire off rhetorical stink bombs at Barack Obama whenever possible, right, Andrew? And do whatever it can to pave the way for a return of Sarah Palin in ’12?
When’s the last time a really good patriotic right-wing film came along? I love good conservative-minded films (Man on Fire, Gran Torino, etc.) but they’re few and far between. There seems to be something in the genes of right-thinking, God-fearing, flag-saluting types that seems to get in the way of good film art, for the most part. Obviously being a staunch right-winger didn’t hurt the films of John Ford (to use but one example), but the experience of An American Carol is more typical than not.
Right-wingers can grouse all they want about Godless cynical films made my left-wing pinkos, but their own attempts to make stirring films have been for the most part pathetic.
It’ll also be good to read the rants of all the right-wing machines who used to be HE commenters — i.e., the one I got rid of during last summer’s Stalinist purge.
“If hard times are here again, maybe it’s time for Hollywood to once again stand up for the downtrodden.” — N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott in a video assessment of John Ford‘s The Grapes of Wrath (1940), one of the older big-studio films that I’ve sworn by all my life.
Richard Dreyfuss told the ladies on The View that he played Dick Cheney in W. for “money.” Well, partly. The four things actors kick around before doing a film are (a) how many of the scenes are mainly about my character?, (b) how many lines and possible close-ups do I have?, (c) how much will I get paid? and (d) how good is the overall script and/or the director?
The question isn’t why Dreyfuss said that W. is “six-eighths of a great film.” The question is, why didn’t he say “three-quarters”?
Drefyuss also said that Oliver Stone is a little bit like Sean Hannity, explaining that “you can be a fascist, even when you’re on the left.” Show me a director who doesn’t believe that he/she is boss and that all opinions must finally be subjugated to his/her creative judgment, and I will show you a namby-pamby. John Ford once said that all strong directors are, to some extent, bastards.
- All Hail Tom White, Taciturn Hero of “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Roughly two months ago a very early draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon (dated 2.20.17,...More »