It was sorta kinda predictable that Jamie Foxx would get an outstanding actor trophy from the NAACP Image Awards for his Ray performance. Okay, he deserved it and all, but the honor is definitely a little “yeah…so?” at this stage. The Oscars are the last stop, the final crescendo…enough already.
I wish I’d taken the time today to write something longer about the coolest and classiest DVD out there right now…one of the most disturbing, penetrating, transcendent art films ever made: Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, which the Criterion Collection has just brought out on a special double-disc edition. I’m not an Antonioni scholar (I’ve never even seen La Notte), but this 1962 film — the conclusion of his Italian alienation-and-desire trilogy — is flat-out masterful. The genius element? There’s no story whatsoever. It’s purely a meditation about indifference, drifting, emptiness, ennui. I have never felt such a profound sense of nothingness — such an immaculate, beautifully composed void — from any other film, ever. L’eclisse is nominally about Vittoria (Monica Vitti)breaking up with her brooding novelist boyfriend (Francisco Rabal) and drifting into a new relationship with an attractive stock trader (Alain Delon). The film’s seven-minute finale — a succession of locations where Vitti and Delon have met and shared whatever during their brief affair — is justifiably famous. On the second disc there’s an excellent 60-minute documentary called “Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema.”
Melinda and Melinda is Woody Allen’s best film, I feel, since Mighty Aphrodite. But it’s not one of his very best, and he’ll probably never get back up there to Manhattan or Crimes and Misdemeanor-land until he hooks with a co-writer, preferably someone a good 25 years younger. Allen is almost 70 and he just isn’t getting the world as sharply as he used to. He needs a younger guy (or woman) to challenge him and give his scripts some zip, and that’s not a tough pill to swallow. He partnered with Marshall Brickman on Annie Hall and with Douglas McGrath on Bullets over Broadway…so it’s not like this is a new concept.
Most of us have an opinion about Robert Blake’s culpability in his ex-wife’s death, but trial prosecutors “couldn’t put the gun in his hand” (in the words of a Blake trial juror) and that’s the name of that tune. For a reason that had nothing to do with the case, a part of me that felt glad when I read of his acquittal yesterday. I used to tool around on a scooter when I first came to L.A. in ’83, and one day it was stolen. I reported the loss to the cops right away, and a few hours later an officer called to say it had been found in Studio City. I was told where to go to pick it up (i.e., a location on the concrete L.A. river bed near Magnolia), and when I got there I saw two uniformed cops approaching from a couple hundreds yards away with a much shorter civilian walking between them. The civilian was Blake — he was the one who had spotted the abandoned scooter and made the call.
Seven and a half years…whoa…after the opening of Titanic in late ’97, writer-director James Cameron has finally gotten down to assembling material for a special-edition DVD. Actually, two Titanic packages will hit the market next October — a two-disc special edition and a four-disc collector√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢√É‚Äû√É¬¥s edition. Among the bonuses with be all those deleted scenes fans have been talking about for years. (Roughly an hour’s worth, including the longer build-up to Kate Winslet’s attempted suicide and the Leo “payback” scene when he wallops David Warner.) The “arduous” process of making Titanic was so hard on Cameron’s psyche, he says in the press release, that “until recently, I wasn√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢√É‚Äû√É¬¥t really ready to dive back into it all.” In fact, Cameron hasn’t been ready to dive into directing a movie since. He’s supposed to be working on a 3D adaptation of a Japanese graphic novel called “Battle Angel”…but he’s been so slow or reluctant to pull the trigger on various other “maybe” projects, I’ll believe the “Battle Angel” stories when I hear the film has begun principal photography.
This is going to sound odd, but Universal Pictures and Double Feature partners Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher are planning on dramatizing the wrong 9/11 story.
I don’t mean it that way, exactly. How could “wrong” apply to a true-life story about surviving the World Trade Center disaster? But Shamberg and Sher are focusing on a generic rescue saga instead of (and this only a portion of it) a mind-bending divine intervention story that happened only a few dozen yards away from the subjects of their movie, and at precisely the same time.
The Shamberg-Sher story is about a couple of Port Authority police officers named Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, who found themselves buried inside a small pit under 20 feet of rubble after the collapse of the North Tower, and were eventually found and dug out. They were the last two victims to be pulled alive from the rubble.
But as Jimeno and McLoughlin struggled to be heard and rescued, there was another Port Authority employee named Pasquale Buzzelli who was lying unconscious on a large piece of concrete 30 or 40 feet above them. And his story — what he was doing before the collapse of the North Tower, how he happened to survive it despite being on or near the 22nd floor, how he dealt with the aftermath — has all kinds of haunts and echoes.
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Thank fortune Jimeno and McLoughlin survived, but dramatically speaking (and I realize that it sounds heartless to discuss a 9/11 story in terms of its audience- grabbing potential) theirs is a fairly standard scenario. I’m not trying to minimize or in any way dismiss the horror of what it was, but in movie terms it’s familiar.
Does anyone remember Dorothy Malone’s character being pinned under collapsed metal beams in 1960’s The Last Voyage, and finally getting carried out by husband Robert Stack and ship worker Woody Strode? Or the mineworker pinned under beams (and exploited by reporter Kirk Douglas) in 1951’s Ace in the Hole?
And how many times have we seen televised rescue dramas on local news shows about a kid who’s fallen into a well or sinkhole, etc.?
Louise and Pasquale Buzzelli, with their daughter Hope, in a photo that ran in New York magazine about 18 months ago.
Of course, the backdrop and circumstance of Jimeno and McLoughlin’s rescue will pack a wallop. But once you get past the 9/11 nightmare vibe (i.e., if you can step back and look at the story dispassionately), the story has a rote feeling.
Presumably Shamberg-Sher pounced on this because Jimeno and McLoughlin were the last people to be rescued from Ground Zero. Maybe someone can tell me what’s interesting about being the last. I mean, as opposed to being the first or the second-to-last or one of the guys in the middle group. Maybe it’s me.
The Shamberg-Sher project has no start date, but it has a completed script by Andrea Berloff. The project was brought to Shamberg-Sher by producer Debra Hill, who died from cancer less than two weeks ago.
Shamberg or Sher didn’t pick up, but according to critic and film historian Stephen Farber, who referred to this Universal-based project in a New York Times story that ran last Sunday (on 3.13), Universal is “happy” with the script. Farber passed along a sourced expectation that shooting will “hopefully start in the fall.”
There’s also a Columbia 9/11 project in the works, based on a recently acquired book by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn called “102 Minutes.” It’s basically about the chaos and mistakes in judgment that resulted in a lot of people needlessly dying inside the towers that day…people who might have gotten out if it weren’t for various dumb rules and bad calls.
American Ground author William Langeweische; one of the versions of the cover.
The Columbia film was reported about in a 2.1.05 Variety article by Mike Fleming and Nicole Laporte. (The link is impossible.) It will be produced by Mike DeLuca, Rachel Horovitz and Michael Jackson.
Variety has also reported that Imagine honcho Brian Grazer has a deal with NBC Universal TV for an eight-hour miniseries based on the 585-page 9/11 Commission Report.
But it’s looking like the Jimeno-McLoughlin story could be the opener — Hollywood’s first 9.11 dramatization/recreation to hit screens nationwide. And given what it is (or appears to be), I find this disappointing.
That’s because it doesn’t have anything like the surreal, full-throttle, hand-of-God quality of what happened to Buzzelli, who somehow wasn’t crushed or otherwise killed when the North Tower collapsed, but instead landed on a concrete slab 180 feet below and was later found and carried off by rescuers.
Remember that urban myth that went around just after 9/11 about some guy (a fireman, the rumors said) who had somehow surfed the collapse of one of the buildings from one of the highest floors and miraculously made it to the ground alive?
Retired Port Authority officer John McLoughlin with 60 Minutes reporter Vicki Mabrey during visit to Ground Zero.
Snopes.com, a smart urban-myth-debunker site, discusses the “building surfer” myth as follows: “Because this is a rumor of man triumphing over mayhem, lore remakes one of the cherished but doomed heroes of [9/11] into a survivor, changing his real fate into one that not only spares his life, but leaves him triumphant in the face of utter devastation. Our sense of justice is thus appeased.
“He’s a figment of our wishful imaginations, a fictional icon of indomitability we are quick to turn to in times of disaster. In our minds, we see his ride as a giant thumbing-off to the destruction raining down about him.”
My point is, Buzzelli was almost this guy.
Buzzelli’s wife Louise, whom I spoke with briefly this morning, says her husband “landed on top of where [Jimeno and McLoughlin] were. They were in this void, this pit, and Pasquale actually landed right on top of them. The rescue workers found the other two first and told Pasquale, ‘Hang tight, we’ll be back to get you.’ They thought he was a rescue worker, and then one of them finally said, ‘Holy shit, this is a civilian.’ They had no idea.”
In September 2002 I excerpted an extremely well written Atlantic Monthly article that told Buzzelli’s story. The author was William Langeweische, in the second of two articles (called “The Rush to Recover”) about the disaster and its aftermath.
There are no online links, but all of Langeweische’s aftermath-of-9/11 reporting was published in a book called “American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.”
Here’s a transcript of Langeweische relating Buzzelli’s story for a PBS documentary about 9/11.
I love Pasquelli’s story because it says that God or fate or whatever can sometimes show random compassion and make senseless exceptions in allowing this or that person to duck out the back door. I love the sheer exhilarating illogic of a guy being in a huge collapsing building and falling that far and coming out of it with just a few broken bones and bruises.
On top of which Buzzelli went through a phase after his brush with death that was not unlike the emotional journey taken by Jeff Bridges’ character in the 1993 Peter Weir film, Fearless .
Instead of feeling elated over having survived, Buzzelli felt guilty and was plagued by nightmares. He wound up spending several months in a TV-watching, weight-gaining funk. His story was told in a September ’03 New York magazine piece (“The Miracle Survivors”) by Jim Fishman.
I think that Buzzelli’s surviving the North Tower collapse is on the level of that guy bursting out of the bathroom in Pulp Fiction and blasting away at point-blank range at Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta…and neither one getting hit.
There were 16 survivors who were on the stairwell when the North Tower collapsed who made it out alive. Fishman doesn’t mention Jimeno and McLoughlin in the piece, but it would be surprising if they didn’t experience some psychologically tough patches of their own. Maybe their experience with this will be woven into the Shamberg-Sher film…or not.
I just know I’d much rather see the Buzzelli story on a movie screen. There’s that hand-of-God element, and the second act out of Fearless…and I can’t help but imagine how stunning it would be to see a recreation of what this poor guy went through. It would be (how could it not be?) an aural-visual mindblower.
Here’s how Langeweische described it:
“Buzzelli had just passed the 22nd floor when the North Tower gave way. It was 10:28 in the morning, an hour and 42 minutes after the attack. Buzzelli felt the building rumble, and immediately afterward heard a tremendous pounding coming at him from above, as the upper floors pancaked. Buzzelli’s memory of it afterwards was distinct. The pounding was rhythmic, and it intensified fast, as if a monstrous boulder were bounding down the stairwell toward his head.
“He reacted viscerally by diving halfway down a flight of stairs, and curling into a corner of a landing. He knew the building was failing. Buzzelli was a Catholic. He closed his eyes and prayed for his wife and unborn child. He prayed for a quick death.
“Because his eyes were closed, he felt rather than saw the walls crack open around him. For an instant the walls folded onto his head and arms, and he felt pressure, but then the structure disintegrated beneath him, and he thought, ‘I’m going,’ and began to fall. He kept his eyes closed. He felt the weightlessness of acceleration. The sensation reminded him of thrill rides he had enjoyed at Great Adventure, in New Jersey. He did not enjoy it now, but did not actively dislike it either. He did not actively do anything at all.
“He felt the wind on his face, and a sandblasting effect as he tumbled through the clouds of debris. He saw four flashes of light from small blows to the head, and then another really bright flash when he landed. Right after that he opened his eyes, and it was three hours later.
“He sat up. He saw blue sky and a world of shattered steel and concrete. He had landed on a slab like a sacrificial altar, perched high among mountains of ruin.
“There was a drop of fifteen feet to the debris below him. He saw heavy smoke in the air. Above his head rose a lovely skeletal wall, a lacy gothic thing that looked as if it would topple at any moment. He remembered his fall exactly, and assumed therefore that he was dead.
“He waited to see if death would be as it is shown in the movies — if an angel would come by, or if he would float up and see himself from the outside. But then he started to cough and to feel pain in his leg, and he realized that he was alive.”
On the PBS documentary, Langeweische said at this point that Buzzelli was “lying on this altar. There’s no one around. It’s utterly silent. There’re no people around, nothing. It’s a wasteland desert in the middle of New York City. The buildings are gone, there’s smoke, and then there’s fire.
“At some point, he was quite certain — to make a long story short — that he was going to die from fire. So certain that he found a piece of jagged metal and was going to cut his wrists, in order not at least to burn to death. And he had gotten to that point when he was rescued.”
Film industry reporters (and their editors) love writing about how this or that middle-aged corporate white guy has come into power, and what they’ll do when they start using it. (Or how they lost their grip on it.) Disney’s Bob Iger, the guy taking Michael Eisner’s place, is the current topic. Last week it was Howard Stringer becoming the first non-Japanese Sony CEO. The Weinstein brothers had the heat in February for concluding contractual talks about relinquishing Miramax to Disney, and announcing their plans to start a new operation. Paramount’s Brad Grey was the guy in January…and believe me, nobody outside of a small New York-Los Angeles clique cares. Because corporate white guys don’t affect the movies — filmmakers and their producers do. Brad Grey and his boss, Tom Freston, are, in some ways, going to make Paramount Pictures more of a go-getter operation than Sherry Lansing’s Paramount was…fine. And there’s a certain fascination in the drama of corporate samurais acquiring and losing power. But they’re all the same white guy to me…different faces, same suits, slightly different haircuts…each serving the same sociopathic corporate goals. CWG’s come and go, and the only people who perk up and say, “Look…a new CWG has replaced the previous CWG!” are these reporters, their editors and publishers, and a small elite readership (i.e., regular readers of Variety, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc.) “Maybe [Iger] really has a vision for the future that Michael Eisner hasn’t seen,” David Poland wrote the other day. “Of course, even if he does, he has another problem: no one is anticipating real change under Iger.” Uhh…David? No one anywhere anticipates real change from any CWG, ever. They couldn’t be more interchangable.
“In a couple of days throngs of movie theater owners and managers will descend on Las Vegas for four days of schmoozing, a smattering of screenings, a Mobius strip of meals and receptions, seminars and sundry other activities. It’s called ShoWest”… and most of these exhibition guys will be secretly miserable, because Vegas is the worst money-grubbing place in the world and the vibes are seriously awful. Unless you’re someone like Len Klady, it’s a tolerable environment for roughly four to six hours and then it’s agony…all you want is to leave and never come back.
Too Fast Farewell
It can sometimes take a while — two or three days, I mean — for the real soul of a place to be felt.
I’ve met several more good people at the Mar del Plata Film Festival since arriving here last Thursday evening (and composing Friday’s column, which took a while), and the warmth — not just the efficiency or commitment to the staging of a first-rate event — has been seeping through.
Close to the beach in Mar del Plata — I know not specifically where.
Of course, a visiting Hollywood journalist would be treated with all kinds of caring and graciousness. I’m speaking of something beneath this.
It would be facile to try and sum up Argentina’s basic attitude in one or two sentences, but Ines Vionnet, a whip-smart Buenos Aires woman who translated my comments during Saturday’s “master class” with Hugh Hudson, seemed to put her finger on something when she told me last night, “This is a sad country.”
In some ways, Argentina is Europe of a different latitude. Things have been hard here economically (the peso devaluation of late ’01 was devastating), but I’m not feeling much depression or bitterness from anyone. I’m getting more of a world-weary positivism, if that makes any sense. One day at a time, comme ci comme ca, life is what you make it. I’ve been speaking only with artist or professional class types, of course, but my four days here have reminded me that laughter in the wake of hard times means a lot more than the usual kind.
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A special thanks to Angeles Anchou, who served as my “angel” (a festival term for someone who facilitates, translates, gets you into parties). And also to Tomas Posse, a young cinematography student who handled the DVD clips during the Hudson seminar. (Tomas was very upset when he lost his notes for the clip cues just before we started, but the presentation came off fine regardless — he proved himself a pro under pressure.)
And a heartfelt thanks to Miguel Pereira, the festival’s affable and gracious president, for having me here and taking the time to make me feel welcome and appreciated, and also for introducing me to the beautiful Esther Goris, who played the charismatic lead in Juan Carlos Desanzo’s Eva Peron (1996), which was billed in some quarters as “Argentina’s answer to Evita !”
Dylan Kidd, the director of P.S., a competition entry, was hanging around the Hermitage bar and in fairly good spirits. Ditto director Luis Mandoki (Voces Inocentes), whom I didn’t speak to. Federico Luppi, whose performance as an elderly vampire in Guillermo del Toro’s Chronos has never left me, was here and there, but I didn’t say hello to him either, mostly out of embarrassment over my lousy Spanish.
I’m off to the airport in an hour or so. I’ll have about six hours to wander around Buenos Aires (Nine Queens director Fabian Beilinsky has suggested a couple of excellent restaurants in the San Telmo district) before flying back to Los Angeles late this evening.
Beaten, Bruised, Hurting
No, not me. I’m relatively fine. I’m talking about the people of Argentina, or at least how they’ve recently been portrayed.
I’m basing this observation on descriptions of recent and noteworthy local films that I read about in a catalogue during a Thursday afternoon bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata.
There are films being made in Argentina these days that strive to entertain. The usual sex comedies, romantic whimsy films, youths-experimenting-with-this-or-that films, child-rearing dramas, tango movies…whatever. But social realism is the burn-through right now.
Avenida Nueve de Julio in Buenos Aires — Thursday, 3.10.05, 11:45 am.
Of the 86 films listed in the 2004-2005 Cine Argentino catalogue, there are 34 or 35 that are specifically about (or were largely inspired by) two social traumas that have had devastating impacts — the political atrocities and murders carried out by Argentina√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s military dictators from ’76 to ’83, and the foreign-loan default and currency devaluation of late ’01, a kind of economic 9/11 that decimated living standards and brought despair and depression into tens of millions of lives.
Of these 35 films, ten are focused on or inspired by the dictatorship and the “disappeared,” and 25 are about the agony and hopelessness that comes from poverty and being jobless and having little if any prospects. They√É‚Äö√Ç¬¥re mostly straight dramas with docs here and there, but altogether we’re talking about a world of hurt.
Painful stories are always more involving than stories that avoid this, or go in the opposite direction. As callous as it sounds, difficult and/or traumatic times tend to produce better films.
Argentina√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s only success at winning a Best Picture Foreign Film Oscar was The Official Story (’85), about an investigation into political murders by the military junta and their political allies in the Argentine government. (In fact,Story is the only Latin American film to win in this category.) Maybe a film dealing with the financial catastrophe will be the next one to register.
Here are some passages from the synopses for these 35 films, all of which convey the general notion that life in Argentina has been terrible or damn close to it:
Take-out delicatessen near Mar del Plata. Divide the prices by three, and that’s your cost in dollars.
“In a country corrupted by poverty…” (from a synopsis of Eduardo Pinto√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Palermo Hollywood ).
“In the ’76 to ’83 period, thousands were kidnapped and murdered with absolute impugnity…[and] new-born babies of women pregnant at the time of their abduction were illegally taken away and adopted by other people. The disappearance of [these] children is one of the darkest legacies of this period.” (from a synopsis of Benjamin Avila√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Nietos (Identidad y Memoria ).
“Through all this time, the majority of the population had to survive below the poverty line, and marginality and unemployment grew at an accelerated rate, while politicians concocted obscure plans to cover the fact that the foreign debt was the cause and affect of an almost bankrupt coun try” (from a synopsis of Diego Musiak’s La Mayor Estafa al Pueblo Argentino).
Paula, a Buenos Aires actress, “wakes up one day and finds out her gas service has been cut off due to lack of payment. [And then] her boss fires her, the landlord threatens to evict her since she is four months late with the rent, her bank account balance is in the red, her father and friends refuse to help her, and even the director of a play she√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s in offers an indecent proposal.
Movie poster in central Buenos Aires — Thursday, 3.10.05, 11:05 am.
“What follows is an odyssey which drives a typical middle-class woman to relinquish her innocence, sink into a sordid Buenos Aires, and discover a universe not as safe as it once seemed to be.” (from a synopsis of Alejandro Chomski√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Hoy y Manana).
“Bernardo is 50. He feels overwhelmed, confused and almost devastated by a society that is, little by little, falling to pieces” (from a synopsis of Luis Barone√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s El Tigre Escondido).
“These are good, hard-working, desperate men tyring to overcome the despair generated by unemployment and to rebuild their lives, but their efforts crash against the crude reality, which seems to keep pushing them to the edge” (from a synopsis of Nicolas Tuosso√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Proxima Salida).
“The documentary reviews the 1976-2001 period, depicting the economic, social, political and moral decadence of those years in Argentina…[and explores] what this battered South American country√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s inhabitants, always ready to put up a fight even against the most catastrophic developments, had to go through” (from a synopsis of Fernando Solanas√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Avila√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Memoria del saqueo ).
Buenos Aires street — Thursday, 3.10.05, 10:50 pm.
There’ll be no summing up the essence of the Mar del Plata Film Festival in this column, or even a stab at a semi-comprehensive overview. Not after what I’ve been through over the last 40 hours, which has put me in a fatigued and grimy mood.
I guess this was in the cards when I knew I’d be flying 6100 miles one-way.
I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ve been sniffing things out since pulling into this Argentinean resort town last night around 7 pm…”sniffing” being a euphemism for not really getting into it and hanging back and scowling with a drink in my hand and leaning against walls.
View of Atlantic Ocean from sixth-floor hotel room at the Hermitage in Mar del Plata — Thursday, 3.10.05, 7:45 pm.
I’d never heard of this festival until Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit Proof Fence) turned me on to it a couple of months ago. (He was here last year.) It’s very well-run and tastefully programmed, and, in my judgment, as “good” of a film festival as Karlovy Vary or Locarno or San Francisco.
I guess the festival organizers flew me down here so I’d pass the word along to the Hollywood community that it’s cool to visit and that the vibe is all right. Yes, this is so. The people behind the Mar del Plata Film Festival are committed and energetic and as much in love with film as Tom Luddy or Geoff Gilmore or anyone else in the film festival universe, and you can feel this we-really-and-truly-care vibe everywhere you turn.
The festival website, the festival-at-a-glance brochure, the daily printed schedules, the publicity element…it’s all totally first-rate.
I’m just not feeling huge electrical currents so far. I thought I might luck onto some bat-out-of hell Argentinean film that everyone will be clamoring to see when it plays at Tellruride or Toronto six months from now, but I don√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t know what this film might be might be since no one from the festival is telling me anything, and I’ve been too shagged to ask.
I’ve been in a place between fuming and despair for the last twelve hours or so. I’m delighted, actually. I just like to hide my feelings when I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢m feeling good. Late last night I donated my $400 digital camera to some Mar del Plata citizen, and I just want to go out on the streets and give the world a big hug.
I donate valuable possessions whenever I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢m really tired. My brain stops working and I start forgetting.
One of the last photos taken on my disappeared Fuji digital camera.
Sometime between my sitting in an Italian restaurant right around the corner from the Hermitage hotel (a superb five-star operation and the headquarters for the festival) around 11:45 pm and walking into my hotel room five or ten minutes later, the device was left behind and the new owner was rejoicing.
Ten minutes later, he/she was starting to take shots and try out different exposure settings.
The only way I can stop feeling angry is to take a Born Into Brothels attitude and hope that some poor teenage kid (or the parent of one) found it and this will lead to the young person discovering he/she has real potential or talent as a photographer, etc.
It took fifteen and a half hours to fly to Buenos Aires from L.A., for which I blame Delta Airlines because they take you all the way to Atlanta before heading south.
I would have much preferred flying straight to Panama City, say, and stretching my legs for an hour or so and then going from there. I left LAX on Wednesday at 12:30 pm, and arrived Thursday about 9 am, or 4 am L.A. time. (Buenos Aires is two hours later than Atlanta and New York.)
I ran into producer Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, From Dusk to Dawn) at the luggage carousel. The Mar del Plata festival is giving him an award on Sunday, and making him the focus of a “master class” interview on Saturday. Bender stayed in town on Thursday to night to celebrate the opening of a friend’s hotel.
And then Gabriela, an extremely bright volunteer from the Argentine Film Institute, gave me a ride into town and took me to the institute’s offices where I left my bags so I could walk around Buenos Aires a bit, which I did for a couple of hours.
Buenos Aires street — Thursday, 3.10.05, 12:55 pm.
Buenos Aires didn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t give me one of those “I really love it here” feelings, to be perfectly frank.
It’s generally acknowledged as a great city and all, but that’s about the people and the culture and the teemingness of it. The city itself is big and flat and endlessly sprawled…miles upon miles. It smells to me like the air has an inordinate amount of pollution. The streets feel hot and vaguely oppressive — not enough fresh air, moisture oozing out — everywhere you go. I saw a lot of weary expressions on a lot of faces.
Bureaucratically-speaking, Argentina is one of those horrid places in which doing things very thoroughly (a polite term for “very slowly”) and filling out forms is either a matter of national pride, or an example of people having been beaten down and Kafka-ized into pulp. Stuff takes a long time to figure out or get done, and you’re always being asked to fill out a form, or being handed one. It’s like Soviet Russia.
I waited at a bank to change some dollars into pesos and it took over 20 minutes to get to a teller. Then the teller said no currency exchange because I didn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t have my passport. (If it’s just cash, why should anyone care?) I went back and got the passport and then waited in line another 15 or 20 minutes, and then the teller made me fill out a form before giving me the 400 pesos.
Cluster of businesses in southern neighborhood of Buenos Aires, on the way out of town.
Road sign about 30 kilometers outside Mar del Plata.
But the exchange rate is great here (i.e., bad for Argentinians, good for Americans).
You can use a computer at an internet caf√É∆í√Ç¬© for a full hour for only 2 pesos, or about 70 cents. Beers at a pricey hotel bar in Los Angeles or New York are at least five or six bucks, but here they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re four pesos, or about $1.40. That Italian meal I had last night just before losing my camera only ran me about 15 pesos, or a little less than six dollars.
The power of the American dollar has been destroyed by the huge Bush deficit. Euros cost about $1.32 now, which is way higher than they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ve ever been. It shows you how completely de-valued the Argentinian peso is when even the crummy dollar has serious buying power here.
A woman who works for the festival told me that even the Nicaraguan economy is doing better than Argentina’s at this stage. She also told me her monthly salary comes to about $300 U.S. She shares an apartment in Buenos Aires with another woman, she said, for which the rent is the equivalent of $275 U.S. monthly.
The area of Argentina from the airport north of Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata is totally flat. I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢m told there are other portions of the country with contour, but the part I was driven through yesterday was like southern New Jersey, Wisconsin, Texas. Not the slightest mound or gulley or sinkhole anywhere…until I got to Mar del Plata, which has a hilly area close to the beach.
The double-deckered bus from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata has big, cushy, sofa-like seats, as nice as the ones in the first-class section of 747s or 767s. I slept like a rock.
Melanie Griffith in A Stranger Among Us, as seen on 17″ screen on the double decker bus from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata.
And the TV monitors actually work and have programming, which the monitors on U.S. buses never do. It’s a very weird thing to wake up from a long nap and see Melanie Griffith playing a cop in A Stranger Among Us on a little TV screen, with Spanish subtitles, just above your seat.
The waves are very slight in front of the Hermitage Hotel on Mar del Plata beach. The Atlantic Ocean here is almost like one of the Great Lakes, or the Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut.
Don’t get me started on my Mar del Plata computer problems.
The broadband hookup in the hotel room won√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t work for my Toshiba laptop (I’m being told it’s my computer’s fault, even though the computer and I have been online with all kinds of plug-ins and dial-ups and wireless devices).
Festival “angels” who picked me up at Mar del Plata bus station and drove me to the hotel.
Since none of the computers at the internet cafes are new enough to read information off a USB data plug-in thing (they don√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t even have the receptacles), I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢m forced to file in the press room downstairs between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, which sucks.
It’s impossible to figure out how to type the “@” sign on an Argentinian keyboard — someone has to show you. The “@” sign shares the number 2 key, but this key is a red herring…just something to throw you off. You have to press down the ALT key and then type 6 and 4, but not the ones on the top keyboard row. You have to type the 6 and 4 that are part of the far-right keyboard cluster.
Subway stop near Avenida Nueve de Julio in Buenos Aires — Thursday, 3.10.05, 12:40 pm.
Posters on Avenida Nueve Julio.
State of Siege
I’ve been thinking and calling around about Steven Spielberg’s “Untitled Munich Project” for the last couple of days, and decided it’s in the cards for it to be something more than a revenge flick. I’m thinking it pretty much has to be.
It’s about the 1972 murders of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic games, partly…but mainly the response to this atrocity by Mossad, or Israel’s CIA. And the moral and ethical mucky-muck that results, I gather.
A member of Black September standing on balcony of Israeli athletes’ condo in Munich’s Olympic Village during September 1972 hostage stand-off.
This will be the heart of it, I presume. It can’t just be a Black Sunday-like piece about killing Palestinian terrorists. It might be this, I suppose, but I can’t see the humanist New York playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America ) writing a get-the-bad-guys procedural. Can you?
That recent rumor about the Munich project having a working title of Vengeance isn’t true, but it explains why some people are thinking it’s about payback.
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This will be Spielberg’s second major-league feature having to do with lethal aggression against Jews, the first being Schindler’s List, and he knows this latest effort will be compared to his 1993 Oscar winner, so he’s got to…you know…make it complex, high-minded, morally probing.
Spielberg and his team will be shooting the Munich project in various European and Middle East locations starting in late June (just as Spielberg’s War of the Worlds opens worldwide, on 6.29), and Universal is planning to open it on 12.23, in a clear angling for Oscar gold.
I’m guessing it’ll be a super-charged, early-William Freidkin thriller about the futility of seeking revenge, with a theme that says, in so many words, “If we all keep taking an eye for an eye, pretty soon the world will be blind.”
This line comes from a 1986 TV movie, Sword of Gideon, which was based on the same true-life story the Spielberg-Kushner film is apparently about.
Spielberg’s spokesperson Marvin Levy will only say it’s about the “aftermath” of the ’72 killing of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich games by the Palestinian terrorist group called Black September.
Two athletes were killed during a hostage-taking and stand-off situation with German authorities at Munich’s Olympic village. Nine more were killed by a grenade blast at Munich’s Furstenfeldbruck airport when authorities tried to shoot it out with the terrorists.
I haven’t read Kushner’s script, but one of the film’s vantage points is that of “Committee X,” a high-ranking group of Israeli officials, chaired by Israeli premiere Golda Meir and Defense Minister Mosha Dayan, and the assassination campaign they ordered Mossad to carry out — to murder every strategist and supporter known to have in some way supported Black September’s Munich operation.
The operation was known in some circles as Operation Wrath of God.
The idea behind the campaign, which was known as the kidon (Hebrew for bayonet) and run by senior Mossad agent Mike Harrari, was to strike terror in the hearts and minds of the plotters. It was primarily for the sake of revenge, I’m sure, but also to try and psychologically deter similar operations.
Remnants of charred helicopter at Munich’s Furstenfeldbruck airport, on the morning after the killings of nine Israeli athletes.
Mossad started with a list of 11 names, but the people they wound up killing numbered 18, by one count.
Harrari’s plan was to be absolutely precise and avoid collateral damage, and yet people who had nothing to do with the Munich killings — a Moroccan waiter, a Russian KGB agent, an Arab-looking bodyguard in Gibraltar, three Arab-looking guys who made the mistake of pulling out guns during a raid in Switzerland — died at the hands of the kidon killers. Seven in all.
Were some of these people innocent? One was, and some of the others may have been.
The Harrari figure was called “Avner” in Sword of Gideon, and was played by Steven Bauer (Traffic, Scarface). It appears that Eric Bana (Troy, The Hulk), who’s been cast as the lead in the Spielberg film, will play Harrari, or a character based upon him. (Levy told me he’s not playing a Black September guy, so that narrows it down.)
The IMDB says Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Undying Love) has also been cast. (Probably as one of the villains, right?) The usual Spielberg team — producer Kathy Kennedy, dp Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams — have signed on. (Williams worries me. His music could have a gauzy effect.) Barry Mendel is also producing.
Eric Roth (The Insider) and Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale ) worked on the Munich project before Kushner came aboard (I think) sometime last year.
Untitled Munich Project screenwriter Tony Kushner
Art is in no way obliged to tow the current political line, but I wonder what impact, if any, the Munich project may have upon the political ebb and flow, especially if it turns out to be good and popular and deserving of awards.
There’s been some movement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process lately, especially since the death of Yassir Arafat, with Israel giving back territory and whatnot. And the Munich movie could, at least in terms of the straight action elements, revive feelings of hate in certain quarters.
I would assume that Spielberg and his crew will have to be fairly careful with security issues when they’re shooting this summer, especially in the Middle East.
“What I find interesting about this is that it seems simple on its face…a good and evil story,” said Democratic strategist and West Wing consultant Lawrence O’Donnnell.
“This is not something anyone can predict, but I’m sure Tony Kushner will find the complexity in the story. I don’t think it would be premature to have an expectation for something great here. This will not be Raid on Entebbe.”
“Steven was pretty clear even last year that he did not want any preconceptions about what this [film] would be,” Levy said yesterday.
I know, I know…I should just shut up until someone slips me a copy of the script.
If You’re Interested…
There’s a pretty good blow-by-blow about the Munich murders and the Mossad revenge on a website called Special Operations.com. Here’s the link .
The mini-history, written by Thomas B. Hunter, is based on a book by Alexander Calahan called “Countering Terrorism: The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams,” (Marine Corps Command and General Staff College, April 1995).
You have to hand it to Spielberg this year — he’s really kicking ass with the finishing of the visually revved-up War of the Worlds (Martian space ships…c’mon), and then shooting, editing and wrapping the Munich project in just six months…July to December.
And then right into that Liam Neeson Abraham Lincoln biopic, right? I can’t wait for that one. Neeson will kill as Honest Abe.
When I say fast shoots I really mean fast post-production periods. I can only think of three or four off the top of my head.
James Stewart (right) and Goerge C. scott (seated) in Anatomy of a Murder.
Million Dollar Baby, of course, began shooting in the summer of ’04 and was done by last November. Remember that Spielberg put both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List into theatres, so I guess the latter was a fairly fast one.
For some reason I recall that the making of Floyd Mutrux’s American Hot Wax (1978), was fairly fast, or at least was in theatres only three of four months after finishing principal photography.
The fastest big-studio movie I’ve ever read about was Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), the Jimmy Stewart courtroom drama. According to the liner notes on the DVD, Murder shot for eight weeks and wrapped on May 15, 1959. It opened in big-city theatres about six weeks later, on July 2nd.
Andy and Larry Wachowski have gotten so caught up in their hiding-away syndrome that they’re producing V for Vendetta, an apparently thoughtful, Matrix-resembling action drama they wrote and developed years ago, rather than expose themselves to the threatening immediacy of being on the set and yelling “action!” and “cut!” and dealing with grips and best boys.
In their place, they’ve hired a talented flunky — James McTiegue, who worked as first assistant director on the Matrix trilogy — to “direct” the film. This strategy will allow the brothers to give McTiegue guidance (i.e., explain exactly what to do) as they keep a watch on things, perhaps from some heavily-fortified cyber-bunker several hundred feet below the streets of Berlin.
V for Vendetta is about to start shooting for ten weeks or so in Berlin.
The Wachowski’s will never be free from the fish net of their own making until they drop the super-secretive routine and stop cowering and “come out” and embrace (or at least accept) the occasionally rude and insensitive rough-and-tumble of the business, including dealing with the press and walking down streets and going into drugstores to fill their own prescriptions.
V for Vendetta star Natalie Portman and director James McTeigue at last week’s press conference in Berlin.
Larry can wear anything he wants and be anyone he wishes to be, but the boys can’t be Glenn Gould or Thomas Pynchon any longer. After a certain point the hiding of one’s face becomes tedious.
V for Vendetta, a tale about violent revolution in a futuristic London under the boot of a totalitarian government, is being filmed in Berlin with Natalie Portman in the lead role of “Evey.” Unfortunately, Portman will be losing weight and shaving her head for the role. James Purefoy is costarring.
The story is about “the people” helping to bring down an oppressive government, with Evey being a sort-of terrorist type with an ambiguous strain — i.e., is she good or bad or…?
“It√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s a very human story and because it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s human it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s not black and white,” Portman said at a Berlin press conference last week. “It is much more complicated and ambiguous than one person is good, one person is bad, the government is good, the people are bad, or the government is bad the people are good…it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s a lot more complex.”
Silver was asked about the Wachowskis’ game plan and general reclusiveness.
“When they wrote the script it was before they had directed anything, so maybe they were thinking at some point they would [direct it],” he answered. “Their intention following The Matrix was to take some time off from directing so they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re producing the picture with us.”
The Wachowskis were last seen by the public in the summer of ’03 when Matrix Reloaded opened to vague and then growing disappointment, and they damn sure haven’t been seen since Matrix Revolutions opened later that year and the whole mythology came crashing down in an anguished heap, with the spirit of the first Matrix film having been totally abandoned and traded in for something else.
“They√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re here [in Berlin] and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re very involved and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re kind of support for James and they√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re very anxious for James,” Silver said about the brothers.
They may be anxious about James McTeigue, but the plan is not fundamentally about supporting him or even his gifts as a director — the plan is about Larry and Andy needing to work in the shadows.
Their screenplay is based on the V For Vendetta graphic novel by Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd, which was originally published by DC Comics as a ten-part series in 1988.
Warner Bros. will open V For Vendetta on 11.4.05.
Believe it or not, I’m on my way to Argentina today (Wednesday) and the Mar del Plata Film Festival, where I’ll be poking around for a grand total of four days.
The festival organizers have invited me down to cover, and to also moderate a “Master Class” session on Saturday with director Hugh Hudson (I Dreamed of Africa, Chariots of Fire, Greystoke). I’ll run some photos and whatever stories I can come up with.
I’m also going to work in an exploration of Buenos Aires for a few hours on Sunday. When opportunity knocks, it’s usually a good idea to grab it. I would never have managed a trip down there on my own dime. I’ve never really wanted to, I mean.
Any Argentinan journalists or filmmakers who may be in Mar del Plata for the next few days are invited to get in touch. I’d like to know what’s doing.
I wonder if Fabian Beilinsky, the director of Nine Queens whom I met in Toronto two or three years ago, will be in the neighborhood?
I had to shut down the chat room after getting hacked twice over the Christmas holidays, but we have a new server now and new composing software (i.e., Movable Type), and I’m told by Brian Walker, Hollywood Elsewhere’s Man in Ohio, that the message boards and maybe even a chat-room screen will be back up by the end of the week.
I hope everyone gets into the habit again. I’ll do what I can to visit more often and get involved with whatever’s being chewed on and batted around.
Sorry for taking the thing down but getting hacked like that was awful…awful….and chat rooms are the most vulnerable spot in a site like this, and I didn’t want to risk any further invasions.
There’s also a new column coming soon by Sweden’s Nic Kockum (there’s been talk about calling it “Viking Gangbang”) and an L.A. socio-political industry column by the great Flint Wainess, a screenwriter and founder of the always fascinating www.breakupnews.com.
Dreams May Come
The shooting and projecting of movies on 35mm film is a dying practice, and it won’t be long before everything is digital this or that…no argument there.
But when will digital projection really be here, and from what digital source or delivery system will movies be obtained and projected — satellite transmission, fibre optic cable, pirate-proof DVDs?
I don’t know how long it will all take, but probably a while. Five years, ten years. Big changes in the way things are done never happen until economic conditions demand them…until the captains of industry feel the flames licking their feet.
But while we’re waiting and trading scnearios, here’s one that’s been passed along that’s more diverting than most. Some of it is fact, the basic thrust of it seems sensible, and the parts that aren’t verified or have been denied seem…well, intriguing. And digging it all up and learning a bit about the world of digital tomorrows was fun.
It involves Regal Entertainment, the 6,273 screen chain composed of Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theatres, and a purported, unverified but logical-sounding plan said to be under consideration by the chain’s owner, reclusive Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz, to move a significant portion of Regal into a sophisticated digital projection mode.
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The scenario, which has been derided as “conjured,” “colorful,” “nonsense” and having “no basis in fact” by Anschutz’s spokesperson Jim Monaghan, is two-fold — partly about a new middle-American, family-values digital distribution network that may be in the offing, and partly about a nationwide fibre-optic delivery system for films to be shown digital in theatres.
The technical speculation is that movies (in the form of digital feature-film data) could theoretically be sent from a digital switching center (possibly from the St. Louis headquarters of Qwest, the phone company owned by Anschutz) over a vast network of fibre optic cable that’s been laid down by Anschutz alongside the tracks of his Union Pacific railroad company, which he also owns. The films would then be relayed to Regal theatres, booths and projectors and thereby projected.
In so doing, the theory goes, Anschutz would become not just a major digital distributor of movies (through Regal Cinemedia, the division of Regal that attends to the digital potential side) but also, producing-wise, a major market force for G and PG-rated films through Anschutz’s two production companies, Bristol Bay and Walden Media.
Anschutz, in short, would one day be the Big Kahuna of not just a digital-projection empire, but the driver of a kind of ideological market force that, in part, would deliver family-friendly films produced by the Anschutz Film Group, the parent of Bristol Bay and Walden Media.
An indicaton of Anshutz’s game plan lies in the fact that he financed Taylor Hackford’s Ray to the tune of $35 million, but only upon an insistence that Hackford deliver a PG-13 film.
As Associated Press reporter Sandy Shore reported on 2.27, “Anschutz is a devout Presbyterian, but associates say he doesn’t try to influence projects with his beliefs.” Hackford told Shore he and Anschutz “disagreed” about the PG-13 rating, but once Hackford backed off from wanting to possibly deliver an R-rated film, Anschutz “left him alone to make the film.”
“He’s a conservative Republican and he knows I’m a liberal Democrat,” Hackford told the reporter “That didn’t mean we couldn’t talk about business.”
The technical speculation is that Anschutz has a contingency plan to eventually bring cinema-grade digital projection (i.e., with a 2K capacity, in keeping with today’s higher standards, or possibly a 4K capacity) to many of Regal Entertainment’s 6273 screens, which are mainly located in the Midwest and southwest.
Before going into total pooh-pooh mode Friday morning, Monaghan said that the cost of installing cinema-grade digital projection systems is the big question mark facing Regal and other theatre chains. “Nobody has figured out how to pay for it,” he said.
And Lauren Leff, spokesperson for Regal Cinemedia, was careful to point out that
“the Christie L6 projectors Regal currently has installed to operate…do not meet the standards Hollywood is working toward for future projection of full-length digital cinema features.”
There are three ways to deliver digital movies to theatrical movie screens — satellite, fibre optic and specially encoded DVDs.
Nicole Sperling wrote last October in the Hollywood Reporter that Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Co. were in “exploratory talks” to form a joint venture to facilitate the installation of digital cinema systems.
As I understand it, the primary idea is to come up with a way of distributing and projecting cinema-grade digital images (i.e., more or less indistinguishable from top-grade 35mm projection) through specially-encoded or encrypted DVDs.
The major Hollywood distributors formed a consortium two and a half years ago called the Digital Cinema Initiative with a plan to develop digital projection technology and settle on certain operational standards, which would be organized and facilitated by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).
Leff told me Regal Cinemedia is keeping its eye on what DCI (and/or the three above-named studios) will finally decide upon. And yet Anschutz has an enormous investment in a nationwide fibre-optic cable network, which seems to indicate his possible leanings regarding digital projection plans.
I’m a bit fuzzy here and there (I only have one body, two phones and eight hands), but more than a dozen years ago AT&T approached Anschutz with a proposal to pay a fee for permission to lay down a fiber optic cable along the entire Southern Pacific and Union Pacific right of way — in other words, all over America. Anschutz said no but we will do it for you, for a fee.
Anschutz took ATT’s money, dug the trench and used their money to buy a fiber optic cable three times bigger than AT&T’s (about six inches wide, one guy told me) and put it right down beside the smaller-capacity AT&T cable and covered it up. The cable was eventually utilized by QWest, Anschutz’s phone company.
As Lewis MacAdams put it in his 1998 profile of Anschutz in Los Angeles magazine, “Emulating the way the telegraph came west with the rails, Anschutz used the railroad’s vast right-of-ways — many of them originally granted by the federal government for building the transcontinental systems — to lay an information pipeline: Qwest, the world’s most advanced, high-capacity fiber-optic network.
“When Qwest is fully deployed [at the end of ’99], according to Wired magazine, it will have greater capacity than AT&T, MCI, Sprint and WorldCom combined to almost instantly transmit very large data files or images between 125 American cities, Europe and Mexico,” MacAdams reported.
The idea, I’ve been told (and I realize I’m repeating myself, and that I sound a bit breathless) is to send digital movie data through this fibre optic network from some kind of digital switching center under the auspices of QWest in St. Louis, which would be using a massive Cray computer as its brainiac nerve center.
I agree — the supposed plan sounds around-the-corner and not-yet-real. And if I were Monaghan, and my boss was a secretive, reclusive super-rich tycoon who refuses to deal with the press, as Anschutz does, I might say it’s all bogus too. And some of it might be.
And yet the idea makes sense, and much of what I’ve heard is verified, so I think Monaghan, a nice guy, may be stonewalling a bit.
This morning Monaghan wrote and said “there is no plan in existence…or in thought…the likes of which you have described to us by telephone and by e-mail.”
I replied, “You’re saying Phillip Anschutz has no plan or intention whatsover to eventually introduce a digital projection system within a portion (large or otherwise) of Regal Entertainment’s 6200-plus screens?
“With QWest’s vast investment in a huge fibre optic network and the capacity of this network to handle huge information files…..you can’t be saying Anschutz intends to stay with 35mm film projection in his theatres and has no plans to bring in cinema-grade digital projection for showing movies.”
Monaghan said, “You have asked me to sort out that which is factual from that which is inaccurate in terms of the information you. As the core of your information and beliefs [as convyeyed in your e-mail] is completely untrue and has absolutely no basis in fact, all of the detail supporting that false premise is moot.”
I replied, “You’re saying that the ‘core’ of the information/belief as passed along in my e-mail letter — that Anschutz is developing a system by which digital movie files could be fed to Regal Entertainment cinemas through QWest’s vast fibre-optic network…you’re saying this is complete fantasy and without a factual basis of any kind?
“I’m sorry to be blunt, Jim, but nobody in exhibition or distribution would accept that Anschutz is intending to have 35mm film projection be the technological cornerstone of his projection systems over the next five to ten years and not develop an integrated digital projection system of some kind.
“Every player in the distribution world accepts that digital is coming, is inevitable. It’s all a matter of cost and timing…i.e., when? I’d like to buy what you’re saying, but there is simply no logical way to accept that digital cinema delivery in Regal in the future is some kind of pie-in-the-sky, pot-in-the-pipe concept.
“Given this inevitability, which of the three digital cinema delivery modes, any reasonable person would ask, would Anschutz be investing in?
“The disc mode is said to be close to being finalized and worked out by SMPTE for that consortium of Hollywood distributors, so it’s possible Anschutz could be looking at this as a possibility. Is this the more likely possibility?
“He could also be looking at satellite feeds as the most economical and effective option….is he? (Satellite feeds can be affected by weather, so this is not a very secure option, I’ve heard.)
“It seems like the most logical option for Anschultz, given his huge investment in fibre optic, is to plan for the digital delivery of movies via QWest’s fibre optic network.”
Monaghan concluded, “Having been told by two [public relations reps] associated with both the Anschutz Company and Regal Entertainment that there is no basis in fact for the very colorful story you have somehow conjured, we do not expect to see any of this nonsense on your website or in any other medium.”
To which I replied, “I didn’t maintain that all of the reports and suppositions in my letter were factual, but I know that Anschutz’s investment in his vast fibre optic network is considerable. Elemental logic dictates that he would be loooking at deploying this network as part of a delivery-of-digital-movies strategy.
“I’m not saying I know that Anschutz is, in fact, doing this, but to characterize the basic elements of what I conveyed in yesterday’s e-mail as ‘conjured,’ ‘colorful’ and ‘nonsense’ with ‘no basis in fact’ defies credibility.
If this story came to you on the good authority of someone else,” Monaghan wrote, “and you feel compelled to believe them and not us, then I would expect anything you write to be fully disclaimed. That is, that you would identify the individual or individuals who have provided you this information … as well as our position that the story is completely untrue.
“I understand your position and thank you for conveying it,” I replied, “and I appreciate [the value of] your time and the courtesy that you’ve paid to me. At the same time, I hope you understand how difficult it is for me, and for anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the realities of 21st Century theatrical exhibition or distribution, to accept what you’re telling me as entirely candid.”
Monaghan had the last word when he wrote back this afternoon. “My answer was and is [that] there is no such plan,” he said. “If you find that answer misleading, so be it. To have answered in any affirmative manner would have been misleading.
“For you to twist that answer, however, to suggest that I’m claiming that Anschutz and/or Regal Entertainment ‘intends to stay with 35mm film projection’ is one of the most [amateurish] attempts at bogus journalism that I’ve seen in a long while.
“Of course the industry will change, and I assume that Regal will be competitive in whatever future environment presents itself. That’s not to say, however, that Anschutz or anyone else I know has a plan or is now developing a digital projection system.”
Of all the summer’s hot-sounding marquee titles, my biggest want-to-see is Richard Linklater’s The Bad News Bears (Paramount, 6.10). Everyone knows it’s Billy Bob Thornton as a surly, vaguely alcoholic manager of a kids’ baseball team, and understands this basically translates into another Bad Santa movie. I guess that’s the comfort factor — that heartwarming, exposing-minors-to-rot, slovenly-misfit-redeemed-by-innocence formula….as long as it’s done in a low-key way. Linklater mined this pretty well in School of Rock with Jack Black as the bum, so Bears will probably be smooth sailing. In any event, here’s the trailer . Gregg Kinnear and Marsha Gay Harden are the costars. I don’t know which of the kid actors has the Tatum O’Neal part, but I’ll bet one of them sorta does.