Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fade to Black?

       Sometimes it just doesn't work out quite the way you hoped…

A lot of things seem to be coming to an end these days.  My own show walked the plank into the oblivion of syndication three months ago, but if that was a big deal in my little world, it barely sent a ripple through greater Hollywood. On a bigger stage, the iconic cable drama Mad Men just closed out its historic run, as did the darkly stylish Justified earlier this year.  Two and a Half Men ended after a lucrative-but-tumultuous twelve years on the Toob, and even American Idol -- the famously all-conquering “Death Star” that ruled the ratings wars for a decade -- was handed walking papers and told leave the building after one final season.  
The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Change is the only constant in life and Hollywood, but there seems to be a lot more churn than usual going down lately, indicative of tectonic shifts underfoot. In the last few weeks, too many of my industry friends awoke to the bad news that their shows had been cancelled when the networks announced the Fall lineup for the new season.
Although turnover is inevitable in a business where shows live and die on the whims of the cultural tide, this purge feels a bit different: if you listen close, you can hear the shrieks of panic from the plush network suites high above-the-line. As web-based programming captures the attention of more and more viewers tired of paying through the nose for cable or satellite hook-ups, ever more advertising dollars are migrating towards the web as well -- and that scares the crap out of television executives. Fear then generates the need to do something -- anything -- to demonstrate leadership in challenging times, so out came the executive's long knives as the bloodletting began.  
So it goes in the turbulent waters of Hollywood. Much like a surfer, the freelance Industry Work-Bot must be flexible, balanced, and adept at riding the ever-shifting waves to survive.  Doing so (and thus remaining employable) has been a constant challenge for me over the last three-and-a-half decades, but with the end finally in sight -- a year and change to go -- I saw a relatively smooth ride ahead onto the sunny beach of retirement... but not so fast, Surfer Joe. An unexpected storm blew in out of nowhere, and suddenly there’s a lot of very choppy water between me and that vast expanse of warm, dry sand.  
I’ve said it before: this is a tribal business where you’re only as good as your network of connections and your crew: your tribe. Absent those, you’re on the outside looking in. Once upon a time I had a book full of numbers to call when things got slow. Being young, reliable, reasonably competent and always ready to work, my employment dance-card was full much of the time. There were dry spells, of course -- a couple of them long enough that I seriously pondered looking for another way to make a living-- but the phone always rang before it came to that. 

So here I am, still standing, but as the years passed, so did many of those contacts. Some  died, many retired, while a few had their careers take off, rocketing them into an orbit far beyond my reach. Of those that remain, not many want to hire a juicer my age. This is a business of youth, where three years of experience can mean just as much as thirty, and when push inevitably comes to shove, youth will be served. Besides, there's no denying that I’m limited in what I can do on set at this point. A twelve-hour call wrangling 4/0 -- “picking it up and laying it down” -- might put me in the hospital, while a week of 14 hour days on an episodic would leave me crawling back to my car on all fours come Fraturday morning.   
Realistically, all that’s left for me are multi-camera shows, where I can still pull my own weight without letting them see me sweat.  
Given all that, you can understand how hard the news hit  -- delivered via Facebook, no less --  that the Gaffer I’ve been working with since with since this pilot back in 2008 decided to retire a full year ahead of schedule. With thirty-odd years in the biz, he’s earned the right to call it quits whenever he wants, but his departure leaves the tribe -- our tribe -- in the lurch. With the click of a mouse, the bonds that held this team together through good times and bad over the last seven years vanished in an instant and I'm once again a free agent, a juicer without a tribe.
The last time this happened, I wandered through the wilderness day-playing for three full years before working my way into a new tribe and onto shows again -- but there aren't three years to play with now.
The rest of the crew will be okay. Being in their 40‘s and early 50‘s (and very good at their jobs), none of them will have much trouble finding a new tribe, but I’m nipping at the heels of Methuselah in an industry where gray hair is seen as the kiss of death.
So what to do? The same thing I’ve always done -- what every Hollywood Work-Bot does when it all goes to hell: adapt to the new reality and find a way to keep my head above water. The next six months will say a lot about how that goes. If I can’t land a show for the new Fall season, I’ll hope for one of the mid-season replacements that come along once all the mainstream shows are well underway, or maybe a cable show will materialize from the ether with my name on it.   

Then again, maybe not.
Without a Gaffer willing to grant membership into his tribe, my odds of joining the core-crew on any show show lie on the far side of slim to none. It could be this was my last good ride after all, in which case I’ll just have to suck it up, hope for the best, and ride the waves of whatever day-playing calls roll my way. And if that's not how I wanted this career to end, hey, that's Hollywood -- or more to the point (to quote one of my all-time favorite movies), "It's Chinatown, Jake."

Still, something may yet come up -- it always has in the past -- but if not, I'll lean on another iconic quote from my youth: "You can't always get what you want,"* because one way or another, I will get through this final year. If it's not a free and easy path, what else is new? Nothing about this Hollywood life has ever been easy, and in a way, a year of day-playing would bring my journey back full circle. I started out a stranger in this very strange land, desperately scrambling to find some traction, and if I have to finish up the same way, so be it. Come what may, I'll work another summer, fall, winter, and spring with all the dignity I can muster, then drop my tool belt and walk away. 
Then -- and only then -- will it be time to roll the end credits and fade to black...

* "but if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Twenty Two

              You never know what you'll find behind the set walls…

Quote of the Week: 

"I'd like to kiss the girl without having to choke her first."

(Ray Liotta, responding to the question "Is there anything left on your showbiz bucket list?" for a recent piece in the LA Times.)

This podcast interview from KCRW's The Business features former agent, producer, and sometimes director Gavin Polone with veteran writer/producer Rob Long in discussing the lucrative practice of agents and their agencies collecting “packaging fees” -- which can be substantial -- from the studios for doing absolutely nothing.  According to Polone, such fees come right off the top of a show’s budget, hoovering up money that could otherwise go towards making a better show.  
According to Polone -- who has never been shy about airing issues that usually remain behind closed doors above-the-line -- not only do these unearned and totally unjustified fees stiff the writers, actors, and producers who do the creative work necessary to put any show up on the screen, but they can have a negative effect on the quality of the show. Apparently the studios and showrunners are leery of alienating the agencies by challenging this practice for fear that the agent's top talent will be steered elsewhere in the future. Polone tells how he once tried to block his agent from getting an unearned package fee, but the studio -- unwilling to ruffle agency feathers -- refused to back him up. They just paid the money instead and if this sounds like something more likely to happen in any one of the many corrupt Third World kleptocracies around the globe, such is the grubby reality of modern Hollywood.  

What that says about the industry and this town is hardly flattering.
Lest this seem irrelevant to those of us who work far below-the-line, remember the ancient trueism:  “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled” -- and in the film and television industry, we’re the grass. The money quietly extorted by agents could allow a show runner to hire better guest stars, get better music to accompany the episode, or maybe let a department head hire extra hands to make the work week go smoother.  Hell, it might even go towards a better craft service spread for all the hard workers on set.  Of course, the show runner involved might just blow that money on cocaine, high-rent hookers, or a new Porsche, but even then, at least he or she actually did something to earn it -- unlike the agent. In essence, agents who engage in this slimy practice are little more than parasitic gangsters extracting "protection money" so the studios won't worry about something "bad" happening.  
Welcome to Hollywoodistan...


On the brighter side, here's a very impressive trailer for a film directed by a production assistant I worked with a while back.  I haven't seen the whole film, but if it's as good as this trailer, then that young man just might have worked his last day as a PA. 

I certainly hope so, because he's smart, talented, and ambitious in all the right ways -- and more importantly, he's earned it.


Next up, a beautifully written tale of being plucked from cinematic obscurity to appear as a featured extra in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," from William Zinsser, legendary writer and writing teacher who recently passed away. Truth be told, I'd never heard of the man before his death, but reading the many appreciations of him and some of his writing convinced me to buy one of his books -- and this story might show you why.


Have you ever wondered who the hell Bruce Logan is?  Probably not, but to answer your unasked question, the veteran cinematographer himself is starting up a blog to discuss, among other things, the many movies he's worked on over the last 40 years.  Only the introductory post is up thus far -- titled, appropriately enough, Who the Hell is Bruce Logan? -- but more is promised soon.  The only time I met Bruce, he turned out to be a very nice guy, and now he's going to share his acquired wisdom and experience.  That's a good thing, and his new blog bears watching.


Last --  and this being graduation season -- here are some excerpts from Robert De Niro's recent blunt-but-true commencement address to the graduating class of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, along with a link to the entire speech. Although his advice could apply to any graduates, it was aimed at those who have chosen to enter the arts as a profession.  I'm not sure anybody but De Niro could stand up in front of a graduating class of dewey-eyed wannabe artists, look them in the eyes, and tell them the hard truth: that because of their fateful decision, "you're fucked."

That they are... but those with sufficient drive and talent will find a way to make it. They always do. As for the rest -- hey, it's a cruel world, kiddos, with only so many chairs at the table of the arts.  But there are lots of other tables in Hollywood and the world at large. You just have open your eyes -- and your mind -- and look for one that works for you.

Because in the long run, that's all that really matters.

So good luck, film school grads.  You're gonna need it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode Twenty One

Mad Max

                              Here he comes again...

From the opening of Mick LaSalle's review of Mad Max: Fury Road:
“This is how bad things are: "Mad Max” makes sense again. Thirty-six years after the original debuted during the height of the 1970s malaise, when the future looked bleak and resources were scarce, another installment of “Mad Max” has arrived, subtitled “Fury Road,” to remind us of two things: (1) Things always seem really horrible before they get even worse; and (2) The dystopian future always looks like a desert. In the future, there are no flowers."
"Directed by George Miller, who has directed every previous “Mad Max” feature, the film takes the parched atmosphere of the previous entries and amps it up, so that “Fury Road” plays out in a nightmare world in which a gang of powder-faced, skin-headed thugs control the water and own other human beings. Max (Tom Hardy) is a living blood bank, forced to hang upside down with a tube coming out of one of his veins.”
"Other unfortunates include women used for milking, women used for breeding and an entire population of filthy, toothless peasantry, who limp around in rags, hold empty bowls and wait for the massive water spigots to turn on. And you thought the life of a movie extra was glamorous.”
I had mixed feelings upon hearing that another Mad Max movie was in the works.  The second -- and by far the best -- of George Miller's original trilogy was The Road Warrior, which hit me with all the force of a cinematic sledgehammer.  With no internet to fan the flames of pre-release publicity back then, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior arrived in theaters without much fanfare, but a gaffer I knew at the time -- the fattest and smartest man I've ever worked with -- raved about it, and I'd learned to respect his opinion. So I went, hopeful but not at all sure what to expect. The first few minutes -- in muted color, then morphing to black and white  footage in the not-quite-square format of the really old days -- weren't particularly impressive, but the rough, weary voice-over that accompanied those images was pure, dark poetry:

"My life fades, the vision dims.  All that remains are memories.  I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land.  But most of all I remember the Road  Warrior, the man we called Max. To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time when the world was powered by the black fuel and the deserts spouted great cities of pipe and steel.  

Gone now, swept away.

For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze that engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They'd built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped.

The leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled, the cities exploded.  A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men.

On the roads it was a white-line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage, would survive. The gangs took over the highways ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed.

Men like Max, the warrior Max.

In the roar of an engine, he lost everything and became a shell of a man -- a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past.  A man who wandered out into the wasteland… and it was here in this blighted place that he learned to live again."

Abruptly cutting to full-wide screen color, the camera then descends through the smoke to swoop low onto a straight-as-an-arrow road slicing through the desert -- and suddenly everyone in that theater was riding along with Max and his dog in the midst of a high speed, life-or-death chase set in this nightmarish, adrenaline-fueled future.

I'd never seen anything like it. Nobody had. This was something new, bold, and infinitely  more dynamic than any previous post-apocalyptic drama. Miller's use of the wide screen was brilliant -- the shot compositions letter-perfect -- and his violent, mechanized update of the cinematic conventions that popularized Hollywood westerns back in the 40's and 50s so deftly done (and so deliriously over the top) that I was instantly hooked.

The Road Warrior -- I loved it.    

With all this as context, you might understand my skepticism towards a modern re-boot three  decades later.  During those intervening years, I had time enough to learn the hard way that Thomas Wolfe wasn't kidding when he said "You can't go home again."*

Because you can't.  That's over and done.

But it doesn't mean you can't revisit familiar themes --  otherwise we'd have stopped writing new stories after the Greeks -- and with the old master George Miller again at the helm, I wondered if Mad Max: Fury Road might be worth seeing after all. The preview was impressive, raising the art of dystopian automotive mayhem to operatic heights, but unconvincing.  It was only after reading/hearing a few short interviews with Miller (along with this excellent LA Times piece about the making of the movie) that I came all the way around. 

Besides, I love Miller's approach to this movie:  

"We don't defy the laws of physics.  It's the real world.  It's analog versus digital."

That, dear readers, is music to my ears.

What the hell, I work in the film and television industry, which means that deep inside this gray-haired, beat-down, ready-for-the-glue-factory exterior hides a pimply-faced adolescent who loves carefully crafted cinematic crash-and-burn as much as the next maladjusted, hormonally-addled teenager -- and with Fury Road, that kid just might get to come out and play.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to this one

*  Thomas Wolfe might not have been a rosy-cheeked optimist, but he was one very smart guy.  Check out some of these.

(Update:  Since this post first went up, I was directed to a fascinating interview with Fury Road DP John Seale in Filmmaker Magazine, detailing how he lit and shot the movie using a truckload of cameras.  Thanks, Heather!)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day Playing, Again...

                                 It keeps me hanging on…

Sometimes you just get lucky. After two months out of town -- a precious few days back on the Home Planet wrapped around a long stretch of hard domestic time at the ancestral family abode -- I took a few days to plow through the mail and bills that accumulated in my absence, revive the nearly-dead house plants, restore the apartment to some semblance of order, re-stock the fridge, then get my head back in the Hollywood game.  Two months without a paycheck left me in need of work, and soon.

The first call was to the head of set lighting at my home lot, but all that yielded was an answering machine. No surprise there -- the family situation that called me away happened just as the regular television season was winding down and the balls-to-the-wall frenzy of pilot season was gearing up.  But that's all over now, as Hollywood hibernates in the doldrums that follow pilot season and the network upfronts as surely as day surrenders to night. For the eight to ten weeks between now and the kick-off of the new Fall television season in mid-July, work will be scarce at all the studios around town.*

This is where the intangibles of Hollywood luck came into play. My second call was to a Best Boy who had offered me a slot on his crew while I was away (which the family issue precluded me from accepting), and as it happened, I'd called at the exact right moment. He needed a juicer to replace one of his regulars who was leaving the show for a week to take a more lucrative gig on a commercial.

So once again I found myself walking onto an unfamiliar set of a show that had already shot more than half of their scheduled episodes.  Although I'd never worked with the DP or Gaffer before, my two fellow juicers turned out to be familiar faces -- one from a crew I joined for a week of night-rigging on Mars Attacks, and the other who toiled shoulder to shoulder with me lighting effects-shots for the computer-controlled cameras at the Digital Domain studio on The Fifth Element.

I hadn't seen either of them in the twenty years since, so we had some of catching up to do.

The re-entry to work after an extended period off doesn't always go smoothly. Rust sets in fast, and it usually takes me a couple of hours to get back in the grove on set -- but not this time.  For whatever reason, I hit the ground running and didn't look back. Still, coming on to a show in mid-season is always a bit awkward. The routines of hanging, powering, and adjusting lamps are essentially the same, but the personal dynamics of every crew are different, and since this DP and Gaffer were new to me, I had to adapt to their mode of working.  But there's a fine line between leaning forward to do a good job  and being the too-eager, run-for-everything-first "super-juicer" who just pisses everybody off.

I couldn't always toe that line in my younger days, when I tended to push too hard in an effort to prove myself worthy, which could alienate my new co-workers. Not a good thing, that. But having been around the block a few times by now, there were no such problems on this show. The hardest thing for me was locating the three equipment carts on a daily basis. Being on wheels (and on a stage jam-packed with eight sets), those carts were constantly being moved from one set to another. Whichever cart I happened to need at any given time never seemed to be where I'd last seen it. But what mattered -- and proved surprisingly satisfying -- was having the rest of the crew relax and accept me as one of their own after a couple of days as I matched their working rhythm on set. Work is always work, but this one turned out to be a fun gig.

The promised five days came and went: a lighting day, a block-and-shoot day, a live-audience shoot night, then two more lighting days the following week… at which point the juicer I'd replaced decided to stay home for the remainder of the week, so I got another lighting day, another block-and-shoot, and another audience show night. Eight days of work at a buck-under-scale won't make up for missing the full run of pilot season, but those two paychecks will beat the hell out of what I'd have recieved from the California Unemployment Department.

I filed for unemployment the day after this gig ended, of course.  Performing the ritual Rain Dance is essential to appease the Gods of Hollywood and -- hopefully -- allow my phone to ring again, because as a man without a show, I'm now back to what I've been so many times before: a Day Player.

* Network shows, anyway. A few cable shows will doubtless get underway -- since cable marches to it's own calendar drummer -- but with more than half the town unemployed, there will be ten Work-Bots vying for every job on those crews...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 20

                                           Louis C.K.

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while knows of my admiration for Louis C.K.  His comedy specials are terrific, but the real genius surfaces in his eponymous show on the FX network -- the new season of which is currently underway. Louis C.K. is no mere comedian, but an honest-to-god filmmaker who studied the craft long enough that he's willing and able to tackle subjects that are way out on the thin creative ice where few dare to venture. But Louis C.K. goes there on a regular basis -- and more often than not, his efforts pay off.  And given that he writes, directs and edits every half hour show, he's as close to a true auteur as you'll ever see.  

The man is pure magic.
Here’s a recent interview he did for the public radio program Fresh Air. You could just read the highlights of the transcript, but that would only cheat yourself out of the experience of listening to the whole show. Although there's humor in this interview, it’s not terribly funny -- nor is it meant to be -- but there’s so much smart, raw truth about the realities of modern life in this podcast.  It’s fascinating, entertaining and illuminating all at once. Carve out an hour when you can, then sit down and listen -- you’ll be a better person for it.
Still, the director isn't always right... not even when that director is Louis C.K.  This thoughtful, well-written post -- by a sound boom operator who worked on one of his shows and (apparently) was the subject of a snide comment by Louis in a public forum that took place later -- offers a different perspective.  It's worth reading.
For a clear, thorough explanation of what a gaffer does on set -- and how he does it -- read this blog interview with Hollywood veteran Chris Strong.  Having been a gaffer for a dozen years (although never at the level achieved by Chris), I can testify that he tells it like it is.


This week's offering from The Business -- KCRW's half hour show/podcast dedicated to exploring the film and television industry -- features an interview with veteran producer Brian Grazer.  Rather than describe his career, here's the podcast blurb:
“Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer’s movies range from the story of a mermaid in Splash, to astronauts in crisis in Apollo 13, to a schizophrenic mathematician in A Beautiful Mind.  But they all have some things in common: a deep soul, a focus on identity, and real movie stars. Today, it’s tough to get studios to make movies like that. Grazer tells us why.  He also talks about his increased focus ontelevision and how hundreds of conversations with all kinds of people led to his new book, A Curious Mind."
It's a fascinating interview covering a wide range of subjects, that could easily have gone on another half hour without boring anybody.  But you take what you can get in this world, and this one is worth a listen.
Last up today is Rob Long's most recent Martini Shot commentary, a meditation on the importance of resisting the urge to "be smart" in Hollywood -- because if change often seems oh-so-attractive to the point of being almost inevitable, change for the sake of change is seldom a smart idea.  
It's a good one, and only three minutes long, so check it out.

That's all for this week.  Keep the faith, people -- because if you don't, who will?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Lady from Shanghai

          Rita Hayworth stars as the blond bombshell from Shanghai

Orson Welles would have been a hundred years old this week, had he not shuffled off our mortal coil at age 70 from (among other things) the endless complications of morbid obesity.  Given that I am once again adrift on the Horse Latitudes of unemployment, today's post will digress from the usual subject of life on set to appreciate one of his brilliant, flawed, and very much under-appreciated movies -- a film that had a massive impact on me during a crucial part of my young life.  

There's a useful term to describe a book that's unlikely to win accolades from the wine-sniffing snobs of the literary upper-crust or top the must-read lists at the Iowa Writers Workshop, but tells an interesting story that sets the hook early and won't let you go until the last page has been turned. 

Such a book is called "a good read" -- and that's the kind of book I like.

I wish there was a cinematic equivalent: a phrase or term for a well-crafted movie with an involving plot, terrific cinematography, and is perfectly cast with compelling leads and  supporting actors -- a movie that keeps you glued to the screen all the way through the end credits.* Those movies don't always win Oscars, since the little golden men are destined for trendier, edgier, more popular and/or larger grossing features -- but as far as I'm concerned, they're what make going to the movies worthwhile.

The Lady from Shanghai is that kind of movie.

Yes, it was made way back in1948, and shot in black-and-white. There are no hair-raising CGI - enhanced car chases, no comic-book heroes with extraordinary super-powers, nor any huge explosions. Although there's plenty of sexual tension and intrigue, there are no steaming hot sex scenes, and what violence occurs is brief and exceedingly tame compared to the routine blood-letting of modern films. The special effects are clunky by current standards, and some of the shot transitions feel awkwardly abrupt -- whether due to budgetary limitations, confusion on set during the frenzy of filming, or chopped-up prints being all that's after nearly seventy years, I can't say.  

Given all that, I doubt many readers of this blog would be interested in seeing it. But that's a real shame, because as older movies go, Lady from Shanghai is absolutely terrific: in literary terms, it's a really good read. Orson Welles made this movie -- he wrote it (with some help), produced, and directed -- and just about anything Welles did is worth seeing.

As I heard the story back in school, Welles owed a movie to Columbia Studios and the legendary Harry Cohn to fulfill his contract, but was way overdue in meeting that obligation. In response to an angry telegram, he called the studio on a drugstore pay-phone from somewhere in the mid-west, then had to come up with something on the spot to placate the executive on the other end of the line --  a man who insisted on knowing exactly what the film project would be. Looking around for inspiration, Welles supposedly spotted a potboiler titled "The Lady from Shanghai" on the drugstore book rack, and blurted out the title, promising that the script would soon be on that executive's desk.  

Maybe that story is true and maybe not, but such a spontaneous decision by Welles might explain the convoluted plot of "Lady from Shanghai," which creates more questions than it answers.  Still, the genius of Welles was such that it just doesn't matter. The movie he delivered is so visually stunning, and the characters so vivid -- in one notable case, bizarre** -- that you just hang on tight and go along for the ride. There's a little bit of everything in this film, including a courthouse trial scene unlike any you've ever seen. After building a career on her trademark long red hair, Rita Hayworth blew everybody's mind at the time by appearing as a very sexy, short-haired blond -- a stunning transformation that really worked. This is not some B picture melodrama, but a fascinating, inventive, and highly entertaining movie that's an absolute blast to watch.  I pop my copy in the DVD player every couple of years, and it never disappoints.  

             Glenn Anders as "Grisby" in Lady from Shanghai

It helps that the well-oiled studio system was still going strong in 1948, when "Lady" was made. The high standards of craftsmanship in casting, wardrobe, set design, set dressing, lighting, camera, and locations (a significant portion of the film was shot in Mexico, on a yacht, and in San Francisco) -- shines through every frame.  

The New York Times review at the time noted the movie's virtues: 

"For the idea, at least, is a corker and the Wellesian ability to direct a good cast against fascinating backgrounds has never been better displayed.  It's the story of a roving merchant seaman who falls in with some over-rich worldlings and who almost becomes the innocent victims of their murderous hates and jealousies.  And for its sheer visual modeling of burning passions in faces, forms and attitudes, galvanized within picturesque surroundings, it might almost match "Citizen Kane."

Still, the Gray Lady's film reviewer was only half right -- he didn't care for the courtroom scene or much else after the first half hour.  Well, fuck him.  For me, the weaknesses of Lady from Shanghai are minimal compared to its cinematic strengths -- and there the U.S. edition of Britain's The Guardian has my back.

Some of you have probably seen the famous final scene -- a shootout filmed in a funhouse hall of mirrors -- but I'm not going to post it for one very good reason: once you've watched that scene, you'll think you've seen the best of Lady from Shanghai, and are likely to blow off viewing the entire movie.  That would be a mistake, because as good as the final scene is, there's so much more great stuff leading up to it -- and that build-up is part of what makes the finale so impressive and satisfying. Watching the clip would be like flipping to the end of a good book to find out how it ends rather than do the very pleasurable work of reading the damned thing. Do it right -- watch the movie. Those who take the Utube shortcut will only cheat themselves out of a very good experience.

Last week's post related how my first film class turned the course of my life towards Hollywood, and in retrospect, it's clear that seeing Lady from Shanghai played a big part in that. The movie simply blew me away -- I'd never seen anything like it.  Until then, I'd had no idea an old black and white movie could be so good. The next two years of school taught me what I'd been missing out on: a generation of great movies.

Quite an education, that.

With pilot season grinding to a halt soon, and features yet to return to LA en masse, we'll all have some time on our hands before long.  If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and carve out ninety minutes some evening to watch Lady from Shanghai  -- you'll have a great time, and it just might open your eyes.

Now that I think about it, it's time I watched it again...

* If there is such a term, I'm not aware of it, but there may be.  In that case, please enlighten me…

** I won't even bother attempting to describe Glenn Anders' astonishing performance in this movie -- you'll just have to see it to believe it.