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 22, 2016

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 34

                          The Prop Department, of course...

With Hollywood adrift in the Horse Latitudes between pilot season and the summer gear-up for the Fall television frenzy, it's time to take a deep breath, look around, and do a little housekeeping here at BS&T. As I wander the web, I collect links to reviews and articles that strike a resonant chord, then pass them along in these "Just for the Hell of It" posts. Otherwise, they'll accumulate -- and clutter up -- my computer until it finally implodes from the sheer mass of all that accumulated detritus.

No good can come from being a digital hoarder, so it's time to offload.  

First up is a thoughtful "retro-review" of William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA, one of the most interesting and moody films he made back in the 80's, after lighting up the Hollywood firmament like a meteor with The French Connection and The Exorcist.  I only saw Live and Die once, when it first hit the theaters, but this review makes me want to see it again.

Next, two items from Tim Goodman, chief television critic for the Hollywood Reporter, in which he discusses when and why to stop watching a show, and a nice homage to Garry Shandling, whose untimely death -- like so many this year -- came as a real shock. Tim is a very smart guy and a terrific writer, and although it occasionally takes me a while to come around (I resisted his glowing review of The Walking Dead, and thus didn't tune in until Season Two), his analysis of television is spot-on.

Here we have the origin of The Studio Zone -- or as we who live and die work in LA know it,  "the Zone" -- a thirty mile radius within which no travel time or mileage need be paid to those who do the heavy lifting of filming movies and television. The map therein demonstrates why the hapless grip, juicer, or camera assistant who lives in Simi Valley, then must then drive all the way to Anaheim and back for a day's work -- truly a voyage of the damned -- will be in such a foul mood by the time he-or-she finally gets home.  

KCRW's The Business recently ran a very lively and entertaining interview with Richard Donner, who directed the Christopher Reeve "Superman" movie -- which Wikipedia calls "the first modern superhero movie."  

In the words of the podcast promo:

"Filmmaker Richard Donner recounts his experience directing Superman, from the minute he first got the call (while he was sitting on the toilet hung over), to the casting of Christopher Reeve and working with Marlon Brando (who initially wanted his character to look like a donut and refused to memorize any lines). Donner also reflects on the current trend of superhero movies and why he thinks it may be time for audiences to "grow up."

Donner is a no-bullshit guy, which makes this one very much worth your time -- trust me.  

Attentive readers might (or might not) recall my recent mention of a comment from a young film school grad who found Citizen Kane to be "boring," and merely "a dude movie about dudes." As I've noted before, personal taste is just that -- personal -- and thus requires no further explanation. Still, a reader took umbrage at that comment, and sent in two pieces that address a modern viewer's response to old movies in general, and Citizen Kane in particular. Both are good, so here are excerpts from each, with links to the original (complete) posts.*

The first comes from someone who calls himself "Dark Lord Brannon" -- quite the lurid moniker, that -- and includes these passages: 

"I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 20, and even then, without much knowledge of the period or the subject matter, it was clear to me that the movie was a great work of art and a masterpiece. I was entranced by its quality and how it seemed so superior to other great movies of same area, like Casablanca, in depth and acting. I was just flat out ignorant of a lot of the context, but my quality detector was fully functioning. I've long had an awareness that there is greater world of art out there that I'll gradually be learning about, so I wonder if the problem is that a lot of people simply don't have this ability? We run into this problem a lot with literature, where the books that most critics praise, old and new, are unknown and unread by the general readership in favor of mild entertainments with little depth." 

"One closing thought I had was on the constant, banal, critique that people use for "old things" the world over: It's dated. Oh, really? Something created in 1941, firmly set in the era of 1941, including the politics, doesn't fully reflect 2015? What a meaningless critique. What this really is, is an example of people trying to make a virtue of their own ignorance of history and inability to comprehend context and universality."

Well said, Dark Lord. Old films have to be viewed in the context of their time, and that takes some effort. When watching old movies, you can't just lean back and hoover up popcorn while slurping down a 64 ounce Diet Coke and waiting for another car chase or humongous explosion to light up the screen. The general movie-going public can be forgiven for ignoring this -- hell, they're just there for some entertainment -- but film students have no excuse. Lean forward and pay attention, kiddos, and you just might learn something.

(You can read the entirety of Lord Brannon's post here.)

Next, the thoughtful perspective of "Cowman" -- a rather prosaic linguistic avatar that does no justice to his sharp reasoning and analysis.  

"It's a difficult undertaking for someone of my generation to watch a film like CITIZEN KANE. Not because it's "too old" or "too boring", but because it has been hailed-- almost  universally--as the single best motion picture ever made. And while the anticipation of seeing a film with such overwhelming acclaim may be quite exhilarating, actually watching it is ultimately an intimidating and somewhat disappointing experience."

"This isn't to say that I thought CITIZEN KANE was a bad film; in fact, I thought everything about it was downright brilliant. From the enchanting performances right down to the meticulously planned camera movements and clever lighting tricks, there isn't a single element of CITIZEN KANE that isn't a stunning achievement in all areas of filmmaking."

"But no matter how great of a movie CITIZEN KANE really is, it can never live up to one's expectations. Although I do feel that it is deserving of its acclamation, the constant exposure to its six decades worth of hype and praise will invariably set most modern viewers' standards at a height that is virtually unreachable--even if it really "is" the best movie of all time."

Agreed. Back when I regularly went to see movies in theaters, I hated to go bearing the weight of great expectations. A review that proclaimed the movie I was about to see as the best thing since sliced bread was invariably a curse. The trick, I learned, was to read just enough of a gushing review to decide that the film was worth seeing, but not so much as to fooled into expecting a transcendental cinematic experience. No movie can live up to being trumpeted as "the greatest of all time," a label that does no favors to Citizen Kane or those who come to it for the first time. I can understand why kids nowadays watch it, then wonder what all the fuss was about -- which is why they really have to watch it again, later, after they've seen lots of other movies from that era, and learned a more about film history. Context is everything.

(The rest of Cowman's post can be found here, dated May 2, 2004, a third of the way down the page) 

Enough of this seriousity -- a term I can finally use now that Kay Reindel has extinguished her blog by that name. Too bad, though -- I liked her slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners writing style.

The final offering is another gem from Martini Shot, wherein veteran writer/producer (and sometimes director) Rob Long discusses the vast gulf between actors and writers, among other things. It's a good one, and at only three minutes long, allows this post to end on a pleasantly humorous note.  

Check it out -- you'll be glad you did.

As for me -- whew -- my computer now feels pounds lighter…

* Thanks, Anonymous K...


k4kafka said...

Some of my most memorable film-going experiences growing up in Pennsylvania, was going to see a movie I knew nothing about. I was often very rewarded by experiencing the unexpected.

Michael Taylor said...

Kafka --