November 1, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Film nerds unite! Most of us who (proudly) wear that label have known that filmmaker Orson Welles left a few unfinished projects when he died in 1985. The most famous – or infamous – of these was THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It was to be the comeback film for Mr. Welles, who had slipped from the artistic throne with his run of TV projects, shorts, and unsuccessful features during the 1960’s. Known as a perfectionist, and as someone more dedicated to the filmmaking part more than the “finishing” part, Welles filmed scenes for the movie from 1970-1976, and then picked it back up in the early 1980’s to begin the editing process … a process he never finished.

Best known for his all-time classics CITIZEN KANE (1941) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), Welles left mountains of copious production notes, and almost 100 hours of footage in multiple formats, and in both color and black and white stock, on this project that, even today, might best be described as experimental. Over the past 30 years there have been numerous attempts to raise the money required to finish the film, but all fell short until this one spearheaded by Peter Bogdanovich and Beatrice Welles (Orson’s daughter).

In what we can only interpret as semi-autobiographical, what we see on screen is the making of a documentary on a legendary director’s comeback film (his poke at artsy filmmakers). Clips of the unfinished film are shown throughout, while an industry party plays out, and numerous documentary filmmakers capture the scene from various angles with their always-present cameras. Got that?  Don’t worry, it takes at least a few minutes as a viewer to get the rhythm and layers of what’s unfolding before our eyes.

John Huston (himself an industry legend with 2 Oscars and 15 nominations) plays director Jake Hannaford, who is walking the fine line between Hollywood power and has-been. It’s his 70th birthday party, and Hannaford is compared to Hemingway (a description that better fit Huston than Welles), silently endures insinuations of his closeted homosexuality, desperately seeks funding to finish his film, and skulks around his own party winding through the hangers-on and those waiting for the final curtain.

Hannaford’s artsy film within a film, at least the clips we see, feature an inordinate amount of nudity from the leading lady (played by Welles 4th wife and the film’s co-writer Oja Kodar), and some ultra-coolness from the lead actor John Dale (played by Robert Random). Part of Hannaford’s desperation (both professional and persona) stems from a James Dean-type Dale walking off the set mid-picture.

Guests at the party include Peter Bogdanovich as director Brooks Otterlake, a young director once mentored by Hannaford. It’s an example of the student becoming the teacher. Susan Strasberg (daughter of famed acting coach Lee Strasberg) plays film critic Juliet Riche, a thinly-veiled portrait of Welles nemesis Pauline Kael. Other familiar faces in the cast include: Lilli Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge (Oscar winner), Edmond O’Brien (Oscar winner), Cameron Mitchell, Paul Stewart (from CITIZEN KANE), Tonio Selwart, Geoffrey Land, Norman Foster, Dennis Hopper (2 Oscar noms), Claude Chabrol, Stafford Repp (Sgt O’Hara from “Batman” series), plus Cameron Crowe (Oscar winner), William Katt, Frank Marshall (5 Oscar noms), Rich Little, Leslie Moonves (recently fired in disgrace CBS President), and Paul Mazursky (5 Oscar noms). It’s fascinating to see so many we recognize from more than 40 years ago. Of course, it’s Huston, with his face that’s made for black and white film, who is the dominating figure (his scenes were filmed prior to his work on CHINATOWN).

It’s easily viewed as a satire on the film industry, and it’s quite a fun, messy-by-design, now retro look at a fragile industry – and the even more fragile people who make movies. Welles’ love/hate relationship with the industry takes on an art form. He shows what’s good and what’s deplorable. Is it an experimental movie commenting on the post-studio world of independent filmmaking, or is it an iconic filmmaker, glory days behind him, in the midst of self-reflection. Perhaps it’s both. In addition to Welles’ early editing efforts, Oscar winning editor Bob Murawski (THE HURT LOCKER) was brought in to finish up what can now be described as a master class in film editing. It’s a wild ride for us film nerds. Are you ready to join us?

watch the trailer:


TMI (2-10-12)

February 10, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 JOHN HUSTON (1906-1987) put together an unusual career as writer, director and character actor … and excelled at all three.  He was the son of actor Walter Huston and father of actress Angelica Huston and actor Danny Huston (with different mothers).  John was writer/director for an impressive string of Hollywood classics: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952).  After a round of directorial success, John returned to acting and was nominated for an Oscar in Otto Preminger’s classic The Cardinal (1963).  He is also left quite an impression with his acting (as Noah Cross) in Chinatown (1974) and The Wind and the Lion (1975).  In the 1985 he directed his daughter Angelica to an Oscar in Prizzi’s Honor, making him the only one to direct his father (Walter in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and daughter to acting Oscars.  John was nominated for 15 Oscars, wining for Best Director and Best Screenplay for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  His final film The Dead was finished and released in 1987, the year he died.  He lived life to the fullest and is often described as a rebel and non-conformist … Hollywood’s version of Ernest Hemingway.  Along those lines, he once said “I`ve lived a number of lives. I`m inclined to envy the man who leads one life, with one job, and one wife, in one country, under one God. It may not be a very exciting existence, but at least by the time he`s seventy-three he knows how old he is”

CHINATOWN (1974) revisited

May 13, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The latest of the monthly 1970’s film screenings hosted by Dallas Film Society and The Dallas Morning News was the classic Chinatown.   It was shocking to see 35-40% of the hands go up when host Chris Vognar asked how many had never seen the film.  I felt a combination of guilt, pride and envy since my viewings number approximately 15 or 16, not counting “pit stops” while channel surfing.  This is truly a classic film that should be seen by all lovers of movies.

This is a chance to see the work of three film greats at their absolute peak: Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski (director) and Robert Towne (writer).  I have previously discussed Nicholson’s work in the 70’s (Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail,Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).  He is so confident and assured and expert in his manner and delivery.  It is so much fun to watch the perfect actor in the perfect role.  Regardless of what you may think of Roman Polanski the man, he is unquestionably an excellent director (Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer).  His visual flair is on full display with cars, wardrobe, colors, and camera angles.  It is obvious he adores the source material.  Robert Towne has some terrific screenplays on his resume (The Last Detail, Shampoo), but none better than this one.  Along with Network (Paddy Chayefsky), this is one of my two favorite screenplays of all-time.  It is outstanding!

 Some people refer to this as “the Nose movie”, thanks to the scene where Polanski, in a cameo as a tough guy, teaches Nicholson a lesson about sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. What I love about the story and the movie is that we are along with Gittes (Nicholson) for the whole thing.  There are no shortcuts … no narrators … no flashbacks … we get to solve the mysteries right along with him.  Too many movies make it easy for the viewer.  I prefer to work a little.  And trust me, this one makes you work.  Is it a whodunit?  Is it a kidnapping?  Is it a political power play for control of water?  Is it just outright corruption?  The answer is YES to all of these!

 If you have seen it before, watch it again and pay attention to the absolutely perfect mood score from Jerry Goldsmith.  Check out the wardrobe – the number of suits worn by Nicholson is crazy.  The same holds true for Faye Dunaway’s dresses.  Pay attention to the multiple “eye” references right up to the final two … Dunaway in the car and John Huston shielding his “granddaughter” from the grisly scene.  You may have missed the supporting work from John Hillerman, Diane Ladd, Rance Howard (Ron’s dad), Burt Young (Paulie in Rocky) and James Hong.  James Hong?  If you are a “Seinfeld” fan, you’ll recognize him from the Chinese Restaurant scene where he pages “Cartwright”.  Especially pay attention to the powerful performance of John Huston as Noah Cross.  And no matter how many times you have watched it, the “nose” scene will still make you cringe.

If you have never seen the film, I urge you to set aside some time to watch this classic.  Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.  Take it all in and then … “Forget it Jake.  It’s Chinatown.