Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pierre Bonnard, 1867 - 1947

The Pont de Grenelle.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

F For Fake: The Least Fake Welles There Is

On the 30 anniversary of Orson Welles' death.

By Lars Trodson

A scene from "F For Fake," released in 1973.

I was in New York recently and went to the Museum of Modern Art. In one of the galleries, hanging on its own wall, was Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” It was clearly a hit. There were more people gathered around it than any other painting, and the handhelds were out, clicking away. I was thinking about this because works of art deemed classic, or extraordinary, often occupy their own private physical space. “Starry Night” was on its own wall, while the other, lesser Van Gogh’s were hung in clusters with all the other lesser, less special paintings. This holds true for  almost all types of so-called classic art, such as the “Mona Lisa,” Michaelangelo’s sculptures and even the original Declaration of Independence.” They occupy their own space.

Movies, on the other hand, cannot occupy the same kind of hallowed ground. The prominence of any movie is based solely on the space you give to it in your own mind. In the physical world “Citizen Kane” can be shelved right next to “Booty Call,” but in your head they may be miles apart.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Safe Travels: A lovely goodbye from Randy to Harry?

By Lars Trodson

I hope this story is true, but I have no way of knowing. I'd like it to be true.

From the very first time I heard the song “I will go sailing no more” from the movie “Toy Story,” I had always wondered why Randy Newman, who wrote the lyrics and the score for the movie, used the word “sailing” rather than “flying" to describe what was happening to the character Buzz Lightyear.

Buzz is a flier not a sailor, after all. But Buzz realizes, after accidentally seeing a commercial on TV that flashes “Not a flying toy,” that he is only a toy and cannot, in fact, fly. So why did Newman use the word "sailing" to describe what Buzz couldn't do? Was it simply Newman being poetic, or just trying to mix up his lyric a little bit? I never could quite figure it out, and every time I came across the film I was reminded of this nagging question. I know it’s not important, it was just simply something that struck me. I’m always interested in why writers choose the words they do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The real problem with this year's "Project Greenlight"

By Lars Trodson

The kerfuffle surrounding some remarks Matt Damon made during the first episode of “Project Greenlight” — which premiered this week on HBO — has overshadowed the ostensible purpose of the program, which is to give an unknown director a shot at making a Hollywood movie.

Damon’s remark, something about how ethnic diversity was important in front of the camera but not behind it (I’m paraphrasing), ran side by side with another rumpus: the fact that the newly chosen director, a guy named Jason Mann, wanted to shoot on film and to replace the writer that “Project Greenlight” producers had chosen to help tighten up the script for the comedy Mann had been hired to direct.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

FOUND — Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ diner

A Roundtable Exclusive

By Lars Trodson 

For more than 70 years, people have been looking for Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" diner, and the search has been unsuccessful. There is now more or less agreement that it wasn't a real place.  The diner was either a mashup of details from places all over New York, now demolished, or  something wholly from Hopper's imagination. “That diner from Edward Hopper’s 'Nighthawks?'  It never existed,” read one Gawker headline from 2010. Jeremiah Moss, the founder of the blog “Vanishing New York,” also lamented that the diner probably “never existed.” 

Hopper himself was vague, saying that the diner was located in Greenwich Village “where two streets meet.” That hardly pinpoints it. Hemingway’s short story “The Killers,” published in 1927 and a favorite of Hopper’s, was cited by Hopper scholar Gail Levin as an inspiration, who also suggests that van Gogh's "Cafe at Night" is a source image due to its muted color palette. 

There is, however, a place where a fusion of many of the details in Hopper's painting did exist, but it is located in an unexpected and wholly unheralded place. I believe that these humble origins are precisely why Hopper hid the real inspiration for his painting from the leading critics — and the public — at the time. It would have diminished the work in the eyes of many. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Themes and symbolism in Welles's films, plays and radio

Orson Welles: Scorpion in a cage


When writing about Orson Welles, it's always best to begin at the end.

In a taped conversation that director Henry Jaglom had with Welles, which ended up on the very last page of the book "My Lunches With Orson," (2013) Welles made it as clear as he possibly could about how he hoped his life would end.

"Directors are poor fellows, carrying not much baggage," Welles is quoted as saying. "We come in with only our overnight bags, and go out with nothing. There are names in these old lists of the greatest movies that have totally vanished, you know? Now, when my career is only a memory, I'm still sitting here like some kind of monument, but the moment will come when I'll drop out of sight altogether, as though a trapdoor had opened, you know?"

There is not, as it turns out, a more perfect Wellesian term for death than "trapdoor." It evokes images of helplessness, of confinement, and lack of choice. It's appropriate because in the 50 years that preceded that quote, Welles populated his works with doomed, trapped people, who were also incapable of changing the course of their own lives. They were all victims of their own destinies. Welles was fond of this idea — maybe even obsessed with it. This is why he had Gregory Arkadin tell the fable of the scorpion and the frog in "Mr. Arkadin." 

The anecdote is a story about a lack of free will; it reinforces the idea that we are servants to our natural character; we are without free will.

Welles' biographer Simon Callow was one of many to recognize this trait in Welles, but he, as did so many others, treated it tangentially, casually, as though it was not essential to Welles's work. This is what Callow said about Welles's "Macbeth," from 1948: "Almost from the moment we see him, this Macbeth appears haunted and dismayed... His conception of the role seems to be of a man tranced, somnabulistically obeying a destiny over which he has no sway. This is very much how he played Franz Kindler in 'The Stranger.'" There it is right there: the idea of an inexorable pull toward some terrible destiny and the fact that Macbeth was "haunted." These two themes begin much earlier, with Cinna the Poet in the Mercury production of "Julius Caesar" and travels down through Jonathan Harker, Charlie Kane, all of the Ambersons, Franz Kindler, Elsa Bannister, Harry Lime, Susan Vargas, Falstaff, Mr.Clay, the old man who stands before the law in "The Trial," and, at the end, Welles himself.

In terms of symbolism, Welles, throughout his life, deflected any psychological analysis of his films. He called Rosebud "dollar-book Freud" and flat out said to Peter Bogdonavich, "I hate symbolism." He would speak at length about his life and career, but if he freely spun yarns about people he knew, or the techniques he employed, he never offered any insight as to why he chose the material he did, or how that material revealed who he was. He commanded us, his obedient servants, not to bother to look for clues.; he always maintained there were never any "keys" to his life in his work.

Not true.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A theory on the meaning of the title of "The Other Side Of The Wind"

By Lars Trodson

There has been great debate about whether there is any meaning behind the title of Orson Welles’s last film, “The Other Side Of The Wind.” Welles claimed that he didn’t have the “foggiest” idea of what it signified, if anything at all.

I think Welles was being his usual evasive self, but for the first time it was a self-conscious kind of elusiveness. He was, after all, making the film during a period when he was trying to regain a footing in the American film industry, which had also, at the exact same time, taken a hard left toward “youth movies” — movies made by, and about, young people. This was a revolution inspired by the profitable B-movies of the mid- to late-1960s, which then received mainstream blessing by the success of “Easy Rider,” in 1969. Welles, maverick he may have been, was 55 years old when he started "The Other Side Of The Wind" in 1970.