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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm shocked! Shocked! (Not really.)

Gaspar Noé’s new film, “Love,” has attached to it the phrase “taboo-busting” because, one can only presume, it has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and it has scenes of hardcore, unsimulated sex. (The reviews have not been great.) It’s also shot in 3D.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Orson Welles: Born, May 6, 1915

Orson Welles would have turned 100 years old this week.

An object lesson to anyone who wants to make it in Hollywood is to note that the first three pictures Welles directed, "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Amberson's" and "The Stranger" were, combined, nominated for 14 Academy Awards. Fourteen! Including two Best Picture nominations.

Now the point is this, one would be hard pressed to name another writer or director whose first three movies received a total of 14 Oscar nominations and then was effectively thrown out of town. And — "The Stranger" made money. It was a hit! ("Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Amberson's" lost a total of $800,000.)

Welles' next-to-last Hollywood picture was "The Lady From Shangai," which was a critical and financial disaster, and then, of course, he was out of Hollywood for the next 12 years. He directed, wrote, and starred in "Touch of Evil," now considered a classic, in 1958.

But Welles wasn't done yet. In 1973, he released the film essay "F For Fake," which (although few will admit it) revolutionized film editing. No one paid attention in 1973; everyone just stole his techniques shamelessly after he died.

On Oct. 9, 1985, Welles appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, and spoke about his life and career, including his regrets. A day later he was dead, slumped over his typewriter. He was 70.

— Lars Trodson

Pick up our celebrated anthology of articles on Orson Welles here: http://amzn.to/1EXOlne.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What the...?

By Lars Trodson

I didn’t expect to hear a little bit of history while watching a restored version of John Ford's “The Grapes of Wrath” on DVD the other night, but I did. Well, maybe history is too strong a word. But it was certainly different, new and in its own way oddly exciting.