Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Palmstone, Part I


Thanks for joining us for Part 1 of "The Palmstone," an original radio drama written and directed by Lars Trodson and performed by The Radio Players of the Seacoast.

"The Palmstone" Part 1 aired live here on July 31, 2007, but you can catch an encore now. Simply press the "play" button below and the show will begin. Be sure to check out all four parts of "The Palmstone."


(This may take a few moments to load, depending on your connection. If you experience difficulty, press pause and allow more time for show to load.)

For Part 2 of The Palmstone, click here:

For more on The Palmstone, click here:

Credits:

Cast:
Tim Robinson: Alexander Blok
Kristan Raymond Robinson: Cynthia Blok
Nicole Sugana Fuller: Tamara Blok
Don Kerr: Willie
Tom Clark: Captain Chacksfield
Gregg Trzaskowski: Mr. Lucci
Ralph Morang: The Actor
Susan Morse: The Cop

Producer: Tom Daly
Music and sound effects: Chris Decato
Written and Directed by Lars Trodson
Recorded at Crooked Cove

Thanks to Greg Westley
Our appreciation to Rick Agran

Ingmar Bergman’s Face Always Surprised Me


By Lars Trodson


Ingmar Bergman's face always surprised me. It was lean, angular, handsome. When I think of a Swedish face, I guess I think of my grandfather, who was Swedish, and who had a kind, avuncular face; a pixie face, in a way. As is the face of my father, who was born in this country, but both his parents had nothing but Swedish blood in them. So these were my models. Not the stern look of Mr. Bergman. And so, even though I had seen Bergman’s face countless times over the years, it caught me off guard every time.

So now, you know, there will be no more new pictures of Bergman. Not of his face. Not from his mind.

The first Bergman film I saw was in the theater, “From the Life of the Marionettes”, and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I thought it was talky and circular (I think it was filmed in both black and white and color), and not necessarily incisive. That was 1980, and it was some time before I saw a Bergman film again. And also I should say I don’t come at this essay as a Bergman scholar -- I think I’ve seen five or six Bergman films. I don’t know if it would matter any way, if I had seen more by now. I still feel a loss, and it is a loss far beyond my actual connection to, or knowledge of, the artist’s work.

It has something to do with the connection we feel to these people. For some reason, and I think this is particularly true of film people, we just feel better knowing they are around, whether they are working or not.

I remember years ago seeing a picture of Robert Mitchum -- probably my favorite movie actor of all -- in Vanity Fair magazine. If I recall correctly, and maybe I don’t, he was standing on a pier in a raincoat smoking a cigarette. Mitchum worked pretty much until the end, but when I saw the picture I was glad to see him. He was the guy in “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” or “Out of the Past” or “Farewell, My Lovely.” When you are able to still see a guy like that, still with us, it makes you think that your memories are not so far away, after all.

So with Bergman still alive, those movies he made long ago didn’t seem so impossibly distant. Here is the guy who made them, living on his island off the coast of Sweden, and the memories of the movies he has made, and the people he knew, and the things he wrote about, were not shadows or relics or anthropological, but real, living things. By having him here I suppose it made it seem as though time was passing less quickly -- that it was possible to hold onto those things we need and that are important for a little longer.

There are a couple of things I remember. When I saw “The Magician” -- which I think was at the Avon Theatre on Thayer Street in Providence -- we had snuck in some booze and so we had some White Russians or something to drink while we watched the film. I loved the sound of the Swedish language -- and I remember that a few lines sounded so much like English that it was startling to hear. The way Bergman and Gunnar Fischer constructed the film it looked like it was a found thing, a piece of history dug up out of the earth, deep and mysterious, completely natural, wholly organic -- like you had stumbled across these people in the woods.

And in “The Seventh Seal” there is the image of Death on the horizon at the end of the chain of circus performers. This is one of the truly iconic images on film, and in my mind I see that the image has been altered.

Holding the hand of death is now Bergman himself, no longer haunted, dancing away.



Monday, July 30, 2007

Adieu to Bergman

Ingmar Bergman died today. For an appreciation and coverage, see this page:

By Mike Gillis

Ingmar Bergman saved me from Wes Craven. That may be a little disingenuous, since I do admire some of Craven's work, but Bergman came into my life at a time when I believed special effects were the only way to make a movie. I was experimenting with the camera and actors, but hadn't been exposed to much cinema beyond horror and science fiction. And then a friend sat me down and popped in a VHS of Bergman's "The Magician."

I distinctly remember watching wide-eyed, in rapture that a story with supernatural overtones could be crafted so thoughtfully and dare to shift the focus to its characters and ask questions about morality, science, religion and politics. These are themes threaded throughout Bergman's work, of course, but watching them solidify in "the Magician" thankfully derailed me. It put me on a quest for more, much more, which certainly led to Bergman again, but opened the door wide to a new world of cinema.

I found Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir, but I also discovered John Cassavetes, Sam Fuller and even Woody Allen.

My quest hit one interesting milestone when, years later, I realized that Wes Craven essentially remade "The Virgin Spring" as "The Last House on the Left." It was an important discovery because it bridged my early moviegoing habits with the new world of cinema that had so enraptured it me. In a way, it suggested that even those B-grade films and filmmakers who first inspired me to be a filmmaker had also likely taken a journey similar to mine.

Thank you, Ingmar Bergman.


Blow-Up Director Antonioni Dead at 94


Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, renowned for his 1966 release Blow-Up, has died aged 94.

See this piece on the BBC:



Remembering Tom Snyder


Late-night TV talk show host Tom Snyder died on Sunday at the age of 71.

Here's a short piece in the New York Times.

Enjoy a few memorable moments from "Tomorrow With Tom Snyder" below:


The Clash, 1981




Iggy Pop, 1980




Charles Manson, 1981



Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Legend Four Times and Counting


By Mike Gillis

"I Am Legend" was one of the first books that moved me to tears. That's something I wasn't willing to admit to anyone in my early adolescent years, not only because of my age, but because no one should shed tears reading a vampire novel, so I thought.

If you're not familiar with the author, Richard Matheson, he's best known for some his TV and film work on shows like The Twlight Zone and the screenplay for "Duel" but also for novels like "The Shrinking Man" and "Bid Time Return," which was later filmed as "Somewhere in Time" with Christopher Reeve.

Matheson's prose is lean and rich. The fantastic elements are often firmly grounded in simple empiricism, not so much science fiction as psychological. And deeply character driven.

That goes for "I Am Legend." It's the story of a man, Robert Neville, in the not-so-distant future of 1974 (it was written in 1954) who is the world's lone survivor. A plague has stricken the rest of the population, a disease that mimics vampirism. Matheson's novel doesn't deal as much with the horrific state of the world, at least initially, but instead on Neville's mad quest to maintain a normal life. Each day, when the plague's victims are hidden away in the dark, Neville ventures out, first clearing his lawn of bodies and then hitting the streets to collect what he needs to survive. He travels with his dog and it is a scene involving the two that I cried. I won't spoil it here -- and don't even recall all of the details-- should you want to seek out the book.

Of course, the story takes another turn, and Neville discovers there is more to the plague than he knew. That discovery eventually leads us to the book's title.

Many of Matheson's works have been adapted for film, and "I Am Legend" is no exception. The first version is "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price. It's not a great picture, but has a few, if not clumsy, moments of inspiration. Matheson wrote the screenplay, but later asked that his name be stripped from the credits after substantial changes were made. You can see the film in its entirety at the end of this post.

The book was adapted again in 1971 as "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston and Anthony Zerbe. A more memorable film, "The Omega Man" deviates further from the book, shedding the vampires.

And so, Ridley Scott looked to do the book justice in the 1990s, but that project collapsed under the weight of its budget. A smaller-scale effort was mounted by Rob Bowman of X-Files fame, but that, too, lost its traction.

Which brings us to the upcoming big screen incarnation, "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith.

I have to admit, I have low expectations. I really only know two things about this picture: The filmmakers have gone out of their way to say this is not a vampire movie and that it boasts one of the most expensive scenes ever filmed (people fleeing New York across the Brooklyn Bridge).

If the trailer is any indication, the filmmakers and studio are banking on Smith, whom I generally like, to sell the picture as an end-of-the-world epic. Big star. Bigger sets. Bigger shots. The biggest effects.

How is that we've ventured so far from a little book, a novella, that charts the collapse of mankind through one man's story? After the sequels, what's next? "I Am More of a Legend?"

Thankfully, Matheson's library is still thick with stories and novels not yet devoured by Hollywood. Perhaps there's still hope.

And you never know who will remake "I Am Legend" the next time around.

************************

See the "I Am Legend" trailer:



Watch "The Last Man on Earth" here:










Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why, in the Middle of the Year, We Have Yet to See an Oscar Contender


By Lars Trodson

Here it is half way through the year and I don’t think we have even two performances that can credibly be called Oscar contenders. Any movie that strives for such elevated territory -- the recent failed “Evening” comes to mind -- seems to sink under the weight of bad reviews. I think perhaps John Travolta as Edna Turblad in “Hairspray” may be the only contender to emerge even though we are now heading into the dog days of summer. The other possible Oscar nominee that we’ve seen is Julie Christie in “Away From Her.”

I don’t know of any serious dramas that have successfully emerged from Hollywood – so far the landscape is cluttered with the dead bodies of successful sequels, movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars but disappear in a matter of weeks, and crap like the throwaway “Mr. Brooks” with Kevin Costner. There is the usual contingent of torture porn movies -- which will never get Oscar consideration, of course -- and movies with a great pedigree but don’t seem to make it: David Fincher’s “Zodiac” is one.

Now, the financial success of a movie shouldn’t necessarily be the benchmark by which Oscars are measured, but of course it one of the biggest influencers. Otherwise, why would such an execrable piece of “entertainment” as “Forrest Gump” beat out other movies like “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Nobody’s Fool”, and “Pulp Fiction” for Best Picture, and Tom Hanks win for Best Actor over Morgan Freeman, Paul Newman and John Travolta? “Forrest Gump” was a huge hit -- but it is also one of those strange Hollywood anomalies in that it made a ton of money and yet no one actually really liked it.

But it is also true that 2007 is so far measuring up to be the year of the forgettable blockbuster. Hollywood made two irrelevant sequels to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and ruined the esteem of the franchise even though it made all of the participants richer. But Johnny Depp’s performance in the original film is one of the most truly memorable, joyous performances in film history, yet each successive film managed to not enhance the reputation of that first incarnation, but actually diminish it.

It reminds me slightly of Anthony Perkins in “Psycho” -- a performance I personally regard as the finest performances ever given by an American actor. But the unfortunate decision to mine that story in four sequels -- the last of which, I believe, was a TV movie -- has helped to obscure the beauty of that first outing. I do not blame Perkins -- he had to make a living – but it’s kind of sad to think of “Psycho” as just another failed franchise.

It’s no secret that the distribution of American movies has been divided up into some strange kind of arithmetic. The early part of the year is for the forgotten attempts, just a bunch of product thrown into the pipeline for our consumption. The middle part of the year is for the cheeseball blockbusters. The late summer and early fall is for the certain failures -- although something memorable may emerge -- and of course the end of the year is made for those films Worthy Of Academy Award Consideration.

It’s a thoughtless way to treat the audience, but in the end it’s a theory that seems to work because Hollywood continues to reap in millions in ticket sales. We go to the movies. But even with that acknowledgment we have to realize that the moviegoing year, and the experience of going to the movies, seems more an exercise of habit than one of affection -- and the Hollywood system seems powerless to stop this trend.

What will happen this year is what has happened in the past decade. We’ll wait for the serious dramas to come out at the end of the year -- the so-called “prestige pictures” -- some of which will be released to only a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles to allow their entry into Oscar consideration. And the films and performances that we, the audience, should savor, and debate, will rather be in a crowded field that we’ll have to struggle and jostle each other to get to see before they disappear from the local Cineplex.

In the meantime we’ll be treated to a bunch of movies that no one has any faith in. The problem is that these throwaways will be as forgettable as the movies Hollywood will release later in the year that they so desperately want us to remember.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Laszlo Kovacs, Chronicler of Human Emotion


By Lars Trodson

Laszlo Kovacs, who did the cinematography for “Easy Rider”, has died at the age of 74. If nothing else, Kovacs’ advanced age makes us realize just how far away those evergreen days of the hippies and revolutionary America now are. He wasn’t old, but old enough, and it may be that we are now beginning to see the shuttering of the era that was the 1960s, just as we have seen other epochs of American history fold away into the history of time.

You can’t blame time. It passes relentlessly. But I remember seeing “Paper Moon”, which Kovacs shot, when it first came out (1971) and I thought I was watching a movie actually made in the 1930s.

There is one image in that movie I will never forget. There’s a young black girl that is sort of a helper to the character Trixie Delight (played by Madeline Kahn). Addie and this girl play a cruel trick to ensure that Addie’s father, Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) will know that Trixie is not someone to be trusted (it involves a sexual liaison).

The trick goes off as planned, and Moses reacts as planned: he picks up and leaves. But the two young girls have grown to like each other very much, and they say goodbye abruptly to one another in the hotel corridor. As Addie waves goodbye, Kovacs made the decision to linger on the black girl, and to have the camera glide smoothly, and beautifully, away from her down the aisle. This artistic choice articulated with amazing poignancy just how much the separation was going to mean not to Addie, but to the black girl, whose life was surely not going to have as much affection and acceptance as Addie had given to her. This was a human, and unexpected, choice.

It’s a stunning moment, and emblematic of this artist. Laszlo Kovacs knew how film could accentuate the nuances of human emotion, and that is a talent that will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Want to Hear a Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story?


By Lars Trodson

“The Palmstone”, our original radio play that will make its Internet debut on this space next week, has an interesting pedigree. It started out as an experiment to honor my friend Norman Corwin, whom I have known and kept up a correspondence with for the past several years. Norman is one of the great, if not the greatest, practitioner of the radio play form. Norman is still alive, although not active, at the age of 97.

“The Palmstone” was also a way to try to tell a story in ways that were purely sonic -- voices and sounds and silences. And of course the words.

One of the reasons, I think, why radio plays have not survived is they require an intense amount of concentration. If you’re listening to an intricate story on the radio, you can’t be reading the paper, or doing the dishes, or folding the laundry. If you are to connect to details of the story -- you actually have to listen. It’s not a very accommodating artform.

But the Internet has given radio plays new life, almost wholly because people who troll the web are looking for things that interest them. We certainly hope “The Palmstone” will be one of those things.

I had been looking for a ghost story to write, in part because I was interested, at the time this project came about, in writing strictly genre pieces. I had written an art heist play -- produced at a local theater -- and written and produced a romantic comedy called “Family Trees”, which was an independent movie we made in 1997. And so I thought one of the things I should try was a ghost story. And a radio play seemed the best way to exercise that desire.

But I couldn’t come up with a good story. Every idea I had I Googled, and discovered I had unintentionally cadged someone else’s story. Frustrated, I started to read old, forgotten ghost story texts in search of inspiration. Anything that would spark a good idea that I could turn into my own.

It was during that time I first read “The Monkey’s Paw.” I was completely enamored of the story, and it is no secret that “The Palmstone” is an adaptation – or, in the parlance of today -- a reimagining of that original story.

I wrote several scripts simply retelling the details of “The Monkey’s Paw” – none of which were satisfactory. Simply put, “The Monkey’s Paw” tells the story of a couple who has in their possession a severed monkey’s paw, a talisman, that allows them three wishes. They use those three wishes, and the results are much more complicated, and horrific, then they could have ever imagined.

The central image of "The Monkey’s Paw" seemed to me ridiculous, and the story itself was so brief there were few details made available about the couple who made use of the wishes. Every script I wrote tried to embellish the lives of the couple in the story, as I imagined them to be in the context of the original story, but nothing was working.

I decided to begin the search for something to replace the monkey’s paw as the central image, and to adapt the story accordingly.

One day I was playing with a little boy I once knew, and we had some Play-Dough, and I pressed a ball of Play-Dough between my two palms and came up with a flat disc. On each side was the distinct imprint of my palms, which of course any palm reader will tell you forecasts the story of your life.

I looked at the disc, and thought this would make the perfect talisman for the play, and quickly came up with the idea of calling the thing “The Palmstone.” Once that happened, the details of the radio play came together pretty quickly.

By removing the monkey’s paw, I was able to expand the arc of the story, and because the idea of the palmstone was so expansive, as a way to foretell someone’s life, it also allowed me to explore the inner workings of the family involved in this particular drama. Since I was living in the Seacoast of New Hampshire at the time, it was easy to switch the story to that waterfront milieu.

So that’s a little background.

We’ll play this story out over four nights, just like they do on the BBC with their radio plays, starting July 31. The flaws and delights of this show are yours to discern, and of course we welcome and appreciate any comments you may have.

The superlative production values are the result of the production engineer Tom Daly, at Crooked Cove Records in Kittery, Maine, and the voice characterizations have been provided not just by the local actors I have known, but by some of the most talented people you will be introduced to anywhere.

Please tune in on July 31 for the opening act of “The Palmstone.” We hope that you’ll hear some good old-fashioned ghost-storytelling.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kane’s Rosebud – It’s not as simple as you think


"All he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story -- how he lost it.''

-- Jed Leland
By Lars Trodson

More than 65 years after the release of “Citizen Kane” it’s time to reevaluate the significance of that sled — the famous “Rosebud.”

After all, Charles Foster Kane essentially threw “Rosebud” out -- he had put it in storage, and was careless enough about it so that it was incinerated. But there was something more essential he held onto: the glass ball, that snowglobe we first see in the apartment of the woman who was to be his second wife, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore).

Rosebud wasn’t a physical representation of something Kane had lost -- it was a reminder. He hadn’t lost his innocence, or his childhood -- he had lost himself, and he had thrown away the only chance he had at love. That is what he meant when he breathed that last word, “Rosebud.”

Orson Welles is one of those rare public artists whose reputation keeps increasing -- he looms larger and larger with each passing year -- and it seems the appropriate time to examine perhaps the most prominent element in a film most people regard as the greatest ever made. An element, by the way, that Welles himself called a cheap trick. And if he called it that, why should we believe it?

Three things keep throwing the audience off about just why the snowglobe should be the more significant symbol. One is of course the obvious and rather bland fact that the sled itself is named “Rosebud.” We know that, fine. The other two are this: inside the globe there is a scene reminiscent of Kane’s childhood in Colorado, a snowy, desolate landscape. It’s evocative of scene where we seeing him use the sled. The third is the fact that when Charlie destroys Susan’s room in Xanadu after she leaves him, the one thing he doesn’t smash is this snowglobe. When he holds it amidst the wreckage he has caused, Charlie whispers the word “Rosebud.” We are being led to believe that he is remembering his more innocent childhood and the love of his mother. We are led to believe the snowglobe is reminding him of Rosebud, and his childhood, but really he is thinking of the night he met Susan. He is thinking of that the moment she walks out the door and how he lost his chance.

There are countless reasons why “Kane” holds up as the most deliriously entertaining films ever made -- and we don’t need to go into them here. But one of the most important reasons why we return to the movie over and over again is that this is a film of multiple mysteries, both large and small, and the audience is teased into trying to figure them out. Movies that are too obvious -- M. Night Shayamalan’s film “The Sixth Sense” comes to mind -- don’t require multiple viewings. But films with a deep sense of the unknown, such as “Kane”, certainly do.

Given that, why would we ever expect the real answer in the film would be as obvious as “Rosebud” the sled? In a film this complicated and sophisticated, why would it not be something more sly and obscure?

These questions are important, because the film is essentially the unraveling of a puzzle. We try to figure out just who Charlie Kane is, and what he means to us, and how we think of him. That we still debate these questions is one of the mira
cles of this strangely enigmatic film. Just who Charlie Kane is remains a mystery even though almost every single conversation in the film is about Charlie Kane -- even when Kane himself speaks it is more or less about himself. That we never get tired of the probing or the self-examinations is tribute to the liveliness of the script (credited to Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz).

The entire scenario unfolds so seamlessly, so fluidly, so languidly or joltingly
, that the riddle of the story doesn’t tax us. The film is an examination of Charlie Kane’s life, but it’s not psychoanalytic, and that allows the audience a wide opportunity to form its own interpretations.

Yet eminent critics such as Roger Ebert have always had only one interpretation. Ebert once wrote: “'Citizen Kane' knows the sled is not the answer. It explains what Rosebud is, but not what Rosebud means.” That has been the line of thinking for 66 years.

Wrong.

Welles and his entire production team at some point decided not to emphasize just how the glass ball came into Charlie’s possession -- all we know is that he is holding it on his deathbed. As he is dying, he holds the ball with his lifeless arms outstretched at his side -- he is not (thank goodness) looking at the ball as he says the word “Rosebud” -- which would have been too much. And then Charlie Kane, the famous Charles Foster Kane, dies and the ball slides out of his fingers and explodes as it hits the floor.

Then we are off on the journey. “Rosebud,” says the news editor after the
y have watched the “News on the March” newsreel that opens the movie. “Dead or alive. It could turn out to be a very simple thing.”

No -- not for us, or for the history of the movies.

The magazine writer Jerry Thompson (William Alland) then heads out to unravel the mystery of Rosebud. Thompson treks to Atlantic City and the boardroom of the Kane empire, and the hospital and eventually to that “coliseum”, Xanadu, that Charlie built for himself and Susan Alexander. We never get a very clear picture of Thompson’s
face -- he’s always in the shadows. That was a way for cinematographer Gregg Toland to express the fact that Thompson didn’t really care about Kane. The life of Kane was just a job to Thompson.No one has a satisfactory answer for the “Rosebud” question, of course -- and as we know it is never revealed for the participants within the film.

Welles himself said the idea of “Rosebud” was a deception, a “mickey”, but he was simply deflecting the real idea behind Kane’s pain. Pain that Welles undoubtedly felt, and pain the rest of us feel: most of us do not want to be revered, or feared, or respected, all we really want to be is loved, and to love.

And we want to be loved for who we know ourselves to be, not how others interpret us. The adult Kane was loved in the cheapest way: by his staff, and by Bernstein (Everett Sloan) and Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton), and he was only a status symbol, one would guess, to his first wife, Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick). The rest of the people around him either used him, or took him for all he was worth.

But it was Susan Alexander, on the first night they met, that truly liked him, and loved him, for who he was, and not for the person that the rest of the world thought of as Charles Foster Kane.

Susan and Charlie meet because he is standing (improbably) on the side of the road on some lower Manhattan street, waiting for… waiting for what? A trolley? But a carriage splashes into the mud, we hear the sound because of the extraordinarily crisp soundtrack, and as Susan emerges from the local drugstore with her aching tooth, she laughs at the sight of the man in the expensive suit drenched in wet dirt.

They are both vulnerable in this scene. She’s in pain, and he looks ridiculous. The script makes imminently clear that the one thing Kane does not appreciate is the idea of looking ridiculous.

Charlie accepts Susan’s seductive invitation to clean his suit -- “I can give you some hot water… if that’s what want… hot water…”

It is during the following playful interlude in Susan’s apartment that Charlie is at his most likable. He shows her shadow puppets to alleviate her pain. He asks her: “How old did you say you were?”

“I didn’t say,” she replies.

“I know you didn’t. If you had I would have remembered.”

She tells him she’s almost 22 and he says, nicely, “That’s a ripe old age.”

He rhetorically asks her what he was going to do before he ruined his “best Sunday suit”, and he goes on to say he was about to go on a kind of “sentimental journey.” He was headed to the Western Manhattan Warehouse to see the contents of his old house in Colorado. Charlie and Susan talk briefly about the importance of the love a mother can give to a child. (Charlie’s mother is played by the great Agnes Moorhead, in a stunning performance.)

This is another point in the script where Welles and Mankiewicz throw us off track. Because he’s going to the warehouse on a search for a memory, and because of the way the film plays out, we believe he’s on his way to recapture his youth, and to find the sled, which will remind him of happier times.

But it is also during this scene where we first see the snowglobe. It’s sitting unobtrusively on Susan’s dresser. We see the globe twice in this scene, but of course we never see any scene in which Charlie is either given, or takes, the snowglobe.

It doesn’t matter, because it is in this scene, in Susan’s boardinghouse room, that Charlie Kane is liked for his own self, his own person, by this unassuming, lovely young woman. “I bet I’ve heard your name a million times,” she says, adding that she’s “pretty ignorant” and that Charlie probably already knew that. I would guess that her unworldliness was an immense attraction to this worldly man, as was her desire (her mother’s desire) for her to be a singer.

And that’s also what caught Charlie’s attention.

There is no real reason for this, other than the mysteriousness of the script, but I have always thought of Charlie as having the soul of an artist, an ambition that was aborted by the autocratic Walter Thatcher (George Coulouris), who probably beat that sensibility out of him. So it makes sense for Charlie to run a newspaper -- it is an outlet where he can be creative, but in a business milieu. And it is also why he has an obsessive appetite for collecting art: if I can’t make it, Charlie thinks, I’ll be close to it. I’ll collect it.

In that regard, Susan was much closer to his inner sensibility than the politically motivated Emily Norton ever was, and it was Susan that sensed Charlie appreciated her modest dream, and that was why she, at first, loved him. The most important aspect of the relationship between Charlie and Susan is not that he loved her -- but rather that she loved him without reservation. At first.

It makes it all the more poignant -- and bitter -- when she says to him late in the story, during the picnic in Florida, that he never gave her anything she really wanted. She knows that Charlie had a chance to escape with her, at the beginning, but he didn’t take it. He could have just continued to love her. But he was not courageous enough, inwardly, to embrace the simple boy that he truly was, the boy who could do magic tricks and wiggle his ears, and who was at his heart a sentimental old fool. He was too wrapped up in the person that the world had told him to be.

And so he kept the snowglobe to remind him of the night Susan fell in love with him. The most important symbol in Charlie Kane’s life couldn’t have been the sled -- because that life in Colorado was wrenched away from him. You cannot argue the fact that his mother gave him away, sent him away, gave him up. Who would not harbor some resentment about that? The most important symbol is the snowglobe, which represented the only time he was loved for who he truly felt himself to be.

In one of the last interviews for the magazine, Thompson feels a moment of humanity. He tells Susan in that terrible Atlantic City nightclub that he “can’t help but feel sorry for Mr. Kane.”

And she says, “Don’t you think I do?” She knew what they had, and what they had lost. And what Charlie had lost.

Welles was a nostalgic filmmaker, right from the beginning. He was always acutely aware of the passing of time, and the toll that it takes on people. So if we wholly identify that loss with the sled, with “Rosebud”, then I think we are missing the point.

But if we rather focus on the fact that Charlie held onto the snowglobe, we recognize that we all surround ourselves with mementos from the past -- books, pictures, pieces of art -- and that all of us are sometimes desperate not to lose the things and people we love. But no matter how rich, no matter how influential or powerful, we are all helpless from keeping those people that we love, and are about to love, from slipping away into the past.

The lesson that “Citizen Kane” teaches us, one that is always buried beneath the dazzling filmmaking, beneath the heavy myth of the film itself, is that we need to love those people while they are here. That’s what Charlie wanted to say to us, if he was to be honest. But, as always, he had a hard time doing it.


Lars Trodson is the author of the book of essays on Orson Welles, "About Orson" (http://amzn.to/ZiRdNZ), and two novels, "Eagles Fly Alone" (http://amzn.to/1uRsL0E) and "Tide Turning." (http://amzn.to/1v38X9O).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Coens soon to a theater near you


A one-sheet for the upcoming Coen Brothers film, "No Country for Old Men" has surfaced, which you can see here. The film is scheduled to be released Nov. 21. You can read what some people are already saying about it here.

While we wait, enjoy the gallery below, which features the posters from earlier Coen Brothers films.

-- Mike Gillis




Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cavemen, Start Your Cameras!


By Mike Gillis

So here we are, eight months away from the release of "10,000 BC," the latest pop epic from once and future blockbuster king, Roland Emmerich. Eight months isn't a lot of time to prep audiences for a film (see our earlier post on "Cloverfield") so Warner Brothers has already dispensed with a teaser trailer thick with angry cavemen, mastodons, pyramids and woolly mammoths to whet our appetites. I'm going to bet the filmmakers have concentrated on little thus far other than the effects included in the trailer. Well, that and filming thousands of extras in loincloths battering each other with rubber spears.

It's simply too easy to question the movie's value. It will be big. It will be dazzling to the eye. It will make hundreds of millions. It will be called historically accurate or reckless and sacrilege. (There is no dialogue in the trailer, so it's unknown if Emmerich will follow the path of Mel Gibson and "Apocalypto" and choose to use the native tongue, which for "10,000 BC" is ... grunting?)

The real question is, what's up with our affinity for cavemen? Would "10,000 BC" be possible if not for Geico? I don't think "Clan of the Cave Bear" had much to do with it.

Perhaps the answer is biological.

For years, we've been told to get know our primal selves, to look to our ancestors for answers. Whether it's Robert Bly yapping about "primal masculinity" or Ken Russell looking backwards in the underrated "Altered States," life's mysteries -- or at least nagging questions like how do I twist off a bottle cap with my teeth -- are already encapsulated in our genetic past.

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." That simple truth serves us well to this day.

Of course, it may also do well by the filmmakers of "10,000 BC." If it's true that our basest and most fundamental urges and emotions are primal, then we should be scared silly seeing our ancestors on the big screen being stomped to a bloody pulp by a woolly mammoth. If that's the case, and we are nothing more than cavemen in sneakers and jeans, then Emmerich may well hit the cinematic jackpot.

And then the cavemen will, finally, have bullied their way to the top of the Hollywood pile.

Cavemen, start your cameras.

See the teaser trailer for "10,000 BC" here:




Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Couric & Co. News Blah… I Mean Blog


By Lars Trodson

Katie Couric, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, hosts a blog, called Couric & Co. The blog entries, written by the CBS news team, are chock-a-block with cliché. If the point of the thing is to have a blog just because everyone else has a blog, then I think they probably have more to do with their valuable time.

First, let’s look at a post by Couric on July 12:

“Lady Bird Johnson was a force to be reckoned with -- as her husband would be the first to tell you. She was a real ‘steel magnolia.’”

That’s it. Is this the kind of writing -- as brief as it is -- that we can expect from the anchor of the CBS Evening News. Is this the best she can do, really? “As her husband would be the first to tell you…”? A present-tense reference to the late President, who died in 1973? What? Oh, and the blog encourages you to watch a clip of the Couric newscast, which, if you do, I wonder if they’ll count you as a viewer.

On July 15, White House correspondent Bill Plante wrote this about Lady Bird Johnson: “Anyone who lives as long as Lady Bird Johnson -- 94 years -- is bound to leave a lot of memories. And anyone who lives that long is fortunate if - as seems to be the case with Mrs. Johnson - those memories are warm and positive.”

Wow. Sure glad I spent some time reading that.

On July 12, Plante writes about the newly released trove of recordings made in the Nixon Oval Office. Right at the start, he says: “It's hard to deny the guilty pleasure inherent in listening to other peoples' private conversations, particularly when you know most of them had no clue they'd be overheard for history.”

Guilty pleasure or not, it’s hard to stomach a reporter glossing over tapes recorded without people’s permission when we have a huge, contemporaneous debate going on right now over wiretaps.

Another posting on July 12 reveals that Michelle Miller, a correspondent for CBS News, decides to avoid the “steel magnolia” cliché when describing Lady Bird:

“The wife of the president who signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act in 1964, I would later discover that this yellow rose of Texas was truly a magnolia of steel in the fight to win sympathy for blacks in the South.”

You see, she flipped that “steel magno --” oh, never mind.

Here’s a positively fascinating posting, from July 11, which you can read here in its entirety:

“A frequent member of the "company" at "Couric & Co.", Mark Knoller has filed this little reflection on the new White House briefing room over at Public Eye:

In a ceremony more closely associated with supermarket openings (Ed. Note: I had no idea that ribbon cuttings were “closely associated” with the opening of supermarkets and I bet you didn’t, either.) , President Bush this morning cut a red, white and blue ribbon to inaugurate the newly renovated White House Briefing Room.

The event also marked the return to the West Wing of the White House press corps -- ending an 11-month exile in a conference center across the street and down the block.

“Welcome back,” said the President -- adding a little needle to his greeting, “We missed you -- sort of.”

He spoke from a brand new, high-tech podium.

Gone is the simple blue-curtain backdrop.

It now looks like something from the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. (Ed. Note: Must be really cool!)

It’s got stage lighting, rotating panels and two 45-inch video screens on which the White House can display charts, graphs, logos or commutation announcements.

The room has new furniture, carpeting and marble slabs on the wall. It smells like a new car -- though press rooms have a way of quickly taking on the aroma of its occupants. (Ed. Note: Ha, ha.)

Head over to PE for more. Take a deep breath and get a good whiff.”

That’s the end of the post. I mean, what the…? This from the Tiffany Network? Where is the writing? The insight? The importance to the general public? I hate to say it, but I expect profundity from the network news. I know people will laugh when I say that, but why shouldn’t we? Why should we not expect to be told unexpected things in a way that makes us think, understand, and appreciate and -- better yet -- act on what we hear from these correspondents?

Here is what CBS News needs to do: Stop kowtowing to its celebrity anchors and demand that everyone start writing news that is relevant to the people. CBS stuck with Dan Rather so long that it destroyed any viewer loyalty, and now they need to stop thinking about Couric’s contract and instead about what we need to hear about the world around us.

With that in mind, it is time to send Couric over to “60 Minutes” and replace her with Lara Logan. Logan was born in South Africa, and at least one of the network news program should have a more global feel to it, considering how much of what is happening internationally affects us here within our own borders.

It isn’t that Couric is terrible -- she’s no worse than Brian Williams at NBC, who is as starched as the collars of his shirts.

But Logan -- a good, tough, clear reporter -- is the long-term answer for the CBS Evening News. And she does not have to write a blog.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Interview with Gordon Willis on The Reeler


Here's a nice, brief interview with the great cinematographer Gordon Willis - whose answers are as crisp as his work behind the camera.

-- Lars Trodson


*

Friday, July 13, 2007

Classic Paul Mazursky


By Lars Trodson

I had always thought of Paul Mazursky as our modern day Billy Wilder. He seemed, in his prime, to careen from high comedy to serious drama, adept and sensitive at both and, on occasion, capable of the real clunker. This was just like Wilder. Today Mazursky has apparently returned to his roots, which is acting, and when I recently looked on imdb.com there didn’t seem to be any directorial projects in the pipeline.

There is one movie on his resume that seems particularly due for some recognition, and that is “Tempest”, released in 1982, and which I have not seen in years, but was for some odd reason reminded of just recently. Perhaps it was because I was thinking of John Cassavetes, who stars along with Gena Rowlands, or maybe I had seen a picture of Greece, which is the setting for most of the film.

It doesn’t matter. Remembrances of movies, both those adored and those reviled, come floating back to us for unknown reasons, they are lodged somewhere within us. It could be anything from the late afternoon sunlight on the side of a building, a weed between the cracks in the sidewalk, an overheard comment in a restaurant, or the simple sound of a flag snapping in the wind, that brings images, and thoughts, and, in the end, movies back to us.

I was in the bubble of such nostalgia when I thought of “Tempest” -- there is no ‘the’ in the title even though it is based on Shakespeare’s play -- and it is one of those odd movies from my own past that glows like a good memory; just the thought of it, that it got made, and that it got made the way it did, makes me appreciate those small moments of cinematic magic.

It’s got the drama, the serious and the quiet and the overdone (the scene when the Cassavetes character comes home in the middle of a dinner party drunk), and the comedy, both high (Vittorio Gassman complaining about his aging body) and low (Raul Julia mistaking shaving cream for whipped cream, and the jokes of Jackie Gayle) and insightful (the father and son relationship between Cassavetes and his father, played by the great Paul Stewart, and the delicate comedy of Susan Sarandon in this film), that Masursky has been so good at. “Tempest” is also lovely and warm, and beautifully filmed (by Donald McAlpine).

I remember the film ending with a dance, and all the characters had gathered on the rocky coast of Greece, and there had been a lot of pain and misery that had originally separated these characters, and then there was magic and compassion and forgiveness that brought them all together again. The closing credit sequence, when all the actors come out and bow to the camera as they would on stage, all to Dinah Washington’s singing, is flat out gorgeous.

Please check this out if you can. It’s available on DVD from Sony Pictures.

Buy it here:

Tempest



Thursday, July 12, 2007

Didn’t the Scene Where they Stabbed that Guy in the Eye with a Pair of Scissors Look Real?


By Lars Trodson

I wanted to riff a little bit about what Mike Gillis was just talking about, the horror film genre. A genre that has, as he so rightly points out, devolved into not so much “horror” -- which I associate with ambiance and tension -- into what Mike’s headline noted: torture porn.

I have seen a few of these movies myself, particularly in my stead recently as a movie critic for The Wire in Portsmouth, NH. I saw the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and its prequel, “TTCM: The Beginning.” I saw “Saw.” I tried to watch “Cabin Fever” but actually thought it was some kind of weird prank -- I did not believe that people took the movie seriously. I also, in that time frame, caught the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and Wes Craven’sLast House On the Left." I also saw “The Descent.” That’s quite a menu.

What I took special note of when I saw the more recent films is that while it is obvious that acting and storytelling are no longer of any special importance to the moviemakers, the special effects people have become particularly adept at gore and filth and excrement and pus and any other kind of organic ooze that slithers across the face of the planet. The rooms and basements and catch basins in which a lot of these films take place are really rank, stinking places, and you do want to get the hell out of there. Not because you’re scared, but rather because you might catch something.

It had been some time, I think, since I had seen a horror movie when I went to review “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake. The original Tobe Hooper film is quite rightly viewed as a tight little classic. The remake stinks, it’s junk, but that didn’t stop it from being a huge hit.

I remember the scene in which the Jessica Biel character comes across her friend, who has been hung up on a big meathook. She tries to lift him off the hook, but when she can’t he asks her to kill him. She takes a big knife and stabs him the belly, and something inside me clicked.

The word sadistic came to mind. I wondered aloud why anyone would think of this as entertainment. What is fun about this? I felt the same thing during the prequel. At one point Leatherface hacks off an old guy’s pair of legs, and I suddenly felt a little bit of shame. Why am I sitting here? What use does this serve?

Wolf Creek” was also hailed as a return to form, I guess, and there was some suspense in this little film. But at some point the creep at the center of the movie takes one of the girls he has been torturing -- and who at one point almost escaped -- and stands behind her and shoots her in the back and she falls over, dead.

I don’t know what the filmmakers expected me to feel, but I simply felt glum. The whole enterprise, the whole shoddy genre, was lost to me. I didn’t get it, couldn’t understand the entertainment value, or why these slasher flicks had suddenly become so popular again.

There have been a lot of theories about why the horror genre has been reborn -- among them are the tried and true (people like a good scare), to the psycho-social (we’re trying to alleviate our daily fears brought about by Sept. 11.) Yes, well, whatever. I think the first is the best; people like a good scare. The only problem is these new movies aren’t really scary -- they’re not even tense. So what is it?

I think the answer lies specifically in the way young people view movies today -- that is, what they’re perceptions of movies are.

Moviegoers of my generation went to a film hoping that we would make some kind of emotional attachment during our time in the dark. We wanted to be caught up in the drama, the emotion, to feel and laugh with the characters on the screen. Moviegoing at its best was a very, very personal, intense experience. That’s what we sought out of it.

One of the expectations of a horror flick was borne out of that relationship. The idea of the story was to first get us attached to the characters, and then watch in extreme discomfort as they went through their travails on screen. Their horror was ours -- “No!” we’d shout. “Don’t open the door!” Horror movies were built around the expectations that we would be attached to the characters on screen.

Kids today go into a movie with no expectation of getting emotionally attached -- they might not even see the experience as one where they would expect that to happen. It’s a purely digital, detached moment in time. There is no unseen bond between the audience and the actors -- they’re a million miles away from each other, and they each know it.

So while I’m sitting there like an idiot reacting to a slasher movie with a completely outmoded set of 20thcentury moviegoing values, young people today think: “Did you see the effect when they cut off the guys legs?” Or, “I wonder how they got all that blood to squirt out of the woman’s eyeball?” They know it as fake, they see it as fake, the criteria used to evaluate the situation is based on the idea that it is fake, pure and simple.

In other words, it’s not a character on screen, it’s that Jordana Brewster, another character in a long line of celebrities who parade through the pages of the multitudes of celebrity tabloid magazines. She’s a hot little number that we’ll next see on the pages of Maxim. End of story. End of movie.

Let’s face it: there is no mystery in movies any more. When I was a kid, I was so naïve I often wondered where they hid the cameras. That kind of wonderment is long gone. Actors once craved mystery, they tried to be enigmatic; two qualities that are necessary if we are to believe at all in who they are playing onscreen. But actors today don’t want that -- they want you to be familiar with them because that’s why you’ll see their movie.

The standard for a movie today is not how real it felt, or that you became involved. The standard today is how real did they make the fakery look? And if you did indeed appreciate just how real the fake stuff did look -- man, they made that look real! -- then you are able to confidently judge the movie, and your moviegoing experience, a success.

*****

Watch the classic horror film, "Nosferatu" here:




Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From Torture Porn to Torturous Moron


By Mike Gillis

The late 1970s and early 1980s were the early and formative moviemaking years for me. But it wasn't Martin Scorsese or Robert Altman or Woody Allen who first caught my attention. I was drawn to the likes of George Romero and David Cronenberg and a young Sam Raimi. I was also inspired by Tom Savini, who baptized special makeup effects in a well of gore. Those were bloody days, when splatter films littered the cinematic landscape.

I still have a soft spot for the well-crafted horror picture -- see "The Descent," for instance -- and can still appreciate a clever effect when I see one. And although my tastes now run with the camp of "what you don't show is worse than what you do -- I can easily stomach the gore.

But as far as horror goes, there is very little that makes the grade these days. That includes the oeuvre of Eli Roth.

I can't say all of Roth's films are bad. I haven't seen "Hostel - Part II." I'm not interested.

"Cabin Fever" was overrated, dull homage. It owes a debt to "The Evil Dead" and a forgiving audience. Is it funny? I guess, but who cares? It's just a poorly crafted movie. "Hostel" is a bore.

What's curious about the rise and fall of Eli Roth -- and he is falling hard -- is that he worked diligently to construct his own moviemaker mythology and people fell for it. Boy can he talk. Hundreds of interviews with Roth are scattered across the web, from the biggest publications to the most minuscule genre offerings. Almost every one of them features Roth talking about how he resurrected the genre, how his film is art, how he has saved horror.

I've noticed this: Almost to the critic, those who stand behind Roth gush to mention they have talked to director, sometimes regularly, and he's a really nice guy. Some critics even choose to defend Roth without having seen his films, because ... he's a nice guy who worked hard.

So, is it cold of me to say, who cares?

I learned some time ago that a film isn't any better because its director is a nice guy. Isn't it about whether the movie can stand up on its own? There are very few directors who deserve to take sole credit for a film -- a so-and-so film, a film by so-and-so -- but so many do, as if the director is the picture.

New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell recently caught up with Roth in Interview Magazine. Mitchell made a point about exploitation's particular style and characteristics, not without affection. Roth, however, wouldn't have it. His films are art, he insisted, and the violence is an outlet for a country that fears terrorists are about to lop off the heads of Americans at every corner.

Huh?

Roth has gone on in subsequent interviews to blame the poor box office receipts for "Hostel 2" on rampant piracy and moronic critics who reviewed a leaked work print. As others have pointed out, he has blamed everyone but himself.

Could it be the movie just isn't good? Could it also be, as moviegoers seemed to indicate, the appetite for "torture porn" is already satiated? How many "Hostels" and "Saws" can people tolerate? Roth's plea to fans to flock to the cinema for "Hostel - Part II's" second week or the film would vanish forever seems to have gone unheeded.

Of course there will always be an audience for Grand Guignol. And fine films will continue to be made that fit squarely and successfully in that genre. The difference, of course, is they will survive on their own, without any prompting from behind the camera.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Best Movie You Will Never See


By Mike Gillis

What is "Cloverfield" and will it be a great film? No one cares. Slim chance it will be remembered beyond opening weekend. That won't matter.

"Cloverfield" is the working title of a secret film project by "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams. Based on the paucity of information available, it's a monster movie about a giant parasite. Or robot. Or ancient deity. Websites and blogs are popping up all over the web, components of a very savvy marketing campaign generating early interest in the yet-to-be-named picture, set for release in January 2008.

So why are we talking about it now?

"Cloverfield" is sure to become one of the most notable examples of how movies are marketed in the modern age. The film's publicity arm is already tapping into a hyperactive and voracious network of bloggers and web socialites, feeding them intrigue in small but steady doses. A short teaser trailer surfaced in theaters during the opening weekend of "Transformers," triggering a landslide of giddy interest and debate online, where the trailer now lives. A whole contingent of moviegoers hopes the monster is Godzilla.

Selling a movie these days, specifically those of the tent-pole variety, isn't about the movie or even whether it's any good. It's about product. And product placement -- not whether brand-name potato chips are devoured on screen, but to transform the movie itself into a consumable product. The majority of movies released today are crafted as nothing more than disposable entertainment. You watch, you're entertained, you forget.

Now before you start flaming me as a "film snob," understand I like being entertained as much as anyone at the movies. Whatever other purpose film may serve -- social, philosophical, investigative -- it is foremost a medium intended to entertain. That's fine.

But what happens when people are herded to the theater for the next big picture -- and it's no good? Nothing. The movie lives on, on DVD, online and in infinite syndication. I mean, how many times have you seen "Tremors" on TV?

That picture has probably earned back its budget ten times over on television alone. ("Tremors" isn't a bad little B-picture, actually.) What about the atrocious "Independence Day," which ratcheted up the Hollywood hype machine months in advance? Who doesn't want to see a movie in which the White House blows up? Or what about the years-long buildup to the god-awful "Star Wars, Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace," one of the worst but highest-grossing movies of all time? The end-of-the-world picture is always populat, but who really remembers "The Day After Tomorrow" just a few years after its successful run in theaters?

Spreading the good word before a movie is released is not a new strategy. Oh sure, there were reports of inexplicable catastrophes on the set of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist," which no doubt steered a few people to the theater. And what about the long-running press coverage of "Apocalypse Now's" seemingly doomed production?

Everyone loves a train wreck. But those two pictures survived. They are watched, discussed and enjoyed today, They would have likely survived without incessant coverage.

And they made it without "viral marketing." Viral marketing aims to perpetuate a product primarily via the internet and its social networks. Once the seed is planted, and if it catches on, word spreads on its own. It's a perfect vehicle for movies. Click here for a look at how a viral marketing campaign works.

"The Blair Witch Project" was one of the first films to latch onto viral marketing. Via mysterious websites and curious clues planted online -- much like "Cloverfield" -- the filmmakers sparked interest in a little movie, shot on video, that would have otherwise disappeared without a trace. Instead, that curiosity translated into big box office and made "The Blair Witch Project" one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. Not bad for a film, despite my admiration for its limited resources, isn't a very good movie.

Which brings us back to "Cloverfield."

Is it a movie about Godzilla? One of the entities from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft? Voltron?

Keep watching the web. The mystery is bound to be better than the movie.