“It’s not a truthful indictment of Hollywood. It’s much uglier than I portrayed it, but nobody would’ve been interested if I’d shown just how sadistic, cruel and self-orientated it is.” — Director Robert Altman on The Player
Watch a 16-minute interview with Altman about his 1992 film:
The Player was quite unusual, the structure of it. . . . It’s like a snail. It turns into itself and becomes itself. The ending of The Player . . . that is the film you just saw. The mirrors start reflecting each other. And I just always try to put anything into a film that reflects the attitudes and things of that film. It’s as if that film were in its own universe.
“It’s a road locked back in time. . . . It’s a kind of a dream road.” — David Lynch on the real Southern California road called Mulholland Drive
Characteristically tight-lipped about the meaning of his movies, David Lynch talks briefly about his “poisonous valentine to Hollywood” and why he loves Los Angeles: “All are dealing with a somewhat of a question of identity. Like everybody.”
A Star Is Born
“Listen to me, Esther, a career is a curious thing. Talent isn’t always enough. You need a sense of timing — an eye for seeing the turning point or recognizing the big chance when it comes along and grabbing it. A career can rest on a trifle.”
Read Roger Ebert’s interview with a production supervisor on George Cukor’s 1954 musical A Star is Born:
Judy was marvelous for the first seven or eight months,” she told me. “Everybody had heard about how temperamental she was, how impossible she was to work with, but in fact she was sunny and calm. She was off the pills, looking good, and working well. “But the film got into trouble. It fell behind the shooting schedule, and it was well over budget. And the studio got rattled. They were working Judy incredibly hard.
Ed Wood: Now, what is the one thing, if you put it in a movie, it’ll be successful? George Weiss: Tits. Ed: No, better than that. A star!
Ed Wood director Tim Burton on the haunting qualities of Hollywood and his biopic of cult filmmaker Ed Wood:
The film shows the other side of the Hollywood dream of making it — the casualties and people at the bottom of the food chain. I’m very affected by seeing those people. Have you ever been down near Selma Avenue in Hollywood? I remember when I was a kid taking the bus there. You’re very haunted by these people; you could feel them there in the seventies, and they’re there now. There’s something very intense about it. They’re like living ghosts, and there’s a sadness and a weird humor, an emotional quality all in one that is very powerful to me. They’re in a kind of limbo. It’s like layers of the dream world. You’re drawn to Hollywood because you’re interested in a dream, kind of. It’s not what anybody thinks it is; it’s an image, an illusion. You don’t make that dream, so you end up creating a kind of nightmare. It’s like life and death, on a less literal level.
Singin’ in the Rain
“Well, we movie stars get the glory. I guess we have to take the little heartaches that go with it. People think we lead lives of glamour and romance, but we’re really lonely — terribly lonely.”
Listen to director Gene Kelly shower Singin’ in the Rain screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green with glowing praise in this 1979 interview conducted by actor Roddy McDowall.
“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Golden-age Hollywood filmmaker Billy Wilder on the making of Sunset Boulevard:
For a long time I wanted to do a comedy about Hollywood. God forgive me, I wanted to have Mae West and Marlon Brando. Look what became of that idea! Instead it became a tragedy of a silent-picture actress, still rich, but fallen down into the abyss after talkies. “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” I had that line early on. Someplace else I had the idea for a writer who is down on his luck. It didn’t quite fall into place until we got Gloria Swanson.
Detective Mastrionotti: What do you do, Fink? Barton Fink: I write. Detective Deutsch: Oh yeah? What kind of write? Barton Fink: Well, as a matter of fact I write for the pictures. Detective Mastrionotti: Big fuckin’ deal.
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen on their own experiences in Hollywood and the creation of Barton Fink:
[Question]: You take a look at the Hollywood of fifty years ago, but in a different way you find yourselves confronted by the same problems. Do artists always meet up with Philistines like Lipnick? Joel Coen: We would have to say yes, probably. But in fact Barton Fink is quite far from our own experience. Our professional life in Hollywood has been especially easy, and this is no doubt extraordinary and unfair. It is in no way a comment about us. We financed Blood Simple, our first film, ourselves, and Circle Films in Washington produced the three next ones. Each time, we made them the offer of a screenplay that they liked and then they agreed on the budget. We have no rejected screenplays in our desk drawers. There are plenty of projects that we started but then didn’t finish writing for one reason or another, either because there were artistic problems we couldn’t resolve or because the cost of producing them would have been prohibitive.
“‘Life is good in Los Angeles… it’s paradise on Earth.’ Ha ha ha ha. That’s what they tell you, anyway.”
Director Curtis Hanson on how his personal experiences shaped the creation of L.A. Confidential:
Our story is taking place in a different world. What I brought to that project was not really my knowledge of film noir, it was my knowledge of L.A. having grown up here and that was my driving impulse. I wanted to tell a story that dealt with the Los Angeles of my childhood memories.
The Bad and the Beautiful
“Don’t worry, some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s guts.”
Writer Farran Nehme on Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas-starring melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful:
This is full-throated, unapologetic melodrama, a movie about Hollywood and its sins that dares to use all sorts of Hollywood cliches to tell the story. Good Hollywood navel-gazing always has a roman a clef aspect and Vincente Minnelli’s movie is no exception.
State and Main
“This is what my people died for… the right to make a movie in this town.”
Director David Mamet on the fluidity of film scripts:
Diary of a Screenwriter: Have you ever deviated from your own script? David Mamet: I haven’t deviated from it. I’ve certainly changed it. DOAS: In what circumstances? Mamet: Well, if something’s not working, a lot of the times you say, ‘Well, let’s try something else.’ I mean, I’ve always got a typewriter in the trailer. Say, ‘You know, that scene isn’t working right. Give me a moment, I’ll write a new scene.’ You get inspired too. Oftentimes, you just get inspired. Stuff’s happening on the set. You say, ‘Oh my God, let’s do some more of that,’ or, ‘Now I understand what happens in scene 47.’ One of my favorite moments was doing State and Main with Alec Baldwin and Julia Stiles. They’re both drunk out of their minds, and he crashes the car. The car is upside down; they’re both drunk, and he crawls out of the car and looks around. He says, ‘Well, that happened.’ It was like an inspiration at four o’clock in the morning. He said something else, and I said, ‘Well, wait a second, say this.’ I was looking at what was happening on the set and said, ‘Wouldn’t that be funnier?’
Agnes: I mean, how erotic do you really want to go? Felix Farmer: Go, go, E-R-O-T-I-C! GO! GO! Agnes: Sally Miles, America’s G-rated darling, in the B-U-F-F? Felix Farmer: Why not? Agnes: Ohhhh, Felix darling, some of her fans still don’t think she goes to the bathroom!
The most Hollywood Blake Edwards interview ever, complete with sunglasses and palm trees.
“I’m going out on the road to find out what it’s like to be poor and needy and then I’m going to make a picture about it.”
Critic Todd McCarthy on Preston Sturges’ satire about the movie industry, Sullivan’s Travels:
In the critic Manny Farber’s view, Sturges’ unique background “made him a logical candidate for Hollywood, whose entire importance in the history of culture resides in its unprecedented effort to merge art and big business.” Sullivan’s Travels, which by its very title boldly invites comparison to one of the greatest satires ever composed in the English language, pivots on the theme of art vs. commerce—a theme that represents a central duality in Sturges’ personality. . . . Sullivan’s Travels is one of the few Hollywood films that summons emotions similar to those elicited by the work of Charlie Chaplin (who knew what the lower depths were all about, and made poverty the subject of much of his most endearing and enduring work).
“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. So I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana nut. That’s a good muffin.”
Charlie Kaufman on telling un-Hollywood stories:
“White boys always get the Oscar. It’s a known fact. Did I ever get a nomination? No! You know why? Cause I hadn’t played any of them slave roles, and get my ass whipped. That’s how you get the nomination. A black dude who plays a slave that gets his ass whipped gets the nomination, a white guy who plays an idiot gets the Oscar. That’s what I need, I need to play a retarded slave, then I’ll get the Oscar.”
Director Frank Oz on the making of Bowfinger, starring Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin (who also wrote the film):
Bowfinger was watching the brilliance of Eddie Murphy work. He’s a brilliant performer and it’s wonderful to see him work. Again, it’s the people I work with… my crew, always… the producer, First DP, camera operator, and my actors. And of course, to get to work with Steve (Martin) again. It kind of goes without saying. That’s why, in part, I did the movie — and also because of Brian Grazer and the people at Imagine. The more work I do, the more important it is to work with people I like who are very talented. So I remember the actors and the fun we had… I had a lot of fun with the actors in that one, and the crew. The actors and crew got along great. I have great memories of working with all those actors and crew. And Steve, without saying, is a unique individual. He’s a gifted and brilliant performer and writer.
“What is the point of living in L.A. if you’re not in the movie business?”
Writer Elmore Leonard on the film adaptation of his novel Get Shorty:
I said to [director] Barry Sonnenfeld, ‘This is a comedy, and I don’t write comedies.’ He said, ‘No, but it was a funny book.’ The key was doing it straight-faced. None of the actors were trying to be funny, and that’s what made it work. If they thought they were saying funny lines, it would have blown the whole thing.
“It looks really fun, but I wondered what the other side of his life might be like, and what it could be like in his private moments.” — Sofia Coppola on her inspiration for Somewhere
Critic Miriam Bale on Coppola’s Somewhere, set at Hollywood’s famous Chateau Marmont:
It’s a Hollywood film about Hollywood that completely ignores the rules of traditional narrative filmmaking, of indie filmmaking too: The one (false start of a) montage consists of only one shot, the film willfully crosses “the line” just once, and it also has just one jarring jump cut. These choices are so subtle and deliberate that they don’t call attention to the radical and specific choices Coppola has made throughout. This experimental pop film stands on its own, peerless and without precedent, at least in the movies.
A documentary about the history of race films in Hollywood that speaks to a rich history of pre-code representations of African-Americans — including stars Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, and others.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
R.K. Maroon: How much do you know about show business, Mr. Valiant? Eddie Valiant: Only that there is no business like it, no business I know. R.K. Maroon: Yeah. And there’s no business more expensive.
Robert Zemeckis on the animation for his neo-nbir comedy set in a cartoon version of Hollywood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
When [animator Richard Williams] realized that all he had to do was animate, and that I was making the movie, it was like he was liberated. He didn’t have to do the storytelling, the shots, or the layout. He could just draw Roger and any other character he wanted — Droopy, Baby Herman — and inspire his team of animators. It turned out to be a perfect collaboration. Talking to an animator is just like talking to an actor. At least that was my experience, and that’s how I would direct them. They would do just what an actor would do, which is to see what’s written, to see what’s needed, and hear my interpretation. Then the really great animators — and I had all great ones on Roger — take that and interpret it their own way and make it even better, in that they would actually draw their performance.
Wag the Dog
“Now folks, folks, this is a shitty business and it needs no ghosts come from the grave to tell us that.”
Film satire is hard in the age of the Internet, says director Barry Levinson and critic and historian Joe Leydon:
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
The real Hollywood drama of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was happening behind the scenes. This 1962 interview hints at the gossiped-about personality clashes on set between star divas Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.
Razor’s Edge director John Byrum on making an “X-rated movie” (NC-17) with Hollywood actors:
The Day of the Locust
Director John Schlesinger on the magic of movies and his haunting 1975 film set in 1930s Hollywood, The Day of the Locust:
I’ve never been on a set that didn’t excite me. People don’t understand how much boredom is involved, and yet . . . there’s the time(?) standing around, the brooding people waiting for something to happen, and then all of a sudden the shot begins and you’re creating a fantasy. There’s nothing else like it.
“It’s always been called the movie business. Not the movie craft.” —director John Landis on Hollywood
The “three amigos” (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short) on ¡Three Amigos! — about how Hollywood movies affect the people that watching, building their expectations, forcing actors to embody their roles.
“There’s so few people in this town with a conscience.” —The Party director Blake Edwards on Los Angeles
Slant writes about Peter Sellers’ performance in the 1968 cult film, The Party:
Naturally, the eye tends to drift in the direction of Sellers, who creates a humane performance in the role of Bakshi that also allows the actor to do his patented physical comedy. One of the few characters in the film who truly mean well, Bakshi only wants to please, but this somewhat naïve eagerness reveals a clumsiness that routinely occurs at the most inopportune moments. The Party‘s prologue, in which Bakshi is presented as little more than a destructive imbecile ridiculed by impatient studio honchos, would be egregious if the scene wasn’t immediately followed by Bakshi playing his sitar with sheer adeptness and soul, with the rendition ambiguously hovering between a lament and a celebration. This prompts the question of who exactly is out of step: the good-natured but clumsy Bakshi, or the pretentious but functional Hollywood world that surrounds him?
Boy Meets Girl
Robert Law: Talk about scope sweep. Boy, what a set up! J. Carlyle ‘J.C.’ Benson: What a love story! Robert Law: A great love story. J. Carlyle ‘J.C.’ Benson: A baby brings them together, splits them apart, brings them together again, Robert Law: Boy meets girl. J. Carlyle ‘J.C.’ Benson: Boy loses girl. Robert Law: Boy gets girl. C. Elliott ‘C.F.’ Friday: Boy, I think you got something.
TCM on why Boy Meets Girl, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, is a real Warner Bros. picture: “Boy Meets Girl made good use of Warners sound stages, back lots and front offices, so it’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the studio.”
“Hollywood Laid Bare!” — Mondo Hollywood‘s tagline
Described by Variety as a “flippy, trippy psychedelic guide to Hollywood,” Robert Carl Cohen’s 1967 mondo movie starts as all good mondo movies (a cheap brand of exploitive documentary films) do: “All persons and events depicted herein are real. Any similarity to fictitious persons or events is purely coincidental.”
The World’s Greatest Lover
“My soul is on fire! Don’t talk to me about money!”
Director Gene Wilder talks to Roger Ebert about directing himself in his spoof of silent cinema’s romantic icons:
‘My basic mistake in The World’s Greatest Lover,’ he said, ‘was that I made the leading character a neurotic kook and sent him to Hollywood. I should have made him a perfectly normal, sane, ordinary person, and sent him to Hollywood. The audience identifies with the lead character. They would have found it much funnier to have him be normal and walk into bizarre events. That . . . that was the lesson of The World’s Greatest Lover.’
Gods and Monsters
“Making movies is the most wonderful thing in the world. Working with friends — entertaining people — yes, I suppose I miss it.”
Director Bill Condon on the myth and legend of English director James Whale (played by Ian McKellen):
The gay community in Hollywood was very split about public behavior, so it was rather surprising that Whale was invited to the party. When I was researching the film, I asked Roddy McDowell about it, and he had this instant response when I mentioned Whale — ‘Oh, nobody liked him,’ he said. Totally dismissed him, whereas the man has so many fans among people who love his movies. I’m not sure how many people know – or care – that he was gay.
The Celluloid Closet
“Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gays and gay people what to think about themselves.”
From Roger Ebert’s review of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary about Hollywood’s representation of LGBT characters (and actors):
The Celluloid Closet is inspired by a 1981 book by Vito Russo, who wrote as a gay man who found he had to look in the shadows and subtexts of movies to find the homosexual characters who were surely there. His book was a compendium of visible and concealed gays in the movies, and now this documentary, which shows the scenes he could only describe, makes it clear Hollywood wanted it both ways: It benefitted from the richness that gays added to films, but didn’t want to acknowledge their sexuality.
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows
“He was an addictive researcher, drawing out of it the over-all feel, mood and quality that he wanted… Everything had to be cheap because we were on a shoestring. That was another thing about Val — a low budget was a challenge to him, a spur to inventiveness, and everyone around him caught the fever.” — Ardel Wray, quoted in Joel Siegel’s Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror
From the Village Voice review of Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows:
Shadows works through its subject with a multiplicity of voices (the B-movie expertise of Roger Corman, the acumen of critic Geoffrey O’Brien, the psycho-analytic perspective of Dr. Glen Gabbard), directing attention to marginal energies and subterranean influences (the vitality of bit players, the unspoken impact of World War II). As in his [John] Carpenter campaign, [director Kent] Jones is building on the model of his critical mentor, Manny Farber, champion of the rough pleasures and overlooked refinements in Hollywood B-pictures. When Jones comes to the defense of Carpenter, aligning his achievement with Lewton’s, he harmonizes two traditions: a small-scale cinema of discreet, unsettling pleasures—as practiced in different eras by similarly gifted craftsmen—and a critical approach, focused and alert, that recognizes such modest excellence.
“I don’t think the goal is, ‘How big a star did you ever become?’ I think the goal is, ‘Were you able to express yourself?‘” —Albert Brooks
Film Comment’s interview with director and star of Modern Romance, Albert Brooks:
I would not have made Modern Romance unless I had that kind of trouble in my life with breaking up. I didn’t do it as much as that character, but I did it enough to be able to write and do that, so for comedic purposes, I take behavior that I might do and I square it. And then you have a performance, you have a movie. You have to be fearless about it, you can’t go, Oh gee, am I gonna come off too this or too that? Don’t make the movie then, don’t do that subject if that’s what you’re afraid of, play a lovable teddy bear. If I think about my next film and think, This could be very embarrassing, I would never do it. You have to commit yourself to the part. If you don’t do that, you have no chance of ever doing it great. I really did feel when Real Life came out that people would automatically go, ‘Oh, is he brilliant, the way he played that character with his own name.’ And I was really surprised when that didn’t happen. I saved the review that said, ‘Why would Paramount give this idiot the money to do such an important experiment?’
The Last Tycoon
“I’ll tell you three things: All writers are children. Fifty percent are drunks. And up till very recently, writers in Hollywood were gag-men; most of them are still gag-men, but we call them writers.”
Harvard Film Archive on The Last Tycoon, starring Robert De Niro, directed by Elia Kazan:
Kazan’s final feature is a lush, nostalgic evocation of lost Hollywood and a still misunderstood attempt to reach the romantic heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s now mythical unfinished novel. Working closely with Harold Pinter, Kazan stayed true to the abstract, remote qualities of Monroe Star, played with vulnerable intensity by Robert De Niro. The almost overwhelming roster of Old Hollywood talent—Ray Milland, Robert Mitchum, Dana Andrews—marked The Last Tycoon as ‘adult,’ and against the returning tide of youth oriented filmmaking, contributing to the dismal box office and ungenerous critical reception that convinced Kazan to abruptly retire from cinema.
The Big Picture
Nick Chapman: What is it? Emmet Sumner: It’s this stupid movie. It’s called “Coffins from Hell.” Nick Chapman: What is it about? Emmet Sumner: Coffins from hell.
Siskel and Ebert talk early Christopher Guest film, The Big Picture:
“Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn’t for most people, but I am not interested. There’s too much of it about.” — Ken Russell
Senses of Cinema on Ken Russell’s critically panned, but fascinating 1977 film Valentino:
Valentino’s gaol-cell scene is a classic Russell moment because of its double-edged nature. On the one hand, Russell’s aim has always been to show the reality behind superficial glamour that can blind one to the truth — even movie stars need to go to the bathroom. But, on the other hand, the scene is a commentary on the bloodlust of the public, their desire for public hanging. In this context his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother altercation with Jade Goody, and subsequent comment on the whole incident — ‘I don’t want to live in a society riddled with evil and hatred’ — make sense in a further context than one more attempt at scrounging some column inches by an eccentric and ‘unbankable’ old man.
“Is Hollywood the cruelest city in the world? Well, it can be. New York can be like that, too. You can be a Broadway star here one night, and something happens, and then you’re out — nobody knows you on the street. They forget you ever lived. It happens in Hollywood, too.” — Buster Keaton
Time named Buster Keaton’s silent Sherlock Jr. one of the greatest all-time movies:
The impeccable comedian directs himself in an impeccable silent comedy . . . Is this, as some critics have argued, an example of primitive American surrealism? Sure. But let’s not get fancy about it. It is more significantly, a great example of American minimalism — simple objects and movement manipulated in casually complex ways to generate a steadily rising gale of laughter. The whole thing is only 45 minutes long, not a second of which is wasted. In an age when most comedies are all windup and no punch, this is the most treasurable of virtues.
“He’s ahead of us all.” — Martin Scorsese on Jean-Luc Godard
Criterion writes about Godard’s 1963 masterpiece, Contempt, about the dissolution of a marriage during a film production:
Godard is the first filmmaker to bristle with the effort of digesting all previous cinema and to make cinema itself his subject,” wrote critic David Thomson. Certainly Contempt is shot through with film buff references, and it gains veracity and authority from Godard’s familiarity with the business of moviemaking. But far from being a smarty-pants, self-referential piece about films, it moves us because it is essentially the story of a marriage. Godard makes us care about two likable people who love each other but seem determined to throw their chances for happiness away.
“Good taste is the enemy of comedy.” — Mel Brooks
Comic icon Mel Brooks spoke to Roger Ebert about the making of his silent film satire: “‘The story of Silent Movie,’ he said, ‘is the story in Silent Movie. We made a silent movie, we put a lot of big stars in it, we saved the studio. It all started over lunch.”
“Everything I am, everything I could be is in that picture.”
The Wall Street Journal writes about Benjamin Ross’ 1999 film about the making of Citizen Kane, RKO 281, and Orson Welles’ place in the industry today:
The conflict also indicated how difficult it would be for a director to pursue consciously critical artistic work within the Hollywood system of making films for profit and what courage and fortitude opposition to this state of affairs would require. Welles, with all his weaknesses and foibles, was a man with such qualities. In increasingly difficult financial and personal straits, he fought to make his films for another 30 years or more following the blows dealt his career and reputation by Hearst and the film establishment. His life’s work was a ‘failure’ only by the standards of opportunists and toadies. As the American film industry seems to be waking from a long sleep, its most serious artists ought to look to Welles’s struggle as an example, not a cautionary tale.
Film Threat’s Phil Hall writes of Hellzapoppin’, the famously surreal 1941 musical starring comedy team Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson:
Olsen and Johnson then have a running conversation with their director (Richard Lane). Actually, it is a walking conversation — the three men walk through a variety of movie sets, changing clothing for each setting. The comics don’t want their beloved show changed for the movies, but the director is adamant. ‘This is Hollywood, we change everything here!’ he insists. ‘We have to!’ At one point they are in an Arctic setting wearing Eskimo furs. Johnson looks over, sees a sled marked ‘Rosebud’ and comments: ‘I thought they burned that thing!’
“Howard, you really think they’re gonna let you put out a whole movie just about tits?”
Martin Scorsese on his biopic about movie mogul and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes:
Howard Hughes was this visionary, was obsessed with speed and flying like a god above everyone else, [and] was as rich as one of the Greek mythical kings, King Croesus. But ultimately having to pay that price, too. I loved [Hughes] idea of what filmmaking was. He became the outlaw of Hollywood in a way.
The Kid Stays in the Picture
“There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”
Directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen on their Robert Evans biopic:
It was really important to us to [create] this disorienting, hallucinogenic world. Because it is Bob’s version of the story, and he lives in his own enchanted tale so he wanted the visuals to comment on it. And because Bob is the guy who got everything in his life based on his image, and lost everything because his image was tarnished. It was this true Hollywood extreme story. It was important that the visuals took you into never-never land.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood
The A.V. Club on the adaptation of critic and film historian Peter Biskind’s controversial book about Hollywood in the ’70s:
The film documents how the death of the studio system and the rise of both the counterculture and a generation of ambitious film brats combined to create a seismic shift in American filmmaking. In the late ’60s and ’70s, a fateful alignment of talent, opportunity, and resources created a surplus of challenging, unconventional films that plugged into the cultural zeitgeist, but before long, the hubris of the decade’s superstar filmmakers prompted a retreat into the safety and predictability of blockbusters and escapist fare. As Biskind’s page-turner illustrated, American film in the ’70s overflowed with tragic heroes whose Falstaffian appetites seemed inextricably linked to their outsized gifts. Though burdened by clunky narration, Easy Riders captures the liberating, conspiratorial solidarity among filmmakers living out their gaudiest show-biz fantasies together, as well as the chemical and creative excess that proved a generation’s undoing.
Slant on the fascinating history of The Carpetbaggers, once considered too racy for general audiences and blamed for “giving American movies the reputation of ‘deliberate and degenerate corruptors of public taste and morals'”:
Now practically forgotten, The Carpetbaggers catalogs the financial rise and moral descent of half-cocked entrepreneur Jonas Cord Jr. (the tacitly manly George Peppard). The film was a blockbuster back in 1964 and could have been seen as the last word in silver screen sleaze . . . at least as far as mainstream America was concerned. By no means as suggestive as any of the jazzy underground masterpieces from the era (namely Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss) or even the trashy frolic of Kitten with a Whip, The Carpetbaggers got its reputation by channeling the Cecil B. DeMille blueprint for lovingly (or lustingly) crafting smut tableaus laced with just enough 11th-hour morality to appeal to even the most puritanical of the blue-hairs. And it was the intended audience, and not the content per se, which informed its repute. Now that the film is tame enough to merit a mere PG rating — the parlor game of trying to figure out whether or not the Harold Robbins tale is indeed about Howard Hughes will likely fly over the heads of younger cinephiles — what’s left? Camp. Pure, unadulterated camp.
The Mystery of Natalie Wood
The Associated Press wrote in praise of Peter Bogdonavich’s made-for-TV biopic about Rebel Without a Cause star Nathalie Wood:
Born Natalia Zakharenko — her parents changed their name to Gurdin upon becoming U.S. citizens — the little girl would shed that identity when the studio christened her Natalie Wood. But even in adulthood, she could never shed the harsh stage mother or the fears she’d been instilled with.As drama, Wood’s life might seem to be lifted from all too many show business biopics. Nonetheless, this film works hard showcasing what made Natalie special. Exhaustively Bogdanovich chronicles her life and career, embroidering the action with photos and footage of the real-life Natalie. He even enlists friends and acquaintances from her past for on-camera interviews that help keep the story moving briskly along.
Screenwriter Dominick Dunne, father of actors Griffin Dunne and Dominique Dunne, relates his own Hollywood story to January about writing his first screenplay:
Dunne was asked to write a sequel to Joyce Haber’s The Users, a tawdry novel about life in Hollywood. When the book was finished, Dunne sold everything he had and moved to an apartment in Greenwich Village. He was going to be a writer. The Users was an unmitigated flop that was torn apart in The New York Times. But, Dunne was a changed man. He was simply thrilled to be reviewed in The New York Times. It signaled that he was a professional writer. ‘Fuck it that it was a terrible review,’ he laughs.
Walter Paisley: You been in pictures? Robby: Not recently. I don’t do nudity.
Joe Dante made Hollywood Boulevard as part of a bet that producer Jon Davison made with B-movie king Roger Corman that Dante could direct a film in a week. The film helped launch Dante’s career. “On Hollywood Boulevard we didn’t know what we were doing — which works for the movie — because it’s really sort of a home movie,” Dante told Notebook.
Hans: Marty, I’ve been reading your movie. Your women characters are awful. None of them have anything to say for themselves. And most of them get either shot or stabbed to death within five minutes. And the ones that don’t probably will later on. Marty: Well, it’s a hard world for women. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. Hans: Yeah, it’s a hard world for women, but most of the ones I know can string a sentence together.
The A.V. Club talked to playwright and director Martin McDonagh about making Seven Psychopaths, centered on a screenwriter’s dalliance with a criminal underworld:
The A.V. Club: The self-referential nature of Seven Psychopaths allows you to comment on violence while being violent, and comment on thinly written female characters while writing female characters thinly. Do you tend to anticipate criticisms of your plays and scripts as you’re writing them? Martin McDonagh: [Laughs.] No, no. I think this is the most I’ll ever do that. And you can’t get away with it more than once, even if you can get away with it this time. On the female character, Abbie [Cornish’s] part has more on the page, and we got a lot more of her in a couple of scenes that just slowed down the film somehow, or weren’t what the film was about. So it didn’t used to be as thinly written a part as it turned out to be. And she’s great in all of those scenes, but they’re not all there.
Susan Slept Here
“Your husband’s better than crazy, he’s a writer.”
Movie Morlocks digs into Frank Tashlin’s Susan Slept Here, starring Debbie Reynolds as a “juvenile delinquent” and a struggling screenwriter:
Susan Slept Here was directed by Frank Tashlin, a former animator for Warner Bros. and story director for Disney. His experience as an animator influenced his style as a director with its exaggeration, vivid color, joke-centric dialogue, and absurd, surrealist characters and events. The narratives of Tashlin’s movies often satirize contemporary culture, contemporary lifestyles, and other foibles of the modern world. The satiric tone of his work clashes with the warm sentiment and longing for the past associated with the typical Christmas movie.
Paris When It Sizzles
“I only hope he’s not one of those method actors that who scratches and mumbles and pauses a lot, thereby destroying the impeccable rhythm of the author’s prose.”
The Digital Fix on Richard Quine’s Paris When it Sizzles, starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn:
What transpires is a sort of film-within-a-film, in which the audience is presented with the reality situation of Benson and Gabrielle writing the script, and within that situation the audience is also presented with the actual scenes as they write them.
“I believe a good critic is a teacher. He doesn’t have the answers, but he can be an example of the process of finding your own answers. He can notice things, explain them, place them in any number of contexts, ponder why some “work” and others never could. He can urge you toward older movies to expand your context for newer ones. He can examine how movies touch upon individual lives, and can be healing, or damaging. He can defend them, and regard them as important in the face of those who are “just looking for a good time.” He can argue that you will have a better time at a better movie. We are all allotted an unknown but finite number of hours of consciousness. Maybe a critic can help you spend them more meaningfully.”
Variety critic Scott Foundas writes about the Roger Ebert bio-documentary Life Itself:
Unsurprisingly, much of Life Itself is given over to Ebert’s democratizing and popularizing impact on the world of film criticism, with judiciously chosen clips (Bonnie and Clyde, Cries and Whispers, Raging Bull) and excerpts from those same films’ respective reviews used to show how Ebert combined his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema with an accessible, plainspoken writing style that could be understood by anybody. Filmmakers including Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese (also an executive producer here) speak to the specific contributions Ebert made to their careers, Scorsese tearing up as he remembers a tribute Ebert and his TV sparring partner Gene Siskel organized for him in Toronto at one of the lowest moments of his personal and professional life.