One of my favorite things about the Manhattan screening rooms where press screenings typically take place is the pitch darkness you fall into before every show. The room dips to an even black — and the best ones are designed thoughtfully enough that you won’t even be distracted by a red “Exit” sign during the show. Also the sound is excellent. Reference-level dynamics might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s a tightness and immediacy to the mix that you just don’t get in a larger room, even when that room is properly tuned up for audio.
Sadly, your average multiplex does not boast particularly good sound — nor even a particularly dark room. I grew up in Colorado, and when I moved to New York in 1994 I noticed a definite uptick in presentation quality in Manhattan theaters, where theater management is likely to be hassled by filmmakers themselves if the specs are out of whack. Of course, New York theaters have their peculiarities, too — unidentifiable odors, radically uncomfortable seats and/or angles of sight, sudden explosions of indecipherable verbalese from the octogenarian gentleman in the back row, and the intermittent but unmistakable rumble of subway cars running underneath the floor.
I recently found the following quote from actress Marley Shelton (she’s terrific as the creepy nurse with the blonde hair and black eye make-up) that explained a thing or two about Planet Terror: “[Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino]
really co-directed, at least Planet Terror. Quentin was on set a lot.
He had notes and adjustments to our performances and he changed lines
every once in a while. Of course, he always deferred to Robert on Planet Terror and vice versa for Death Proof. So it’s really both of
their brainchild.“ So that’s why I enjoyed Planet Terror, oh, an order of magnitude more than anything else I’ve seen that Rodriguez directed! (Happy note: according to reviews, the “missing reel” gag—one of the best laughs I’ve ever had in a movie theater—is still missing from the film on this DVD.)
Shortly after I saw We Own the Night back in August, I spent about an hour talking with writer/director James Gray at a midtown hotel about his movie for a Q&A over at Film & Video. Could not have been a nicer guy, and I think my estimation of his movie grew a notch or two over the course of the interview. (This is one of the reasons why it’s troublesome, I think, for movie critics to do interviews or have any kind of relationship with the filmmakers they cover — for many of us I think it may be just that tiny bit harder to say something unkind about a movie by someone who’s gone out of his way to be friendly to you.)
We were set to talk mainly about the film’s big car chase scene, which was shot in sunlight but had computer-generated rain added after the fact. But one of the things that interested me was he seemed to come out swinging right away over the idea that his movie had a predictable story — or at least over the notion that “predictability” by itself is a deficit. I trimmed a big chunk of the published interview, partly for reasons of word-count and partly because it wasn’t on-topic for F&V, but also because it contains SPOILERS related to the very last scene of the movie.
rightly placed at number one, that set the gold standard for sheer
cheekiness. Check out the whole thing if you haven’t; it’s a really
good read. (I also love the weird screed against Time magazine
that kicks off the list.) But what interested me, as someone who spends
his days interviewing people, is the way these clips and excerpts,
especially the raw, unedited footage, where you can really feel the
reporters trying to regain control of the situation, cast some light on
how difficult it is to be interviewed — to try to give your
interrogator the insight he desires into your life, thoughts and
creative process while simultaneously keeping yourself from spouting
something embarrassing, or easily misconstrued. (I think this is why
politicians, increasingly, come off as either soulless automatons or
dopey hillbillies.) Dylan’s strategy has remained pretty simple: refuse to give a straight answer.
Don’t Open This Cookie
Not movie-related, but I really welcomed this news from The New York Times of a Queens fortune-cookie maker that has actually created some alternatives to the feel-good postprandial platitudes dispensed to date. Like this: “Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on yourself.” Or, “Your problem just got bigger. Think, what have you done?” Sweet.
Listen to a Movie
Listentoamovie.com (tag line: “For the Cubicle Workers of the World”) has a fairly novel approach to copyright infringement. The site offers free streaming copies of movie audio tracks. Only. This wouldn’t be terribly interesting in our age of DVD, zillion-channel digital-cable packages, and Bittorrent, except that some of the audio files are commentary tracks. So far I don’t see the awesome original Criterion laserdisc commentaries by Martin Scorsese and Co. for Raging Bull and Taxi Driver — but somebody has posted the three James Bond laserdisc commentaries for Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger that Criterion had to withdraw from the market after somebody squawked.
Queens of the Stone Age: “3’s and 7’s”
No Fat Clips has a new QotSA video that’s patterned on Grindhouse, complete with guns, blood and boobies. (Scroll down to download it. Who pays for this guy’s bandwidth?) You can see a tamer version on YouTube, but this one is the uncut version. Why not fill your new rock video with tits and blood? I’m flabbergasted at how quickly the Internet has become, essentially, the only place to see new music videos.
Zoom: A Filmmaker Uncovers the Hidden Truths of Photos
After the crash-and-burn that ended Paul Verhoeven’s career as a director of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, the director took some time off from filmmaking before returning to his native country, the Netherlands, to make this World War II potboiler reeking of sex and betrayal. Star Carice van Houten is all wide eyes and pursed, pouty lips — shoot her in monochrome and you’d swear you were watching an actress from a 1940s melodrama. (Well, but for her copious nudity, I suppose.) It’s not a great film, but a very entertaining one — certainly good enough to qualify as Verhoeven’s comeback. Looking back at my original review, I’m surprised I gave it only a B, not a B+.
There’s something so close to offensive simplemindedness about this whole enterprise that it’s a wonder the results are so strong — dirty, funny, and only suffering from a general adherence to mainstream formula. The subjects of pregnancy and childbirth really do add a new dimension to the ever-present sex comedy, and Judd Apatow’s witty, family-values approach (only glancing reference is made to abortion, and you have to figure a Hollywood comedy isn’t going there anyway) manages to avoid pandering.
OK, boo and hiss to the Weinsteins’ decision not to release the complete, underrated and underpatronized Grindhouse experience to DVD. (At least not yet.) While I’m not sure how Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror will play divorced from its nudge-and-a-wink omnibus context, Death Proof should be a strong experience on its own. Tarantino’s idea of girl talk may be more than a bit indulgent, but he backs it up with one hell of a car chase. And who doesn’t want to see the “missing reel” that includes Vanessa Ferlito giving Kurt Russell a lap dance?
Q: Have you heard the complaints from some viewers that this specific style of filmmaking — handheld camera, quick cuts — makes them physically ill?
A: Often. [Laughs.] At the end of the day it’s a big tent. There’s room for many, many styles of filmmaking. Probably my favorite filmmaker of all time is David Lean, who has a style that in many ways couldn’t be more antithetical to the way we shoot a Bourne film. I’ve had people say to me, “Gosh, I watched your film from the third row of the theater, and I was getting physically ill.” Fair enough. Personally, I wouldn’t watch any film from the third row of a theater, and if I were to watch Lawrence of Arabia from the third row of a theater I’d probably get physically ill myself. It’s an aggressive style, so it’s going to attract more attention, but I think it’s a style that absolutely supports the film and the narrative. If you like it, great. And if you don’t, that’s fine too.
Stuart Gordon’s second horror movie (after the classic Re-Animator) is still his second best — only the 2001 Lovecraft adaptation Dagon, which finally goes pleasantly nutso in the last reel, registers as a close third. Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton reunite for another Lovecraft-inspired splatter romp, this one about scientific experiments on the human pineal gland opening up a portal into another dimension. I can’t vouch for the importance of the restored material in this “director’s cut,” which I haven’t yet seen (it actually premiered on HD cable in 2006). But here’s Gordon, quoted in a 2006 press release from cable channel Monsters HD, on what hit the cutting room floor when the MPAA got hold of his original cut:
“The scene that upset them the most (and as I describe it, it is truly disgusting) is when Jeffrey Combs’ character’s pineal gland has gone out of control and he’s hungry for brains. He attacks a psychiatrist, played by my wife [Carolyn Purdy-Gordon], and he plants his mouth onto her eye socket and starts sucking. And the material that was cut out was when he actually sucks her eyeball out, spits it onto the floor and the eyeball lands looking back up at him and he continues to suck her brains through the eye socket and the camera pushes in. It’s really disturbing and it’s the longest restored piece, my guess is it’s about 30 seconds or so. I think it’s the most horrific moment in the whole movie.”
If this sounds like a good time I’m pretty sure you’ll get a kick out of it.