Monday, May 27, 2013

RIP(?) Smash

It seems silly to eulogise the NBC series Smash. The show seemed to make self-loathing an art form. One that it wasn't particularly good at, but occasionally struck magical gold. I've discussed many times both here on the blog and in the real world (something of which the Smash writers know absolutely nothing about if their second season efforts are anything to go by) about how there wasn't just potential in the series, but in each scene. There was always something brilliant waiting to break out from all the wilted melodrama and whingeing entitlement, but it never got there. And during the second season, it never even got to the glorious camp-ridden heights of the first. I'm sad to see the idea of Smash gone rather than Smash itself because, with its failure brings the sad knowledge that television networks won't even try something like it again any time soon unless its aimed at the youth set like Glee (a show that has had its own fair share of problems, but benefited by a willing audience with pocket money and an iTunes account).

It doesn't feel like an axing, really, but more a mercy killing on NBC's account. I was surprised to read that second season showrunner Josh Safran had actually long ago concocted a season three plot arc. That the arc involved the intolerably self-righteous Karen Cartwright moving to the big screen and filming a big Hollywood musical (in New York City, natch, in order to keep contracted actors in a job) shows that even to this day nobody seems to have figured out why the show was eventually such a disaster: Katherine McPhee. She's certainly a pretty woman and a half-decent singer and performer with the right material, but she was the wrong fit for Smash. That executive producer Steven Spielberg thought it was Megan Hilty that was the problem speaks volumes. The second season's obsession with Karen, Jeremy Jordan's petulant Jimmy, and Hit List, the fictional musical inspired by Rent (even down to killing off the book's writer for sympathy/plot contrivance) that had a plot nobody could follow, was a failed experiment at juggling two shows at once - a good idea in theory, but poorly executed - that ultimately destroyed any good will us Smash fans once had. I guess it was its own ability to be occasionally brilliant made it impossible for the rest of the show to keep up.

By the last three or four episodes, the production seemed so obviously rushed that I would have sworn they knew the axe was going to fall (the entire season was filmed before airing, which could explain season one's insistence of Karen as Marilyn, but why the continued devotion to her in season two when she was clearly unpopular). By the season finale that aired last night, the inevitable cancellation that hung over the series for fans all season long seemed a natural fit given they were tying up loose ends left and right, giving happy endings to (almost) every major character, and providing a general sense of "it's over". The opening performance of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" was bold italic underlining the sentiment. I guess it just shows how off the behind the scenes people really were as to what people wanted to see.

The biggest casualty of Smash's new direction was character. By the end they'd almost all lost direction: Ivy Lynn was legitimately considering keeping her baby (with Derek Wills of all people) and leaving her thriving Broadway career behind to be a "Mr and Mrs Smith" like she sings about on stage eight times a week; Tom and Julia both had separate plot lines that involved them utilising mobile phones in darkened theatres, something any lover of theatre would cringe at, while Tom began acting like a horny, ravenous dog by the end; Anjelica Huston's Eileen Rand was flipping and flopping all over the place, changing her attitude from scene to scene by the final episode; and the potential delicious evil of the Daisy Parker character was entirely misjudged making me long for the days of Ellis. That her character ended up celebrated flies in the face of reality given the general public's obsession and bloodthirsty nature for slut-shaming.

Furthermore, characters were introduced and ditched at a moments notice. The season's opening storyline involving Jennifer Hudson was entire superfluous to everyone that came before and after. They couldn't even get her back for a cameo in the finale. Jesse L Martin, too, who was criminally not asked to sing once on the show, was curiously missing from the final several episodes. Curious given he shepherded Hit List and he apparently had no desire to watch its premiere or attend the Tonys? I think not. And speaking of the Tonys. Wow. That has to have been the worst fake awards show I have ever seen. So cheap and tacky - nothing at all like the real show that is big and shiny and fun. Such a missed opportunity, too, given the prevalence of theatre stars they could have had guest star - Sutton Foster, Anika Noni Rose, Harvey Fierstein, and Audre McDonald were just one of the names mentioned. And then there's the after party, which looked as if it was held in a bar in Brooklyn with maybe 60 people in attendance. This is the climax of the New York theatre season, it doesn't die in a whimper. Although, given that apparently no other shows apart from Bombshell and Hit List seemed to exist in this alternate universe, it was probably a good choice for Sutton Foster to stay at home on the couch. It seriously was like nobody involved in the writing and directing of this show had ever actually been to the theatre. I'd genuinely like to know when Josh Safran last went.

See how mad this show made? And we didn't even a reprise of "Let's Be Bad", instead getting a baffling Roxie and Velma style duet between Ivy Lynn and Karen. I'm sorry, what? Who could tell by the end, really. Who was mad at who, who was bonking who, who was rich and who was poor. It was all a crap chute, which is a crying shame. Thankfully not everyone will emerge out of the show covered in muck. Anjelica Huston is Anjelica Huston and will continue to work whenever she wants while Debra Messing never embarrassed herself and even in fact did the best work of her career. Megan Hilty, meanwhile... well, if she decides to return to Broadway after the end of Smash and having released a CD who would blame her? They'd certainly welcome her back with open arms and without a wind-machine aided Karen Cartwright to steal her spotlight.

You were a strange ride, Smash. Frequently frustrating and maddening; occasionally brilliant. By the end you swerved too close to a literal reading of your finest achievement - that'd be "Let's Be Bad" (below) - to last, but it was wild having Broadway on the box once a week while it lasted.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

12 Thoughts from the Cannes Film Festival Awards Presentation

By now you're probably aware that Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour lesbian romance drama Blue is the Warmest Colour (also known as La Vie Adele - Chapitre 1 & 2 in its native French, a rare case of the international retitling making for a somewhat more interesting and beguiling choice) has taken the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It feels like a surprise given the sort of films that jury president Steven Spielberg tends to make - of course, as we should all know, what one artist creates and what they choose to ingest are not always the similar - but with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, and Lynn Ramsay on the jury alongside him, the critical raves the film received were surely too big to ignore.

Still, for all the surprise over not just the winning film, but the winning recipients - stars Adele Exachopoulus, so good in The Round-Up and I felt like the only person who knew who she was before the festival began, and Lea Seydoux were included in the historic Palme d'Or - the ceremony provided many funny, strange, and cringe-worthy moments that are also worth discussing.

One can only hope that Jane Campion - who prior to this evening was the only female Palme d'Or winner, although that title still does sorta stand just with a big ol' asterisk above it as she's still the only female director to win - was using this two week sojourn in Cannes to network for her Top of the Lake follow up, whatever that may be. Maybe Mads Mikkelson here could be a good foil for her once she's wrapped on the next season on Hannibal. Of course, it's hard not to hope and pray to Movie Jesus that she and Palme juror Nicole Kidman were gasbagging backstage and throwing around ideas for another collaboration. Is that too much to ask?

At some 85 years old, French filmmaker - and, really, a pioneer of sorts - Agnes Varda continues to be an amazing, entertaining gal. Her magical bob of coloured hair and her way with words. Even dubbed, her "hats off" remark made me giggle. And paired with the gorgeous (if criminally underseen in films that make it outside of Asia) was an odd juxtaposition, but hey... I wish more award ceremonies threw together combinations like this more often.

DIVINE GODDESS. It must be said that Kidman has been virtually flawless at this Cannes Film Festival with her fashion. She's said that portraying Grace Kelly in the upcoming Grace of Monaco re-inspired her with fashion and it definitely showed throughout. Just look at this or this and was there even any reason for anybody else to bother? I think not. Even the way Spielberg introduced her was like he was admitting her divine goddess-like immaculate nature. DIVINE GODDESS.

Alexander Payne - who's actually quite good looking although maybe he's turning into Patrick Duffy? - was accepting the male acting prize for Bruce Dern, the star of Payne's Nebraska. Despite my loathing of Payne's The Descendants, I might be okay with a Dern awards season run if he decides to bring daughter Laura Dern along for the ride (especially since Dern gave her best performance in Payne's best film, Citizen Ruth so it's nice symmetry), which she did at the film's premiere.

Still, what we cannot ignore is the fact that there was apparently a entire alternate universe between the perceptions of men and women in the pre-presentation speeches. The men, after being given a list of previous illustrious winners, are described as having "touched our hearts and given their all". They "overwhelm us" and are labelled "nobel" (can anybody make out what the lady says after "nobel"?) and deified as the champions of cinema. The women, on the other hand, during Orlando Bloom's opening ramble, are labelled as little more than property. "An actress doesn't belong to herself, she belongs to those who watch her." Lovely sentiment (by Ava Gardner, no less) and now I wonder if we can utilise this newfound ownership to make them do better projects? If I'd known all along that I owned Nicole Kidman, you guys...

I obviously haven't seen Asghar Farhadi's The Past - just like everything else at Cannes, us mere mortals must wait and wait and wait - but I'm super stoked by Berenice Bejo who won for Best Actress. I enjoyed her greatly in The Artist, even if her Oscar nomination for best supporting actress a bit iffy, and am glad she didn't use the fact that her American introduction was in a silent movie to smoothly sashay into American productions. It could have been so easy given so few have actually heard her speak, but instead she went to a French production by an Iranian auteur. Good on her, I say.

Asia Argento was positively on the verge of orgasm throughout her presentation of the screenplay prize to Jia Zhang-ke for A Touch of Sin. Actually, she always seems like she is on the verge of orgasm most of the time, but this seemed like a particularly peculiar time to be so. Steven Spielberg was certainly wondering what the hell was going on, trying to remain stony faced throughout her entire speech.

Speaking of Zhang-ke, I hope A Touch of Sin is anywhere as good as Still Life. Each of the films of his that I have seen since have been... well, not good. I hope to catch the Chinese director's last Cannes competitor, 24 City, at MoMA's retrospective on Chinese documentary. I hope.

Why isn't Rossy de Palma in the new Pedro Almodovar film again?

The host for the evening was Audrey Tautou. She's French, I guess. She got to look like a massive pixie, as if she's just walked in off the set of her new Michel Gondry film, and got to say stupidly written awards banter. The oddest of which was her "ooh la la" intro for Uma Thurman. Women are pretty and that's all that's worth mentioning! Along with realising I now own all the actresses I have ever seen in a movie, this was a very enlightening awards ceremony. Who needs "I Saw Your Boobs", hey?

"I'm pretty and wearing a great dress and I'm in the new Lars Von Trier movie..."

"Bitch, don't even think of entertaining the thought of being as divine and brilliant as me, okay? Smile, Nic."

"A Palme d'Or can take place in Cherbough, Rome, Paris, or in Texas. A Palme d'Or can be about a man and a woman, a dancer in the dark, or a taxi driver. It could blow up like a pulp fiction, or trigger the apocalypse. Now because of a Palme d'Or one of you will discover what la dolce vita is."

LOL, Uma. The scriptwriters worked overtime trying to stuff all those famous Palme d'Or winners into your introduction. And they couldn't get in an All That Jazz reference? Ugh. The Emmy-nominated guest star of Smash (!!!) was very pleased with herself.

I like that Steven Spielberg got up to announce the most prestigious film festival prize in the entire world with little more than a piece of scrap paper torn out of a binder book. It was a contrast to the usual white and gold cards that were used to announce all the other categories and, in retrospect, was a sign that he was about to do something somewhat off script. Actually, I wonder how much the festival itself knew about the tri-award announcement given the paper situation or Steven simply didn't want to forget to say anything and they couldn't fit it on one of their official cards.

Adele Exarchopoulos with her Palme d'Or scroll under her arm. I don't think at this stage that she and Lea Seydoux had quite figured out what had happened, but then neither had most people. I was super glad to hear during the festival that IFC's Sundance Selects picked up Blue is the Warmest Colour for an American release, but I was much more worried about Australia. It would have been incredibly disappointing if the film had remained consigned to film festivals. I was glad to read just a short while ago that Transmission Films acquired it and that's excellent news for everybody. Granted, a 175-minute explicit lesbian drama is never going to get a wide release and I worry about censorship given the already famous 20-minute sex scene, but at least Aussie audiences will get the chance to see the film at some point. Its win will certainly give the film leverage when it comes to defending that sex scene with the local censorship bodies that will inevitably raise a fuss. It'll definitely be a story worth following.

Well done to everyone involved in Blue is the Warmest Colour and I look forward to seeing it as well as whatever other Cannes titles make their way down the pipeline over the next couple of years.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Talented Mr... Seale

It has admittedly been a few years since I have watched Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley. And yet I remember it so vividly in my mind. So much so that years removed I can still remember invidivual sequences and shots. I seem to remember the camera repeatedly looking up and down, as if the entire film is told from the perspective of where Matt Damon's "Mr Ripley" sees himself being and where he sees everyone else. I didn't rewatch the film to prepare for this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot - a series at Nathaniel Rogers' The Film Experience dedicated to viewers finding their favourite shot amongst a designated title of the year - but I skimmed through and found myself immersed in a treasure trove of gorgeously lensed moments from Mr John Seale.

John Seale is an Australian four-time Oscar nominee, winning for Minghella's earlier picture, The English Patient. I was surprised to find he wasn't nominated for The Talented Mr Ripley. Apart from being a beautiful movie in general, it really is fabulously filmed and all those European locations certainly don't hurt matters. But, then again, The Talented Mr Ripley and the Oscars had a weird relationship that year that had Harvey Weinstein basically jump ship to the (curiously over-performing) The Cider House Rules, leaving Minghella and co to flounder about racking up a (still very respectable) five nominations. The five that were nominated are certainly a stellar bunch, so Seale (nor I) should really be able to complain. Still... I would have expected more than mere Chicago and Las Vegas to stump for the guy.

Okay, so this one's just because Jude Law is so freakin' good looking. I can't. I just can't.

I love the mirror between these two shots from different scenes in the movie. Ripley down front with Dickie in charge at the back, and then vice versa when the tables are turned.

Tom Ripley literally sees himself (or, projects himself as doing so) as so small that he could be crushed under foot.

I greatly enjoy the way that once Jude Law exits the picture - er, spoiler? - everyone begins having to question who they're even conversing with (they should, alas they don't). This moment of Cate Blanchett's return to the picture is divine, almost like a Hitchcock cameo in the beginning. At first the viewer may not notice her in the background, but then neither does Tom.

My favourite shot, however, is this one. Tom has finally risen not only in social standing, but within myself. And at this moment as the potential for all of his lies to become unravelled he stands up the top and, in actual fact, is guiding everything like a puppeteer. Out of sight he plays the characters of Gwyneth and Cate with the skill of a marionette master, laying the foundation for what comes next.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wolf Creek's Evil Dead

It's been a nearly decade since Greg McLean's Wolf Creek became one of the biggest and most iconic horror films in Australian history. It's re-appropriation of topical mythos and stereotypes into the form of a relatively low scale stalk-and-slash horror film, along with the blood-curdling performance by a resurgent John Jarratt (who, by that stage, had become more Noni Hazelhurst's ex husband and television gardening host and less actor) combined for the rare twofer feat of an Australian film and a horror movie debuting at number one (and an R18+ one at that!) at the box office.

Of course, a lot has changed since then. Nowadays it appears that distributors in Australia have created a brand new release model: the boutique horror business. While the rampaging cult-like success of Cabin in the Woods in a limited arthouse release made distributor Roadshow look temporarily foolish (granted: it was a success that would have been muted in wide release), Sony have now gone and replicated that with their 5-screen release of Evil Dead (which, by the way, I reviewed at Quickflix). Released last weekend in one cinema per state (well, most states anyway - sorry Tasmania), it grossed over $23,000 per screen and entered the box office chart at number 11 with $117,055. Very impressive all this considered, considering a 100-screen release and the marketing that goes with it wouldn't have netted them all that more coins in the bank. Spring Breakers for instance, another R18+ youth-oriented pic, was released on 48 screens and made only $184,445.

These distributors - and believe me, more will follow - have basically found an easy way to toss off those horror titles that they score due to American content deals and once-buzzed acquisitions. The rewards are minimal, but those figures for Evil Dead will certainly come in handy when Sony need to pay for the open bar tab at their national Christmas shindig. They don't even need to bother marketing the product since boffo American returns and general online geek culture mean most people who would want to see it (in one of the five big cities, naturally) are already convinced. Late night "cult" screenings only add to the mystique for some, but that's a cinema's own decision and not on the distributor's dime. It's win win for them, but not audiences, most of who will discover the film on DVD or torrenting. A five screen release all but screams "Yeah, whatever, torrent this for all we care", because they know the die hards and purists will come out anyway. We're uber-fickle.

Which brings me back to Wolf Creek 2. As I mentioned before, it will have been nine years since the original when it comes out in (presumably) 2014 and it will be interesting to see how this develops. Firstly, will McLean lend the film a bigger, more pristine look or will he keep it a mucky, dusty chiller? There will be much pressure on the film, but how will it be sold is one of my biggest question marks. Its local funding and studio support implies it'll be a go-big-or-go-home prospect for its financial backers who will be certainly far more interested in recouping their cash than acquiring any sort of online horror geek cachet. The first poster released - a international sales design for Cannes - looks awfully familiar to that of Evil Dead so maybe they're hoping for a bigger slice of the international pie this time. Especially since horror is such a weird genre for Australian audiences.

The poster in fact doesn't just look "awfully familiar", but is rather a complete and utter knock off. No ifs or buts about it. It's a sales poster so I guess they're not that fussed, but it's a curiously off tone to begin pitching your project with. Producers better hope that any international film buyers at the festival were able to turn Evil Dead into a smash hit if that's the case. Still, props for putting the country original right there in text. The original film was so very much about the terror of the location as it was about the horror of the situation, so I'm glad they're keeping that element. Who knows where they go from here, but hopefully it's something a bit more original.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shorts on Screen

My ambivilance towards short films is well documented. So often I find short films are truncated versions of what directors want to make (a feature), or a build up to a punch line that doesn't warrant the time spent getting there. I know it's terrible of me and I have indeed seen many excellent short films, but I find watching short sessions at film festivals to be a struggle. If they were made more available online then maybe I could pick and choose - does anybody know of a website that streams shorts?

Anyway, I do find myself becoming more and more a fan of one type of short film, however. Those that avoid traditional narrative are really starting to make me take notice. On the infrequent chance that I actually get to view them, I've noticed myself becoming more and more receptive to them. I think, in essence, the lack of traditional narrative or conventional plotting is ideal for the short film structure. It allows a director to simply put forth an idea without having to struggle with the likes of dialogue and actors. More akin to a museum artwork, these type of films make wonderful use of the medium and actively make the viewer lose the reliance on traditional elements like exposition, dialogue, and actors (although these type of shorts can obviously still incorporate them) and the mental processes that usually go along when watching a movie. They exist not so much to tell a story, but to tell an idea and I think that's marvellous.

Two examples of this that I've seen recently include Lucy Raven's RP31 and Eva Weber's Night, Peace. The former is little more than four minutes of excised test patterns and calibration charts and assembled into a constantly fluctuating series of looping edits. It screened before Shane Carruth's Upstream Color at the New Directors/New Films festival and while I'm not sure the two go together all that well, I found it fascinating. My viewing partners, however, did not. I admired the way it took elements of cinema we otherwise do not see and contorted them into something that we can't ignore. Projected on a big screen - 35mm no less, thank the heavens - and the images have a hypnotic quality. "When I snap my fingers you will turn your telephone off and cease discussions about just how much of a bitch that Candace lady at work is."

With its presentation on 35mm it would be very easy to read the film as a love letter of sorts to the sort of filmmaking components that are no longer with us. If the film has a weakness it's that Raven doesn't actually give a context for any of the footage and, for all we know, could be completely invented for the purpose of the film. In which case the film would become ultimately a fake experience and one that falls into the trappings of its digital predecessors. I don't think that, of course, but it's a reading that one could definitely argue. Here is a link to a well-written piece that looks at RP31 from the other end of the critical spectrum. I can see where the writer, Catherine Wagley, is coming from.

As for Eva Weber's Night, Peace it uses a similar trick of reconstructing images we otherwise mightn't ever witness and transforming them into a visual poem of sorts. With more of a centred structure than RP31, Weber's film examines London nightlife in a distinctly haunting manner using CCTV and security footage (or, at least, specially filmed footage that looks like those things) to see the city as a dark and uneasily quiet place. It's another film to describe as hypnotic and I particularly liked the moment (visible in the video below) where two urban foxes stop their alleyway fighting and notice the camera. Night, Peace is a city being watched from various angles at a moment of vulnerability and weakness, as it sleeps. It was the perfect introduction to Nights with Theodore at the San Francisco International Film Festival (the film my FIPRESCI jury awarded, just by the way) since they both share a haunting urban quality that makes for a captivating filmgoing experience.

A clip of Night, Peace is available online and have embedded it below. Neither of the films are available in full as far as I am aware so if you're interested you'll have to seek them out in other ways. I recommend them though and I hope to see more like them in the future.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Butlers and Family Squabbling in Ensemble Trailers

Two of the larger ensembles of the upcoming awards season are Lee Daniels' The Butler and John Wells' adaptation of the famed Broadway play August: Osage County. If combined, the cast lists would look as if they've snagged half of Hollywood and in the last few days they have each released trailers that let us get a good glimpse at most of them. The Butler has even more people than mentioned in the cast rundown (Alex Pettyfer who's seen in the cotton fields; Mariah Carey who's nowhere in sight yet plays somebody called "Hattie Pearl" oh lord), but the trailer for August appears to let everyone get a moment except for poor ol' Misty Upham who, as one of the few young native American actors who's had attention-grabbing roles - Frozen River, mostly - was a natural for the role of the Westen family housekeeper. She's nowhere to be seen in the trailer, which is disappointing given that, from what I remember, she's quite central. Or maybe that's where director Wells has diminished the gargantuan plan for the big screen? We'll soon see.

As for The Butler, a lot of people are calling this "Oscar bait" while others are calling it "terrible". Sounds about right for a Lee Daniels film of this type. I know it does look far more subdued than his past films, but I'm not entirely sure that Daniels is a director who's able to entirely push aside his personality even if he is on record as saying this is a more-or-less "director for hire" gig. I mean, this is a guy who made a movie that had Helen Hirren and Cuba Gooding Jr as assassin lovers, followed that up with an Oscar-winning drama starring Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey, and then followed that up with The Paperboy in which he convinced Nicole Kidman to urinate on Zac Efron and to give John Cusack a telepathic blowjob. If anything, it looks like he's dolled Oprah Winfrey up in a series of sweaty period-centric clothes and blown-out wigs and for that we should be all incredibly thankful. I have some awful American chat show on in the background as I type this fronted by somebody called Wendy Williams and they just played a truncated version of the trailer with all of Oprah's bits and, basically, that's all we're lilkely ever going to need.

Firstly, I'm surprised at how young they've been able to make Forrest Whitaker look in those early parts. He's a man who didn't even look young when he was young (remember him in The Crying Game?) so well done with that. And it does look stirring and well-acted from the central two (Whitaker and Winfrey, slaying all with a gif-ready performance right there) and there's certain kitsch value in watching all these famous actors portray famous American presidents and their wives. I personally cannot wait to see Jane Fonda's drag realness as Nancy Reagan.

August: Osage County seems like a more obvious choice for Oscar gold, although I've been repeatedly nervous about the adaptation. The stage version was so excellent, and the tone of this new trailer seems somewhat... off. A bit more uplifting than I remember the stage play being,

Still, the chance to see all of those fantastic actors - Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor and others - is one that should ultimately prove irresistible and the source material is so good that surely some of it has to have transferred. Especially since it's been adapted by the play's original writer, Tracey Letts, who certainly made his plays Bug and Killer Joe into... unique experiences. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Unrewarded Woman

Over at The Film Experience I participated in a poll to find the best Oscar-nominated best actress performance that didn't win. It was fun, but produced an ultimately rather predictable selection for both numbers 1 and 2. It's not at all hard to figure out what they'll be, but before you click over (or read further, since they're both on there albeit not in the same final position) take a guess and see if you're right.

My own top ten was a rather tough list to compile and in the end I just threw my hands in the air and conceded defeat. I mean, there is literally no way possible to get 20 performances into a list of ten. Literally no chance whatsoever so I just had to go with my gut. My gut actually should have reminded me of Natalie Wood in Splendour in the Grass and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, however, and I'm ashamed a forgot them and didn't include them. The latter is even mall strange since my number one performance was from the same year and I even mention Swanson in my write-up at The Film Experience. I'm a nut like that, I suppose. I blame not having seen them in so long. I need to rectify that and make up for my actressexual sins.

Sadly, unlike Nick Davis I haven't seen every nominated performance - hell, the number is surely on the sad side of 50% - but it's not like there aren't plenty of fabulous performances to choose from. I wish I could have found room for Davis for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Elizabeth Taylor for Suddenly Last Summer, Sigourney Weaver for Aliens, Meryl Streep for Silkwood and maybe even The Devil Wears Prada, Ida Kaminska for The Shop on Main Street, Katharine Hepburn for The Philadelphia Story, Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream, Bette Midler for The Rose, Kim Stanley for Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Shirley MacLaine for Some Came Running and The Apartment, Jane Fonda for They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Susan Sarandon for Thelma & Louise, Sissy Spacek for Carrie.... gah!

Anyway, take a look at the top ten I submitted. Where would you fall on the scale?

1. Bette Davis, All About Eve
2. Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves
3. Judy Garland, A Star is Born
4. Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas
5. Julie Walters, Educating Rita
6. Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity
7. Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!
8. Geraldine Page, Interiors
9. Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were
10. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple.

"At least you didn't forget me."

"How many roles as famous as those like Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve were originally cast with different actors? Davis did such an outstanding, iconic turn as aging Broadway star Channing that it’s hard to imagine Claudette Colbert in the role as originally planned. It’s hard to imagine why I’m even having to write this passage. Alas, that’s what comes from being a participant in what is surely one of the most famous actress line-ups of all time. Losing votes to equally iconic Gloria Swanson as well as her own co-star, Anne Baxter, meant that Judy Holliday walked away with the statue. Davis lost the Golden Globe, too, but at least she won a prize from the hoi polloi of the Cannes Film Festival!"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I'll Be Joining Soderbergh*

Tomorrow I head off to the west coast once more to attend the San Francisco International Film Festival. I'm privileged to have been selected to work on the festival's FIPRESCI jury where I will be judging the best debut or second film. I have very deliberately not looked into any of the films I'll be judging - and I certainly don't recognise any of the titles - so we'll see how that all goes. I imagine it'll be a fascinating experience. Of course, coming on the heels of seeing so many films at the Tribeca Film Festival, I may be a little bit film-ed out by the conclusion of the Golden Gate Awards on May the 8th, but it'll be a wonderful experience nonetheless.

The festival proper actually began last week, but I'm only visiting for the second half. The festival has been making waves the last few days after a series of leaks from Steven Soderbergh's "state of cinema" address. First it was written, then it was audio, and today it's visual. It's a... interesting read. Certainly echoes a lot of sentiments I have and I've included some of my favourite quotes below:

And there’s a guy on the other side of the aisle in front of me and he pulls out his iPad to start watching stuff. I’m curious to see what he’s going to watch – he’s a white guy in his mid-30s. And I begin to realize what he’s done is he’s loaded in half a dozen action sort of extravaganzas and he’s watching each of the action sequences – he’s skipping over all the dialogue and the narrative. This guy’s flight is going to be five and a half hours of just mayhem porn. I get this wave of – not panic, it’s not like my heart started fluttering – but I had this sense of, am I going insane? Or is the world going insane – or both? 

When people are more outraged by the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos than some young girl being stoned to death, then there’s something wrong. We have people walking around who think the government stages these terrorist attacks. And anybody with a brain bigger than a walnut knows that our government is not nearly competent enough to stage a terrorist attack and then keep it a secret because, as we know, in this day and age you cannot keep a secret.

First of all, is there a difference between cinema and movies? Yeah. ... It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint.

They get simple things wrong sometimes, like remakes. I mean, why are you always remaking the famous movies? Why aren’t you looking back into your catalog and finding some sort of programmer that was made 50 years ago that has a really good idea in it, that if you put some fresh talent on it, it could be really great. Of course, in order to do that you need to have someone at the studio that actually knows those movies.

A few years back, I got a call from an agent and he said, “Will you come see this film? It’s a small, independent film a client made. It’s been making the festival circuit and it’s getting a really good response but no distributor will pick it up, and I really want you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.” The film was called Memento. So the lights come up and I think, It’s over. It’s over. Nobody will buy this film? This is just insane. The movie business is over. It was really upsetting. Well fortunately, the people who financed the movie loved the movie so much that they formed their own distribution company and put the movie out and made $25 million.

 I stupidly didn't go and see Side Effects in the cinema, but it was released at a very hectic time and, well, it didn't hang around long (as Soderbergh admits, the returns were disappointing). Soderbergh has retired, although apparently that's only from theatrical films. Maybe. I'm not so sure. It's a bit unclear. His next film is Behind the Candelabra, which will premiere on American TV, but likely to get theatrical exhibition overseas. I remember seeing the HBO biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers in a cinema after it competed for the Palme d'Or, so if little else some international viewers will get the chance for another Soderbergh film on the big screen.

Anyway, you can read the entire transcript at Deadline, or watch the video embedded below.

* Note I will likely never cross paths with Steven Soderbergh let alone join him in anything. Ever.