Friday, August 31, 2007

Telluride Day 1: Taking a breath

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Misty and cool here. Everyone spent this afternnon poring over their schedules and circling films and finding out how they can shoehorn six into one day. Swag includes a rickety yellow umbrella from Starz. Plus the requisite free copy of Variety. And Heineken mints. And tons of terrific food and drink. I popped the dickens out of some popcorn just now for the opening-night showing of I'm Not There (the Dylan-fan volunteers are seeing it again now). I'm hoping that I'll have something more substantive to say after I thoroughly digest it. Either way, everyone's talking Blanchett. Even the Blanchett haters (how could such a person exist?).

Will post some photos soon. And talk about Margot at the Wedding later.

Of note: This year's festival is dedicated to Edward Yang and Ulrich Mühe, both of whom died youngish and both of whom were sensations at festivals past (Yang for Yi Yi, Mühe for The Lives of Others).

I've worked out my schedule and I anticipate seeing: Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, a Todd Haynes Q&A, Rails and Ties (starring Kevin Bacon and Telluride attendee Marcia Gay Harden), Into the Wild, a Sean Penn Q&A, Secret Sunshine and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Hopefully one or two more.

Etcetera: Rumor has it that Clint Eastwood is here, supporting his daughter's film (Rails and Ties). Daryl Hannah spotting at my theater (she's freakishly tall).

Telluride Day 1: I'm Not There is a chase movie

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- First impression, written furiously as mountain thunder crackles in the distance:

I'm Not There is a chase movie, and it plays like the lovechild of Cameron Crowe (the music worshipper) and David Lynch (master of splintering the psyche).

No one in the movie plays a character named Bob Dylan, but they all play physical and/or emotional representations of Dylan. Christian Bale plays a folk music hero, Heath Ledger plays the actor who plays the folk music hero in a film, Cate Blanchett plays a folk music hero who goes "electric" and alienates his fan base. Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid. Ben Whishaw plays a "poet" named Arthur Rimbaud who is under interrogation. The overly charismatic preteen Marcus Carl Franklin plays a boy named Woody Guthrie who's trainhopping away from a troubled childhood.

All these characters add up to the essence of Dylan as he changed over his career, and they are all running from something. In this way, I'm Not There is a chase movie. It's about men who are constantly trying to outrun fame, the media, conformity, themselves, their loves, the law and so on. They are trying to excuse themselves from their current reality. Look at the title.

Blanchett arrives late and owns the movie. She and Bale play the pre- and post-electric Dylan, but Blanchett is the axis on which the film spins. She is a joy to watch. She looks and acts like Dylan. There is little artifice. It is fascinating. Why did Todd Haynes want a woman in the part? I don't know. But it works as a ballsy experiment, and Blanchett proves she can pull off absolutely anything.

The movie jumps back and forth between narratives and time periods (think Velvet Goldmine) that are connected by music and images and feelings and tones. It's a pastiche, a four-dimensional quilt. It is a wildly ambitious, verbose, confusing movie with an epic goal: to understand a character, and his place within and without his generation, and then to subvert that understanding with more questions than answers. For better or worse, I'm Not There is a movie that needs to be studied. It has many apparent intricacies. If you want to compare it to bedding, it has a very high thread count. It glows with the same kind of thick, beautiful vagueness as Lynch's Mulholland Dr. does. We have the pieces of the puzzle and we have some idea of how to assemble them, but once we do we don't get a definitive picture. Rather, we're left with colors and patterns and moods and tones and suspicions. Can it be assembled in more way than one? Or should it just be appreciated in its parts?

The bottom line: Telluride reaction is mixed. As tired as I was, I didn't nod off -- even as it dragged laboriously and wrecklessly into its third hour. Haynes' sweat is very visible. The screenplay is a feat. There were moments of transcendence, though -- moments when I was utterly thankful for Haynes' vision and ambition. I need to see the movie again in order to understand if it truly extends beyond its experimental nature, but I can say this for sure: This is Haynes' magnum opus. And even if you hit the wall at minute 120, it's worth sticking with until the end, which features cinema's sweetest, slowest fade out ever.

Like David Lynch f*cked Cameron Crowe

That's my initial reaction to I'm Not There. Something more eloquent and articulate to follow...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The altitude, the exhaustion and the anticipation are contributing to a ridiculous high

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Tonight at 9 I'll be at the world premiere of I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' latest, which stars Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and others as Bob Dylan. Check back for initial reaction from myself and from the fleet of Telluride staff, volunteers and students. Here's what the rest of the festival looks like:

High profile buzz magnets: The world premieres of I'm Not There and Margot at the Wedding (with Nicole Kidman). Plus Into the Wild, Sean Penn's highly anticipated adaptation of Jon Krakauer's novel.

This year's tributees: actor Daniel Day-Lewis, composer Michel Legrand and Indian director Shyam Benegal.

Other notable attendees representing films and/or engaging in Q&As: Haynes, Julian Schnabel, Barbet Schroeder, Buck Henry, Penn, Krakauer, Werner Herzog, Scott Foundas, Kathleen Kennedy, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anand Tucker, Kevin Macdonald.

Films making their U.S. or world premiere: Cargo 200 (Russia), Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema, Schroeder's doc Terror's Advocate.

Other 2007 films playing: The Return of Norman Lloyd, Cannes jury prize winner Persepolis, Camera d'Or winner Jellyfish from Israel, The Band's Visit, Cannes best actress winner Secret Sunshine from South Korea, Iceland's Jar City.

Films playing in retrospective: 1944 Finnish movie The Way You Wanted Me, King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), the 1929 German movie People on Sunday (featuring live score accompaniment by the Mont Alto Orchestra), Marco Ferreri's 1969 Dillinger is Dead, Millions Like Us (1943), newly restored Beatles romp Help!.

Picks that intrigue me: The biodocumentary Hats Off, which chronicles actor Mimi Wendell's entrance into the film biz at age 65 (and isn't even listed on IMDb). A doc called For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. And the student prints are usually the best of the bunch, but I doubt I'll get to see them.

There's much more. This little canyon in the mountains is bursting with cool shit. Not sure how much I'll be able to see, but my fingers are crossed.

Your Telluride headquarters

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- I'm here til Tuesday. Check back often for insider posts. I see movie No. 1 tonight at 9 p.m. mountain time. Holler.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

JuliWatch: Whom does she have to f*ck to get a good role in a good movie?

No, the answer is definitely not her director-husband Bart Freundlich, who cast her in the worst role of her career in 2005's Trust the Man, the nadir of her recent career slump.

We all know this, and everyone has blogged about it: Julianne Moore has been in an unforgivable rut since her desperate-housewife double bill in 2002 (Far from Heaven and The Hours). There was the seriously unfunny Laws of Attraction, the hysteri-a-thon of Freedomland and The Forgotten, the solipsistic aforementioned Trust the Man and the not-terribly-interesting cameo in Children of Men. She probably made a poopload of money, but was it really worth it? No. I don't care how nicely she's decorated her West Village townhouse. We (and she) deserve(s) better.

Next month we get Savage Grace. Early notices are disappointing, but I'm jazzed by her scenery-chewing in this clip. I just hope it works with the movie. The reason Moore used to be my favorite screen actor was her ability to modulate, to breathe with the film. Her performances in Far from Heaven and especially The End of the Affair are masterworks of restraint and total oneness with the camera. She hasn't jelled with a movie since. Here's hoping for a renaissance.

Tomorrow night I see my first movie at Telluride. What movie? It's a secret. Seriously. They don't tell us til we get there. It could be anything. What if it's Savage Grace? Eek.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

3. Ingrid Bergman, the most beautiful face in the movies

The first two triple crowners were more character actors than movie stars, though their pedigree and filmography might suggest otherwise. Thomas Mitchell and Helen Hayes were accomplished and revered, but neither had the stardust that bursts from the screen every time Ingrid Bergman casts her eyes this way and that. Flick, flick, burst, burst. A firework display of grace with every look.

I wish I could give you a full essay on Bergman, but several factors will delay this indefinitely:

1) Despite its claims to the contrary, my Netflix area does not have the 1944 version of Gaslight, Bergman's first Oscar-winning performance.

2) I ordered the 1944 version on Amazon, but it was lost in the mail.

3) I'd have to pay Amazon $68 to see her Emmy-winning performance in "A Woman Called Golda." I can't bring myself to do that, especially when things get lost in the mail.

4) I'm leaving for Telluride on Thursday morn, and I don't have time to scour the indie rental places, watch the footage and write about it before then.

Eventually we will loop back and discuss Bergman (whose birthday is tomorrow! How perfect would it have been if I actually had the post ready). But do not fear -- I have studied up on our No. 4 triple crowner, and will blog about her in the next few days. Who is she? She's brassy. She's doughy. And she brings us back into character actor territory...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Supporting Actress Sundays at StinkyLulu

It's smackdown time. Nine of us film bloggers assess and rank the nominees at the 1971 Oscars. Comment early and often.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scandal Sheet and journalism movies

The newspaper world is shuddering and creaking. Stalwart journalists are either being laid off or bought out, or forced to reinvent their job descriptions — instead of diligently going after quality scoops for print, they're now commissioned with blogging or shooting video for the web. It's all meant to retain the attention of readers who want their news NOW and in SMALL BITES.

Blah blah. I hear these apocalypsisms weekly. Journalism is doomed! I got news for you: It's been doomed for a while. Scandal Sheet said as much 55 years ago, but not in the way you think.

I stumbled upon this 1952 journa-thriller on TCM earlier today, stuck with it and really enjoyed it. Scandal Sheet stars Broderick Crawford as an editor with a shady past, John Derek as an interpid muckraker and Donna Reed as a principled feature writer. All of them work at The New York Express, which Crawford has guided away from text-heavy stories to bold-headlined exposés about murders, cuckolding and other titillating fare. Consequently, circulation for the Express is going up, up, up. Crawford has even installed a giant wheel in the newsroom, with an arrow pointing to the latest numbers; if he brings circulation to 750,000, he gets a big fat bonus.

Scandal Sheet's central conflict is a terrific example of situational irony, and it makes the movie a swift-moving confection. Eugene Ling's screenplay (based on the Samuel Fuller novel "The Dark Page") has a nice ear for dialogue and newsroom dynamics. Being a crime or investigative reporter is just like being a detective. It's sleuth work. It's putting pieces together and gathering evidence and conducting interviews. Reporters routinely win Pulitzer Prizes for "solving" cases the police couldn't/wouldn't touch.

Crawford, Derek (below, center) and Reed are perfectly matched as co-workers with varying degrees of integrity who represent the dueling sides of journalism: tabloid sensationalism vs. prudent reportage. Derek (in his youth, a striking and handsome film presence) plays a guy who gets a "schoolboy bang" from seeing his name over a sensational yarn. Reed, on the other hand, says at one point, "I like my feature writing. Smart people like it too, even though many of them aren't buying the Express anymore." They eventually have to team up to work on a murder story that may or may not have to do with their about conflict of interest.

The preeminent films about journalism are His Girl Friday (1940) and All the President's Men (1976), which occupy the opposite ends of the spectrum, tone- and content-wise. The first is a screwball comedy, the second is a serious illumination of the HOWs of reporting. In different degrees, both movies get at the WHY of journalism. The WHY speech in Friday is delivered by Rosalind Russell:

A journalist? Hell, what does that mean? Peeking through keyholes? Chasing after fire engines? Waking people up in the middle of the night to ask them if Hitler's gonna start another war? Stealing pictures off old ladies? I know all about reporters, Walter. A lot of daffy buttinskis running around without a nickel in their pockets and for what? So a million hired girls and motormen's wives'll know what's going on.

And the WHY bit in the otherwise sweepingly subtle ATPM is delivered by Jason Robards as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee:

You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up... 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad. Goodnight.

The WHY moment in Scandal Sheet, which falls somewhere in between HGF and ATPM on the journalism movie spectrum, comes at the very end, when the newspaper cracks 750,000 circulation by running a story that is both sensational and purposeful. Scandal Sheet is a zippy drama above all else, but it has some meaningful things to say about the business, especially the "business" side of the business. Journalists are beholden to the truth, but the bottom line often rears its ugly head. It's a fine line to walk, and Scandal Sheet illustrates that walk in an entertaining fashion.

Alas, Scandal Sheet does not appear to be available on DVD or VHS. Does anyone know differently? On Netflix, you can find a 1985 TV movie called Scandal Sheet starring Burt Lancaster and Lauren Hutton, but it's not the same thing. So keep an eye out for the 1952 movie on TCM, or on PBS. What's your favorite journalism movie?

Postscript: A retired journalist named Paul E. Schindler Jr. has a neat page dedicated to journalism movies. He hits on a point that's been on my mind lately: the extinct archetype of the hard-drinking journalist. In his essay on Scandal Sheet, Schindler writes:

One of the biggest changes in journalism over the years has been in drinking and smoking. When I started my first newspaper job in 1973, there were alcohol-fueled lunches, cigarettes galore and a bottle of liquor in every third desk—just as there were in the 1920s. By the time I left journalism in 2001, there wasn’t a major newsroom in America that wasn’t non-smoking, and liquor in your desk was a firing offense at many newspapers.
It's true and lamentable. Donna Reed lights up in every scene of Scandal Sheet; supporting player Henry O'Neill plays a Pulitzer-winner who can still get a big scoop while in the haze of alcoholism. Russell, Cary Grant, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman do their share of smoking in His Girl Friday and ATPM. A newsroom these days is a sterile place: devoid of smoke, the clacking of typewriters and the mavericks who stumbled in with a buzz and left after filing a snappy, weighty story. In short, the "cinema-ness" of real-life newsrooms has faded (and with it much of the adventure and bravery).

Maybe I'll bring in a bottle of bourbon on Monday.

A letter to Netflix

Dear Netflix: You say you have the Ingrid Bergman version of Gaslight, but you don't. You have the Diana Wynyard version from four years before. Please fix this on your Web site so other people aren't hoodwinked.

(This means part three of The Triple Crowners will be somewhat delayed. In the meantime, catch up with parts one and two.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's the most wonderful time of the year

In one week, I leave for the glorious, thin-air nirvana of Telluride, Colo., where the best film festival in the world blooms as prettily as mountain delphinium every Labor Day weekend. This will be my third time there (second as a volunteer), and each year is an adrenaline shot to the heart. My first time at Telluride (in 2004 as part of its student symposium), I lunched privately with Joan Allen, Todd Solondz, Ken Burns and Tom Shadyac; I spilled my goddamn guts to Roger Ebert on the 10-minute walk from Main Street to his lodgings; I sat in the front row of a 100-seat opera house for the world premiere of Yes and watched Being Julia al fresco as shooting stars streaked across the velvet-black sky. Last year, I saw 15 movies, including Volver and The Last King of Scotland, before there was any buzz for either (I also served popcorn to both movies' stars, long before they were being touted for the Oscar noms they'd eventually get). Both years I got to see movies that would never make it to theaters -- brilliant student prints, movies that would only show in Los Angeles, obscure foreign dramas that had no chance of finding distribution.

In short, Telluride is a dream. It's the only marquee festival that's just for cinephiles. There are no junkets, no press conferences, no awards, no wheelings and dealings. The film list isn't announced until the day the festival starts, so attendees have to rely on the discriminating tastes of the selection committee (although I have confirmation of at least one movie on the docket: Barbet Schroeder's doc Terror's Advocate). The tiny town is located in a tiny enclave in the southwest corner of Colorado, so you need to be wealthy enough to buy transportation, lodging and a festival pass, or savvy and passionate enough to worm your way into the volunteering ranks. If you do, you'll mingle on Main Street with Meryl, Pedro and Werner. You'll gorge yourself on up to six movies a day -- most are North American premieres, some are restored retrospectives, some are accompanied live by the wonderful Alloy Orchestra. Okay, that's it, I'm getting aroused.

Telluride is a busy time for a volunteer, but I will blog when I can (as I did last year). It'll start a week from today. So stay tuned. In between, the Triple Crowners series will continue, as will the usual grabass.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Breaking news! Plus, Blanchett will win two Oscars in February

A psychology professor at UC-Davis has done statistical research that proves:

1. Movies based on prize-winning material and made by filmmakers of great pedigree are usually critical successes, and are likely to be nominated for Oscars.
2. Big-budget blockbusters with lots of special effects are usually critical failures, and are less likely to be nominated for Oscars.

"I had this hope that there was a difference between blockbusters and really great art films—films that can be considered great cinematic creations," said Dean Simonton, who presented his findings Friday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco. "It was gratifying to find out they're very, very different and you can find out what's different about them."

Wow. I...nevermind.

Also, Harvey Weinstein says of I'm Not There:
“I may be jumping the gun, but if Cate Blanchett doesn’t get nominated, I’ll shoot myself.”

It's going to be a tricky awards year for Cate, who will no doubt blow our minds in both I'm Not There and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. It should be a stunning two-fer. In the first, she plays Bob Dylan. In the second, she plays history's most famous monarch, returning to the role for which she should've won the Oscar in 1998. So maybe 2008 is the year the same person wins both the leading actress and the supporting actress Oscar. How rad would that be? YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Re: violence in movies

1. I guess we're finally cutting to the chase, title-wise.
2. I think Clive regrets not taking Bond.
3. Paul Giamatti + big gun = interesting idea? Either way, it's been a string of wild choices post-Sideways. Work while you can, I guess.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

2. Helen Hayes, first lady of the American theatre

HELEN HAYES, 1900-1993. Triple crown achieved at age 52 in 1953 with an Emmy for best actress for a variety of TV appearances, including "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars," "Pulitzer Prize Playhouse" and "Robert Montgomery Presents." Preceding it were a best leading actress Oscar for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) and a best actress (dramatic) Tony for "Happy Birthday" (1947). Following it were a best actress (dramatic) Tony for "Time Remembered" and a supporting actress Oscar for Airport.

Hayes was and is the pride of Washington, D.C., where she was born to a poultry salesman and an actress, where she made her professional debut at age 9, and where she is immortalized as the namesake of the region's theatre awards. This five-foot, 100-lb dynamo worked in every decade of the 20th century and was to the stage as Katharine Hepburn or Meryl Streep is to the cinema: deeply and broadly talented, capable of striking any tone, with a virtually unassailable legacy.

Alas, I wasn't around to catch her on stage, though there was ample opportunity. Hayes was on Broadway 60 times before making her talkie debut in The Sin of Madelon Claudet, and followed that role with 40 more appearances. One hundred performances on the Great White Way. Impressive. It's not surprising that she won her first Tony the year they were created -- for the comedy "Happy Birthday," which Anita Loos wrote specifically for her when Hayes complained she was sick of playing noble queens.

In addition to a regional theatre award, Hayes also has a Broadway house named after her. When it was dedicated in 1982, The New York Times reported that Hayes made a point of showing disdain for the use of microphones in the theatre by standing to the side of the lectern and speaking without amplification.

"Even though I couldn't be on the stage, I took comfort that I was still represented on Broadway,'' she said. ''The theater has been my whole life. It has given me every great thing I ever had. I hope this theater will have many long runs and outlive me."

When she had her first starring stage role as a flapper in 1920 in "Bab," the reviews weren't so glowing. Heywood Broun dismissed her as "cute," which a term that tailed her for years. "On opening night, I gave one of those shrill, tense performances that became a hazard in my career whenever I was not in top form," she admitted later. So she worked to get better. She improved her voice and delivery and concentrated hard on seeming taller. "My posture became military," she said. "I became the tallest five-foot woman in the world."

She followed her writer husband Charles MacArthur to Hollywood and was polished enough by 1931 to win an Oscar for The Sin of Madelon Claudet, in which she aged 30-some years in 76 minutes. Hayes plays Madelon, a woman who is abandoned by her husband and left alone to care for their infant son. Madelon sends her son to be raised by friends in the country, marries a rich man in order to provide for the son, gets caught up in the second husband's malfeasance, goes to jail for 10 years, is released, seeks out her son but tells him his mother is dead, tries to find a job to surreptitiously pay for his schooling and ends up becoming a whore to finance her son's dream to become a doctor. Keep in mind the son has no idea she's alive, even though they've met face to face.

"Let's face it," said producer Irving Thalberg. "We win Academy Awards with crap like Madelon Claudet."

And Hayes did. The movie is rather silly, but Hayes is fun to watch. With her wide-set eyes, apple-pie voice and spritely manner, her appearance and acting feel surprisingly contemporary and unaffected for a 1931 movie. She's an unconventional beauty in a bullseye of an Oscar role: Madelon is pretty, then ugly. Young, then old. A chaste mother, then a whore with a heart of gold. She gets to flit around in a lacy dress early in the movie, and then skulk around in old-lady makeup at the end. It set the Oscar mold for all the future pretty ladies who would uglify themselves for a decent part. Hayes won the Oscar over two competitors, Marie Dressler and Lynn Fontanne (also a first lady of the theatre). Despite the senseless plot of the movie, Hayes deserved the honor. Her performance exists on its own plane and somehow remains free of the movie's contrived logic. Why? Because she's so damn charismatic and likeable.

Adequately prepared by Madelon Claudet, Hayes played over 80 years of Queen Victoria's life in the 1935 Broadway production of "Victoria Regina," which was considered her greatest stage triumph (no Tony, though -- they had not been created yet). "Tremulously magnificent," wrote critic Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times. "Since the Queen is dead, God rest her soul. Let the cheers go to her actress, who deserves all the homage the town contains."

She made a fifth as many movies as she did pieces of theatre, but struck Oscar gold again 40 years after Madelon Claudet in the ridiculous, shameless disaster movie Airport. Hayes, then 70 years old, plays Ada Quonsett, a serial swindler who sneaks onto airplanes without paying. She shows up 23 minutes into the film to hop a flight to Europe. She's wearing a brown hat with a brown pompom and a tweed coat with a black velvet collar. She is white-haired and cute as a button, but is nevertheless caught by security and sent to the office of the airport general manager (played by Burt Lancaster).

She charms him, saying that she was taking the trip her husband had always wanted to take. "He always said, 'See Rome, and die,'" she simpers. "But he died while we were packing."

Jean Seberg, who plays another airport official, sees right through the act and encourages security to be on the lookout for a "sweet-looking innocent old lady" after Quonsett sneaks out of Lancaster's office. What if she gets onto the plane after all? "She deserves it," Lancaster says. "She's fabulous."

She is fabulous, isn't she? Hayes is the welcome comic relief in a too-serious movie, the cheery antidote to Maureen Stapleton's potent grandstanding. Quonsett does get on the plane and is conveniently seated next to a would-be bomber (ah, there's the plot!).

Eventually she is enlisted by the flight crew to act as an abused passenger to distract the bomber. As part of this ruse, we get one of cinema's great moments: Jacqueline Bisset (playing the stewardess) slaps the first lady of the American theatre.

Hayes is in command of a decent role in a shoddy movie (like she was in Madelon Claudet). She plays a geriatric con artist, so she gets to perform within a performance. Look at her fake-weep in the above clip, and that awful face she makes when she wails "You hurt me!" Delightful. Selfless. Somewhere along the line, the bomb goes off and we last see Quonsett huddling under a fur coat with a nun, taking pulls on a bottle of airport brandy. So it's funny. It's kitchsy. But an Oscar? Sure, the competition wasn't extreme (Hayes faced Stapleton, Lee Grant, Karen Black and Sally Kellerman), but still...

Hayes became the first person to have both a leading and supporting Academy Award on her mantle. She wasn't at the ceremony. Rosalind Russell accepted on her behalf (it was the closest Roz got to an Oscar).

The next year, Hayes guest-starred on "Here's Lucy" in an episode called "Lucy and the Little Old Lady." You guessed it: Hayes plays the Little Old Lady, who looks and acts an awful lot like Ada Quonsett, and who also happens to be a con artist. The episode is a yawn -- you can tell Lucille Ball's time had passed -- but Hayes is a gas. Her entrance is met with canned applause. Even the fake audience is aware of her stature. But Hayes isn't afraid of getting goofy. The seance scene -- in which Hayes tries to summon the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte -- is pretty great. Even though she won her Emmy nearly 20 years before, I'm mentioning this television appearance because it's the only one I could find on DVD. So sue me.

Helen Hayes, Helen Hayes. If we look at Madelon Claudet, Airport and "Here's Lucy," what are we to make of her? A young lady who could play old, and an old lady who could play goofy. I wish I could've seen her on stage, which obviously filled in most of her greatness. The theatre side of her triple crown weighs heaviest.

Hayes's view of her eminence was modest. "Without the compensation of glamour, I am hard put to explain the durability of my career and the loyalty of the audience," she wrote in a 1968 memoir titled "On Reflection." "Perhaps it is just identification. I was once the typical daughter, then the easily recognizable wife, and then the quintessential mother. I seem always to have reminded people of someone in their family. Perhaps I am just the triumph of Plain Jane."

The is part two of The Triple Crowners, an 18-part series celebrating the actors who have won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Check back soon for part three, featuring the second most beautiful woman in the movies. The collage at the top of this post is from, and is used without permission. Forgive me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'll believe it when I see it (which will be never)

A curious thing happens when you type in Go ahead, click it.

This is indicative of the small infamies that have befallen Romance and Cigarettes, the jukebox musical that premiered at the Venice and Toronto films festivals in 2005, went straight to DVD in Britain and has yet to see the light of day stateside. It got "lost in the shuffle" during the Cruise-Wagner acquisition of MGM. But lo! Its director, John Turturro, will distribute the film himself on Sept. 7. Hold off on your hallelujahs, though. It premiers in New York at the Film Forum. Will it make its way to D.C. or anywhere else? Probably not. The news releases don't say (assholes). And it might never reach Region 1 of the DVD world.

Please refer to previous posts for my screed. How could a jukebox musical with this cast and this trailer not be a winner? If you live in New York, please e-mail immediately at when you see it. Tix go on sale Aug. 31. Here are some clips (yes it looks like it could be a mess, but still):

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Broads bilk the script at the '68 Oscars

While trolling through YouTube doing research for my Triple Crowners series, I came across this clip. Watch and be stunned:

This is Natalie Wood, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Fonda, Diahann Carroll and Rosalind Russell at the 1968 Academy Awards (which was the first year the ceremony was broadcast globally). They presented the best director Oscar, but not before admonishing the nominated directors for doing their best "to make female stars obsolete." Bergman starts off the patter with, "We are assembled here somewhat reluctantly..." and the quintet proceeds to mock the directors -- except Anthony Harvey, who had a female lead in Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter -- for stacking their casts with men exclusively. (Bergman herself disqualifies Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet in nominee Franco Zeffirelli's Shakespeare adaptation, by brushing her off as "a teenaged newcomer" in a tone that is mischievous at best, contemptuous at worst.) Fonda and Russell in particular appear to be reveling in their own rebellion.

I've devoured my share of Oscar-related books, and I've never heard of this bit of unscripted subterfuge. After finding this clip, I tried to Google my way to answers: Whose idea was it? It must've been planned and rehearsed -- how else could it have been executed so flawlessly? What was the general reaction at the time, besides a surprised smattering of laughter in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion? How come the winner, Carol Reed, didn't respond during his acceptance speech? I found no answers online. The quintet of women aren't even listed as presenting the 1968 best director Oscar in the "Self" section of their IMDb filmographies. I scoured my Oscar books and found no mention of the incident. And yet here these women are, plain as day on YouTube, sticking it to the men and then politely giving the Oscar to one of them.

Has anyone heard of this before? Is this old news? And do you think these women's stunt was purposeful or tactless? Either way, it's one of the few Oscar clips that the Academy has not pulled selfishly and unreasonably from YouTube. Watch it while you can, if only to hear Russell dismiss HAL 9000 as "girlish."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Gary Gary quite contrary

"Greatness is the orphan of urgency, Laine. Greatness only emerges when we need it most -- in time of war or calamity. I can't ask somebody to be a Kennedy or a Lincoln. They were men created by their times. What I -- what I can ask for -- is the promise of greatness. And that, madam senator, you don't have."

The comments attached to Nathaniel's excellent post on Oscar-nominationless actors brought Gary Oldman into my headspace once again. I love his magnificent performance in the 2000 masterpiece, The Contender, and surely would've nominated him for the supporting award and given it to him. Oldman is one of the top three working film actors (Geoffrey Rush and Oldman's Contender co-star Jeff Bridges are the other two) and I was reminded again during the latest Harry Potter of his limitless capacity for invention. Watch him deliver the scariest pep talk ever in The Contender, or mug with Matt LeBlanc on "Friends," or spin apart in Sid & Nancy or opine on the symbiotic relationship between life and destruction in The Fifth Element. The man can play anyone. A limitless range, but with a charisma that sustains.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

1. Thomas Mitchell, the character actor's character actor

THOMAS MITCHELL, 1892-1962. Triple crown achieved at age 60 in 1953 with a Tony for best actor in a musical for "Hazel Flagg." Preceding it were a best supporting actor Oscar for Stagecoach (1939) and a best actor Emmy (1953) for his work on several programs, including "Robert Montgomery Presents," "Tales of Tomorrow," "Lights Out," and "Studio One."

Nineteen hundred thirty-nine was a banner year for film and a banner year for Mitchell. In that one year, he was featured in Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (above right), Only Angels Have Wings, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Stagecoach (above left), for which he won the Oscar over his Mr. Smith castmates Harry Carey and Claude Rains. It was a nice convergence: Mitchell deserved it for Stagecoach and deserved it for his cumulative work that year.

There's something very familiar and modern about Mitchell in Stagecoach. He plays the drunkard-physician Doc Boone, an affectionate man who provides the heart, soul and comic relief for this otherwise melodramatic -- I'm looking at you, Claire Trevor -- wagon picture. Mitchell was 46 while filming Stagecoach. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who shares Mitchell's gift for balancing comedy and gravity on a scale of frumpiness, just turned 40. When Hoffman hits 50, the resemblance will be even stronger. These men do not fit the mold of the matinee idol, but they are still leading men and fine actors. It's a function of charisma and commitment. One's appearance is molded to fit the part.

In Stagecoach, Mitchell is whiskered and phlegmy, always taking pulls from a bottle of whiskey. A top hat, bushy eyebrows and coattails are part of the ensemble. He enters the picture as comic relief, stumbling and bumbling in a drunken stupor. "I'm not only a philsopher, sir, I'm a fatalist," Boone says at one point. "Somewhere sometime there may be the right bullet or the wrong bottle waiting for Josiah Boone. Why worry when or where."

His role deepens as the plot advances. Notice the kind bedside manner he affects after delivering Mrs. Mallory's baby, and his grandfatherly tone as he advises Trevor how to proceed romantically with the Ringo Kid (played by John Wayne). It's the prototypical supporting Oscar performance: a funny sideshowman has the chance to shine dramatically.

Mitchell won his Emmy like he won his Oscar: by dint of his ubiquity. Mitchell was a featured player or guest star on no less than half a dozen programs leading up to the 1953 Emmys, and I was able to get my hands on a DVD of "Tales of Tomorrow," a forerunner to "The Twilight Zone." In an episode called "The Crystal Egg," Mitchell plays a professor who is able to see the Martian landscape in, well, a crystal egg. It's based on a silly H.G. Wells story. What matters, again, is Mitchell's commitment to the material. He's not coasting on his looks (he can't), and he's not phoning it in, even though it's a silly TV show. He plays this crazy professor for all he's worth, but stops short of caricature. It's really quite striking -- the restraint and the energy.

The Tony came shortly after. Mitchell played one of the leads in the Jule Styne musical "Hazel Flagg," which was based on the Carole Lombard movie Nothing Sacred and opened in the Mark Hellinger Theater (now the Times Square Church) six days after he won his Emmy. His onscreen persona seems like it would translate gloriously to the stage, though I do wonder about his singing voice...

The is part one of The Triple Crowners, an 18-part series celebrating the actors who have won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Check back soon for part two, featuring one of the first ladies of American theatre.


Things have been busy. I planned to start The Triple Crowners series today, and I will. By 11:59 p.m. probably. So hold on a bit. (In the meantime, can anyone guess who the first actor is?) Also, I know I said I'd have thoughts on Antonioni, and I will. They'll come on Sunday, but in a different, un-bloggy format. How was your day today? I'm hungry.