The Five Greatest of Something: an occasional entry when I don’t have anything else to report and just want to put something on line. The five greatest films about the legitimate stage:
I spent much of last week at the COL-COA film festival (which I keep wanting to call the Coca-Cola fim festival). I saw four of the new ones:
Secrets of State is an espionage thriller revolving around the DGSE, or the French CIA. It’s a convoluted story about Middle Eastern terrorists that never makes much sense with an ending that’s just plain silly. It’s directed by Phillipe Haim in the “hey, look at me, I’m a director and you’re not” style. He also wrote it along with Nathalie Carter and Julien Sibony. The director stated that it’s the result of three years research, and that may be so, but the research seems to have focused more on movies about espionage rather than the DGSE itself. The film also states that the DGSE has prevented numerous attacks (I can’t remember the exact number) like the one presented here. That may also be so, but you’d never know how considering the ineptness of the agents used here. Fortunate for them and for France, the terrorists apparently watched the same movies the director and writers did in making their plans. There is one bright note: though it’s against the law for gays to adopt in France, according to this movie, the DGSE has a program in existence to recruit gay men: of course, they have to have sex with someone like Nicolas Duvauchelle first, but it’s a sacrifice most gay men would be willing to make.
Final Arrangements is a comedy about the funeral business (which seems a tad redundant). It’s never anymore than all right and it has its moments, mainly in Didier Bourdon, very, very funny as a parlor owner who wants to become head of regional sales in Paris. Unfortunately, his plans are stymied when the head office hires Marc-André Grondin instead and sends him to Bourdon to learn the business (see Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way). The story, (screenplay by Sylvia Danton and Michel Delgado—who also directed) is all over the place and it never really comes together satisfactorily.
OSS 117 Rio was the best of the four new films I saw. The central character, played with a lot of teeth by Jean Dujardin, is the French version of Maxwell Smart, though without as many pratfalls, but with the personality of Archie Bunker, a bigoted, misogynistic idiot, though he doesn’t know it. The plot revolves around French collaborators during WWII and a Nazi still alive in Brazil. The director, Michel Hazanavicius, keeps things going at a good pace and does some fun things with split screens. The screenplay by Jean-Francois Halin and Hazanavicius, is even funnier and the satire is sharper than the original, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. It all ends with a very clever homage to both Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Vertigo atop Rio’s statue of Christ.
Jack Cardiff, groundbreaking color cinematographer of such films as A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes (all must sees), as well as the director of the black and white Sons and Lovers.
Ken Annakin, director or co-director of such popular films as The Great Race (Academy Award nom for co-writing the screenplay), The Battle of the Bulge and The Longest Day.
Beatrice Arthur: Maude Findlay, Dorothy Zbornak and Vera Charles. Need one say more?
J.G. Ballard, author of the books that served as the basis for the movies Empire of the Sun (adapted by Tom Stoppard; directed by Steven Spielburg) and and the 1996 Crash (adapted by the director David Cronenburg) has died. An adaptation of his novel High Rise is in pre-production.
Check out the article below at the L.A. Times for an appreciation:
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, A History of American Screenwriting by Marc (Shakespeare in Love) Norman. Perhaps one of the most important books on screenwriting written recently. It traces how writers worked, created screenplays, how they were treated, etc. from the beginning to the present. One of the most important ideas here is that the traditional structure for screenplays (three acts with a central character undergoing a character arc journey) is not the most popular because it’s inherently the best. In the beginning the studios needed product and needed an assembly line in the same way that Ford produced cars. The structure most often used now came about because it was the easiest for the studio to use; it was the easiest to teach; it was the easiest to fix; and it was the easiest for multiple writers to come in and work on a script piecemeal.
LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, all about the making of that seminal movie. For screenwriters, it is very detailed about how the script developed (mainly by Stewart Stern) and how at one time Nicholas Ray, the director, tried to get credit for co-writing the screenplay (unwarranted) and how he claimed to come up with ideas that he didn’t. So often directors think they are the real writers of a screenplay.
THE RED AND THE BLACK LIST, The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate, an autobiography of Norma Barzman, wife of writer Ben (Back to Bataan, El Cid) Barzman and a writer in her own right (The Locket). It’s a fascinating look at how writers survived the blacklist (for Ben, very well) and how wives were often treated by studios and their husbands when they tried to be creative (not so very well).
An excellent compilation and justification. It’s hard to argue with his selctions, though he makes a few mistakes. He leaves out The Rules of the Game, The 400 Blows, L’Aventura and Bonnie and Clyde. He includes Meet Me In St. Louis, which seems highly questionable. He also has a penchant for including horror films whose influence may not be as “of all times” as the author might think.
A web site for TV pilots, made and unmade
Now you can find out why shows like Untitled Zombie Project and Depressed Roommates didn’t make it.
And now the ten most influential films in the last ten years:
It doesn’t show anywhere near the imagination of the first entry above and it probably should be called the ten most influential films in the U.S.A. It sounds like this author has never seen a foreign film in his life and has never heard of Pedro Almodovar or Michael Haneke.