Monday, February 22, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
The film’s most glaring flaws include an ill-conceived dream sequence involving “the coma baby,” the story of an unborn child trapped in a woman in a coma as documented on a daily basis by The New York Post. In the dream, Jamie sees the baby through the mother’s transparent belly. Not only does the baby look obviously fake, Fox does its voice as well. I guess the selfish child is supposed to be him or something like that. This sequence always takes me out of the film temporarily. Then, there’s the scene where Jamie and his best friend Tad Allagash (Kiefer Sutherland) break into the Gotham offices to plant a live ferret in his ex-boss’ office. Naturally, all hell breaks loose and the film’s tone veers dangerously close to slapstick as the understandably freaked out animal bites Jamie’s hand and almost tears off Allagash’s balls. They are caught in the act by Alex (Jason Robards), the veteran staff member who spends most of his time drunk, rambling on about working with the likes of William Faulkner and Dorothy Parker. Alex is almost taken out by a suit of armor in a kind of goofy moment. This scene isn’t quite as bad as the coma baby dream sequence but both could easily be removed from the film and no one would miss them. Interestingly, both of these scenes are in the novel but some stuff just doesn’t translate as well on the big screen as it does on the page where your imagination can create its own images.
In 1984, Jay McInerney’s semi-autobiographical novel Bright Lights, Big City became a hot commodity. Brat packer Emilio Estevez wanted to option it and adapt it into a film. He met with the author who was working on his own screenplay version. However, it was Robert Lawrence, vice president at Columbia Pictures, who ponied up the money for the option and championed the novel despite resistance from older executives who saw it as “subversive and unconventional.” Lawrence saw it as a his generation’s The Graduate (1967) with “a little bit of Lost Weekend in there.” Columbia agreed to make it with Jerry Weintraub producing and Joel Schumacher, hot off St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), directing. Soon after McInerney started writing the screenplay, Schumacher started rewriting it. Considered for the role of Allagash were the likes of Judd Nelson, Estevez and Rob Lowe. Tom Cruise was all set to play Jamie Conway and even took a tour of the New York City night life with McInerney and Schumacher.
Principal photography barely started and already studio executives were not happy with Chopra’s working methods. Some felt that she relied too much on Cole and Glennon and took too much time setting up shots. The director claimed that she “kept insisting that we take time each day to give the actors a chance to find their way,” and worked “collaboratively” with Glennon. Clearly, this slow, methodical approach was not going to work for the time crunch that the production was working under and something had to give. Executives did not like the footage Chopra was getting and a week into principal photography the chairman of United Artists and the president of production flew in from L.A. to New York. They had rushed the film into production without reading Cole’s script which diverged significantly from the novel. McInerney felt that Cole “was writing out all the drugs.” In his defense, Cole claimed that Pollack instructed him to do that because the producer was worried about tarnishing Fox’s squeaky clean public image.
Shooting on location in New York City gives Bright Lights, Big City a real authenticity and serves as a snapshot of a city that looks and feels quite different now. In the ‘80s, it was quite a hedonistic time with materialistic Yuppies snorting cocaine in nightclub bathrooms while holding down jobs in the publishing industry or on Wall Street. I always felt that Bright Lights was the east coast answer to Less Than Zero (1987), also a flawed adaptation of a best-selling novel about affluent twentysomethings mired in drug addiction. Bright Lights is more successful because it doesn’t soften the edges of its protagonist as much as in Less Than Zero, which feels more compromised and less faithful to its source material. It’s really a shame that audiences and critics didn’t respond more favorably to Bright Lights. I would’ve liked to have seen Fox take more chances like he did with this film. Instead, he retreated back to safe comedies like Doc Hollywood (1991). It’s a rather unfortunate case of what could have been.
Friday, February 12, 2010
In short, Montes led a pretty exciting life ripe for cinematic treatment. Director Max Ophuls took up the challenge in what would be his last film and the only one in color and Cinemascope. When Lola Montes was released in 1955, the critics savaged it causing the film’s producers to panic and re-edit it. The film did have its admirers, chief among them filmmaker Francois Truffaut and critic Andrew Sarris. By 2008, Lola Montes was restored to Ophuls’ original intentions and digitally remastered to its original glory, preserving its vibrant color scheme.
In a very clever and rather fitting (considering the colorful life she led) framing device, the ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) of an extravagant circus introduces Lola Montes’ (Martine Carol) life, informing us that it will be told “in pantomime, acrobats, tableaux vivants, with music and dance and with the entire orchestra.” As he is saying this, Montes is brought in wearing a gorgeous gold dress. Soon, the lights go down and she is bathed in blue light. The ringmaster promises that she will answer the most shocking, intimate and indiscreet questions about her “scandalous career as femme fatale.” It’s an audacious opening sequence filled with midgets, clowns and acrobats in a way that would make Baz Luhrmann (or Fellini) green with envy at its flamboyance.
Ophuls flashes back to Montes’ affair with composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg), one of several lovers that flirted in and out of her life. The film keeps returning to the circus so that the ringmaster can introduce us to another period of her life. Montes dealt with an uncaring mother and an unfaithful husband and went on to become a successful ballerina despite her obvious lack of talent. And so began a short but eventful career in the arts. What she lacked in actual talent, she more than made up for in sheer determination.
Martine Carol brings an enticing sensuality to the role. She’s beautiful but also brings an intelligence to a woman that knew exactly what she wanted. Montes wears one amazing outfit after another which only serves to highlight Carol’s natural beauty.
Lola Montes is a marvel of production design as we are presented with one incredibly detailed and decorated set after another, each with their own dazzling colors enhanced by Cinemascope. Ophuls’ film is a fascinating, inventive biopic about a true original, a woman that packed a lot of living into her 39 years, defiantly refusing to be tied down by any man, and traveling the world. Ophuls employs a stunning color scheme fitting for such a colorful character. His use of Cinemascope gives Montes’ life an epic look. Lola Montes is an underappreciated masterpiece finally being given its due with this top notch DVD release from the Criterion Collection.
The first disc includes an audio commentary by film scholar Susan White, author of The Cinema of Max Ophuls. She states that Lola Montes is not a film for everyone because of the unusual attention to style. She discusses the odd casting of Martine Carol and what she brought to the film. White does an excellent job of analyzing the film’s style and what it means in relation to the characters and the story. She also sheds light on the film’s rocky production. This is a very informative track full of insight into the film and the people that made it.
The second disc starts with “Cineastes de Notres Temps,” an episode of the French television series featuring several of Ophuls’ collaborators, many of whom worked on Lola Montes. The film’s cinematographer talks about the director’s love of movement. In fact, everyone talks about his working methods and obsession with movement within film.
“Max by Marcel” is a 2009 short film by Marcel Ophuls (Max’s son) where he talks about his work on the film as an assistant director. Marcel interviews a few people who also worked on the film. The producers did not like the footage Ophuls was shooting forced Martine Carol and the use of color and Cinemascope on him.
“Martine Carol Hair Tests” features silent footage of the actress showing some of the fantastic hairstyles she sports in Lola Montes.
Finally, there is the rerelease trailer.
Monday, February 8, 2010
While Raimi’s Spider-Man films are plagued by a protagonist that is a little too angsty for my tastes (especially the awful third film), he gets it just right with Darkman. I’m a fan of his early films with their wild and loose style as typified by his hyperactive camerawork. Darkman proved that he could bring this kinetic approach to a prestigious Hollywood blockbuster and anticipates his work on the Spider-Man films in many ways. However, this is a project that originated with Raimi and so it has a more personal feel that is missing from his later films where he was basically a director-for-hire (which makes his recent Drag Me to Hell feel like a return to form). Darkman also features Raimi’s trademark slapstick humor which deflates some of the pretentiousness of the more angst-ridden aspects of its tragic protagonist. The film doesn’t take itself so serious all the time and this results in a fun, entertaining ride.
Friday, February 5, 2010
The film begins with an absolutely breathtaking shot of vast canyons of the American southwest while Ry Cooder’s mournful slide guitar plays. Walking through this harsh, desolate landscape is a bearded man in a suit and red baseball cap. The man’s name is Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) and he makes it to a Texas bar before passing out from exposure to the severe climate. The doctor that treats him finds contact information for his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) who travels from Los Angeles to meet Travis at this remote town. The brothers haven’t seen each other in four years and when Walt arrives he finds Travis walking along a deserted stretch of road. We eventually learn that four years ago Travis and his wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski) abandoned their child Hunter (Hunter Carson) and both promptly disappeared. Travis is reunited with his son and they decide to go looking for Jane.
With his scruffy beard, world weary eyes and dressed like a hobo, Travis could be a character right out of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Wedged between such diverse fare as Repo Man (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986), Paris, Texas serves as a reminder of the impressive range of actor Harry Dean Stanton. For the first 26 minutes of the film he says nothing, relying instead on his expressive eyes and body language to convey how Travis is feeling. Compared to Travis, Walt is a lot chattier and Dean Stockwell plays him as a down-to-earth working stiff. In some respects, he’s our audience surrogate, trying to decipher the enigmatic Travis and figure out his story. This role turned out to be a career resurgence for the veteran character actor who went on to memorable turns in To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) and Blue Velvet (1986).
Paris, Texas features some absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Robby Muller (Down by Law). For example, there is a great shot of Walt at a gas station bathed in green light while in the background the sky is red. It is a striking contrast in colors. Another memorable shot is of an orange, brown stormy sky at sunset as seen through the windshield of Walt’s car. Muller and Wenders’ compositions are fantastic as they illustrate how the characters relate to their environment. For example, in the opening scenes, Travis is constantly dwarfed by the vastness of the desert.
Paris, Texas is about how more than just geography can keep people apart. There’s the emotional distance too. This is a film about two people who got lost on purpose. They dropped out of mainstream society and lost touch with each other and their son. How does this happen and why? These are some of the questions that the film examines as Travis and Jane sift through the emotional wreckage left behind from their damaged relationship.
The first disc features an audio commentary by filmmaker Wim Wenders. The director talks about how he and Ry Cooder decided to use the music that is in the Paris, Texas. Wenders also talks about the origins of the film and working with Sam Shepard on the screenplay. The director talks about the genesis of the film’s title and how it relates to Travis. Wenders tells many filming anecdotes on this informative track.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with an interview with Wenders from 2001. He had wanted to make a film about America but hadn’t done it to his satisfaction with his previous films. It wasn’t until Paris, Texas that he felt like he had achieved this goal. It was also the first time he worked in a spontaneous fashion without a pre-planned shot list.
“The Road to Paris, Texas” is a collection of interviews with key collaborators of Wenders over the years. They all speak admiringly of the man. Wenders talks about the influence of rock ‘n’ roll and road movies on his work.
Also included are interviews with both Claire Denis and Allison Anders, who worked on the film as first assistant director and production assistant respectively. They went on to become directors in their own right. They give their impressions of Wenders, how they met him and what it was like to work with the filmmaker. In addition, Anders reads from the diary that she kept while working on the film.
“Cinema Cinemas” is a segment from an April 2, 1984 episode of this French television programming featuring Wenders and composer Cooder working on the score for Paris, Texas. Wenders talks about his love of rock ‘n’ roll music. It was a dream of his to have Cooder work on his film.
There is a collection of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Wenders. We see more of the German doctor taking care of Travis at the beginning of the film. Most of this footage is bits and pieces that just didn’t fit and were ultimately cut. Also included is fantastic Super 8 mm footage, some of which was used in the flashback sequences so as to resemble old home movies.
Finally, there are “Galleries,” one a collection of photographs that Wenders took while location scouting in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. The other gallery is a nice collection of on behind-the-scenes stills taken on location.