Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The 80th Academy Awards--overview

The 80th Oscars, of course, were given out on Sunday the 24th of February, 2008. I have been a lifelong fan of the Oscars and their ability to teach us about some of the best the picture biz has to offer in any given year. This is not to say that I agree with their picks as a whole; 60% of the time, I disagree to whatever they picked as a winner, for any given year or category. Yet I still value them...why? Why? Because of the nominations.

While the winners aren't always up to par, the nominations are usually spot on. If they're not, they're at least 3/5s right, which has always been okay for me. I learned much of what I learned about movies not by going to school, but by studying the Oscars with an open, critical mind, and searching out the films in the past that had been nominated. Even if they're terrible, like Ghost (Best Picture nominee, 1990), Scent of a Woman (Best Picture nominee, 1991), or The Greatest Show On Earth (Best Picture winner, 1952), they at least tell you something about the history of movies--their cultural, economic, and artistic impact--and what was considered innovative, at the time, in all technical and artistic aspects of the craft.

Hey, I'm a movie nerd. I get off on seeing who's going to win Best Art Direction, Documentary Short Subject---things like that. I'm a statastician when it comes to this stuff. This is my stand-in for sports. I dunno who hit how many home runs at Fenway Park in 1965, but I can tell you all the nominees for Best Sound in 1972, the first winner for Best Supporting Actress, and all the performances that earned Meryl Streep a nomination. Right off the top of my head. It'll do no good to demonstrate now--how would you know I was telling you the truth? But I can.

Seeing as how I look at the Oscars in a different way, it so follows that, to me, the inevitable wrap-up articles about how boring the show always is--well, they're more boring than the show. My message to the writers of these pieces: look, if you don't have anything positive to contribute, then don't tune in, don't write the article, tell your editor to get someone else for the job. This is not to say that the Oscars are faultless as a TV show. But it's an AWARDS show, and if you're not interested in the winners, then maybe you should just look elsewhere for your entertainment. Because what these critics are missing is the fact that this is a coronation of the at-the-moment tops of an industry that's still provides America's #1 export.

Often I also hear the Oscars criticized for nominating movies no one's ever heard of. But that's not a fault, that's a sign of taste. I'd rather them nominate tiny movies than the big boring behemoth blockbusters. As a moviegoer, you hopefully want to watch the best of the best, right? And we know that box office take has nothing to do with that, right? Riiiiight...

If you're a student of movies, you by no means have to pay strict attention to the Oscars. But a mild attention doesn't hurt and is even in fact helpful. If you make a list of every film nominated for even one Oscar in any given year, trust me, you're going to end up with a list of at least 30 valuable films that could change your life and your tastes. And what's wrong with keeping a list like that? To me, this is what makes the Oscars great---they are a learning tool for directionless moviegoers.

And even the debate about what is shafted, what is left out, forgotten unjustly or justly--this is valuable, too. It shapes our popular vernacular, flooding memes into our gossipy, filmic world. And it shapes movie history. I find the whole march of the Oscars to be joyous in its scraping, bowing, unctious, pompous, precient, ostentacious, regretful glory. It's a celebration of movies--not just of the actors, but the film editors and sound people and effects people and so forth...these are very normal people, just like you and me, winning Oscars--the same Oscars that the "stars" recieve. In a way, they're the great equalizer for those of us interested in film; anybody can get one, if they keep doing what they love.

I tried to blog about the show as I watched, but I got too wrapped up in just simply watching. But I did produce a few paragraphs. Here they are: I'm sitting here in my room, because as much as I like the idea of Oscar parties, I can't stand to hear all the noise from people who don't care about the details. I treat the Oscars like a film, one that I give myself over to intermittantly, I must admit, but still most more than most movies I see. So I'm watching the Oscars, intently.

Jack Nicholson is on now, I gotta watch; he's introducing a clip package paying tribute to the other 79 Best Picture winners. Tried to guess all of them before they came up, but to an only 50% score, most of my points near the end.

Surprised that Film Editing went to The Bourne Ultimatum, not that it's not deserved--it is. But most of the time, whatever wins Best Editing wins Best Picture. It's rare to see a movie win that isn't even nominated for the top award. The last time I remember this happening was with The Matrix back in 1999.

Robert Boyle, art director for North by Northwest, The Birds, Fiddler on the Roof, The Russians are Coming, Gaily Gaily, Shadow of a Doubt, and many others, wins the Honorary Oscar, which explains why I haven't heard about this. Not even the Oscar site mentioned his win. It's a crime for this guy, who is a great figure in movies; they should have trumpeted his win more. I love it when they give wins to specific artisans like Ennio Morricone, Alex North, Michael Kidd, and now Robert Boyle. My vote for the next Special Oscar: (1) Gordon Willis, cinematographer, (2) James Ivory (writer, director, producer), (3) Lauren Bacall, (4) David Lynch, (5) Werner Herzog.

Poland's Andrej Wajda and Russia's Nikita Mikelhov are both nominated for the Foreign Film award this year, but I was thinking that they've both got Oscars, so I picked (without seeing any of the nominees, Israel's Beaufort, because of it's timely subject matter. But Austria gets it for The Counterfeiters. It seems like a Holocaust movie; if I had known that, I would've picked it.

Final nominated song, from Enchanted--come on out, Amy Adams (her performance of "Happy Working Song" was a highlight; I just adore her--she's gonna win an Oscar someday, too). Oh, ugh, John whatever...sloppy song, no way it'll win. I'm now thinkng that August Rush song is gonna win--pretty catchy. But I'm sticking by my prediction for the team from Once to win. And they do. Terrific. Whoda thunk one of The Committments would one day win an Academy Award? It's a wonderful world. Also very classy of Jon Stewart to let the woman who co-wrote the song come out and say her peace to the world. I would think that if you won an Oscar and didn't get to say your thanks, that it would eat away at you for a long time. All the winners deserve some mic time. So let's do a rundown of my predictions:

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men (got it--no surprise there; well-deserved, though I thought the Best Picture of the year was the mesmerizing Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford).

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (everybody was predicting this; a fine performance, though a little too John Huston-y for my tastes. I would have still given the award to Casey Affleck for Jesse James; he was nominated in the support category, but he was really the lead. He carries the movie).

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose. (Missed this one. was predicting Julie Christie, but even I was having second thoughts about it, and was predicting a Cotillard upset. Haven't seen the movie, but she does look amazing in it. I still wanted Christie to win, though; loved her in that movie.)

Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton. (I went for Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone; I think vote-splitting is responsible for this surprise win. The race seemed to be between Blanchett, Dee, and Ryan, so it's a viable explanation. Swinton plays a great, insecure villain in the film, but I would have gone with Kelly MacDonald in No Country for Old Men. She was so sweet in that film, and I really felt for her hapless character).

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men (predicted it, and am in total agreement with it, considering that fellow nominee Affleck was placed in the wrong category) By the way, this was one of the only years where not one of the winning actors was American--we have an Irishman, a French woman, a Brit, and a Spaniard. Wild!

Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men (predicted it, and they deserve it, for their 20 years of great movies; first directing team to win the award since Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story back in '61).

Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men (got it, and a fantastic adaptation. I still would have gone with Andrew Dominick's beautiful language in Jesse James).

Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, Juno (predicted it, unfortunately. Overly clever screenplay has more in common with snappy TV writing; in fact, I predict a spinoff TV series. It would do really well, I bet; by the way, I would have gone with Ratatouille).

Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille (an easy pick, and a good one, too).

Best Foreign Language Film: The Counterfitters, Austria (I went for Beaufort from Israel; I think 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days from Romania was the best of the year).

Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood (Another unimaginative brown-hued period piece--Elswit's work for Michael Clayton was better; I go for the colorful depiction of the west provided by nominee Roger Deakins for Jesse James. I mean, seriously, when is Deakins (left) going to win?--he's the very best cinematographer working today! He was even nominated twice this year--also for No Country for Old Men!

Best Art Direction: Sweeney Todd (I predicted There Will Be Blood, but I should have known a Tim Burton movie would take this award again; Sleepy Hollow and Batman also won Art Direction awards).

Best Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (I got it easy--always the most opulent costumes win; I would've gone for Jesse James).

Best Film Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum (Suprised this didn't go to the Coens for No Country For Old Men, which would have been my choice, too).

Best Sound: The Bourne Ultimatum (Great job there, but I can't beilieve this didn't go to No Country For Old Men; the sound was the STAR of this movie).

Best Sound Effects Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum (missed it; see above) '

Best Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from Once (got it, and it was my personal pick as well).

Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli, Atonement (got it, though I would've liked to have seen Nick Cave win for his tense Jesse James score).

Best Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark Side (I was going for No End In Sight instead, probably because it was my fave doc of the year).

Best Documentary Short: Freeheld (got it--it was a guess) Best Animated Short: Peter and The Wolf (I went with I Met The Walrus, but just because I'm a John Lennon fan).

Best Live-Action Short: The Mozart of Pickpockets (I guessed Tanghi Argenti)

Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass (I picked Transformers, but would've personally liked the award to go to Sunshine, the brilliant Danny Boyle sci-fi movie that I feel was one of the year's most overlooked treasures).

Best Makeup: La Vie En Rose (I was going for Norbit, but once I saw the amazing makeup transformation done in this movie, I knew I was wrong; well-deserved).

So I got 12 out of 24--50% right. Not a good year for me--usually I get about 16-18 right. Oh, well...next year maybe. Early Best Pic prediction for 2009: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. You heard it here first.

Good show; speedy, not embarassing, not particularly funny--just all business. That's the way I like it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Film #6: Blood Simple

I thought I'd include one of my first reviews, written for my college newspaper in 1985, in honor of the Coens finally set, 22 years later, to get the recognition they deserve from Hollywood. By the way, this is largely the way the original story appeared, but I've been unable to resist editing it. I can't tell if this is a breach of ethics or what, but certainly full disclosure is at least required. As you will tell, from the outset, I knew the Coens were going to be forces to contend with, however, I must say I knew not to what heights. Anyway, here's the review:

The term “blood simple," as defined in the American Slang Dictionary, is “the state of fear and confusion that follows the commission of murder.” ‘He’s gone blood simple.’ Makes the perfect murder almost impossible.” First-time independent filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have appropriated that term as the moniker for their first film, and it is, in addition to being a blood-spewing refurbishing of cheap pulp, a morbid, sweat-stained, blacker-than black comedy. Sit and consider the term alone and think of the swarthy laughs that could be mined from this pedigreed concept. While you’re at it, try to think of every plot twist, bizarrely-traited character, and outrageously gory situation, and then just give it up, 'cause, really, how could you? Blood Simple marks the most promising and inventive, ostentatious filmmaking debut in quite some time.

Set in flat, hot Texas, Blood Simple begins with Abby (Frances McDormand), a woman in a nightmare marriage, as she’s stealing away from the home she shares with her rotten husband, a Texas saloon owner named Marty (a stressed-out Dan Hedaya). Saying yes to a boring affair with one of Marty’s bartenders (John Getz), she and her new man hit the road, unaware of being followed by Marty’s go-to guy,
Visser. The introduction of this portly, vulgar, yellow-suited snake, played with supreme charisma by M. Emmett Walsh, turns the already energetic Blood Simple into a rocketship. Sheened with sweat, he's a straight shooter with a tobacco-caked drawl and the sort of needling, sleazoid good ol’ boy humor that Walsh has brought to the table in things like Blade Runner, Straight Time, Bound for Glory and even The Jerk. His disrespecting jabs at Hedaya, in particular, caused me to cackle (like when he calls Hedaya's recently bandaged hand a "busted flipper"). As fine as the rest of the cast is, Walsh and, to a lesser extent, the peripatetic Hedaya walk away with the movie.

Director Joel Coen and producer Ethan share the screenwriting credit for this magnificent tangle of fatal misunderstandings. They also share a tasty wit, a mastery of suspense-building, and a restless eye to what might make a shot distinctive, their secret weapon being Barry Sonnenfeld’s camera roaming through haunted settings with impressive precision and often shocking speed.

The Coens also understand tact--when exactly to go over the top with their scenarios. Hilariously frustrated head-slapping and much squirming in the theater seat is a natural response to this errant comedy of missed connections and desperate bids for survival. By the time the final, outstandingly wry line of Blood Simple is uttered, with one drip of life yet to go, you will know we have been introduced to two new masters of filmcraft.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Film #5: The Conqueror Worm a.k.a. Witchfinder General

One of the horror genre’s most criminally overlooked classics is 1968’s The Conqueror Worm. Known in the U.K. as Witchfinder General, this extraordinarily downbeat tale stars Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, the real-life henchman for Cromwell in wartorn 17th century England who was assigned to find and prosecute witches hidden within the country’s tiny townships. He’s an intriguing character because, with his obvious intelligence, he should be able to mitigate his dark side with common decency, but Hopkins is so consumed with lust and power that he can’t help but take advantage of the vulnerable, especially in a time where almost everyone was mad with fear and ignorance.

Rest assured, Price plays all this to the hilt in one of his very best non-tongue-in-cheek horror performances. Directed by Michael Reeves, who helmed two other similarly-flavored films (The She-Beast and The Sorcerers) before killing himself in 1969, The Conqueror Worm is disturbingly set in a Hell where all moral boundaries have been erased, and all people are capable of atrocities against even their closest confidants (yikes! that doesn’t sound too different than the world we live in!).

Film #4: Thesis

Alajandro Amenabar’s 1996 film Tesis was made a few years before he stunned American audiences with his hallucinatory Open Your Eyes, but his debut, which won six Spanish Goyas (their Oscar equivalents), is more impressive. Ana Torrent is terrific as a film student working on a thesis about extreme violence in the media. While researching, she gets wind of a snuff video shot in Czechlosovakia, which is now hidden somewhere in the cavernous basement of her university. With her only confidant being Chema (Fele Martinez), her geeky gorehound classmate who has his own prurient interest in the video, she investigates further and...well, let’s just say she gets into deep shit and leave it at that.

Though Tesis occasionally ventures too deeply into slasher movie mode, it’s always smart and expertly crafted (comparisons to The Vanishing, George Sluzier’s petrifying 1991 cult horror classic, also aren’t unreasonable). It also happens to be scary as all get out, particularly in a relentless final half hour chock full o’ paranoia, pain, and plot twists. Forget about 8mm, the crappy Nicholas Cage vehicle about snuff; Tesis is everything it wanted to be, but wasn’t.

Film #3: Eyes Wide Shut

Upon its release in 1999, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut promptly took its place alongside Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Antonioni’s L’Avventura, at least half of David Lynch’s entire oeuvre, and Kurosawa’s Dreams as one of the cinema’s great phantasms. If, upon seeing it, you’ve any sense of it sporting a traditional story--even a derailed or dull one--then, if you will pardon this writer for seeming pedantic or snobby, your eyes are certainly not sharp enough. Hey, this is a common reaction amongst filmgoers first seeing Kubrick’s thought-provoking works; for most viewers, particularly in this age of spoon-fed pabulum disguised as entertainment, the director’s pictures are boldly off-putting, and even infuriating (the teems of analytically-challenged critics and dissatisfied audiences exiting Eyes Wide Shut definitely prove this).

But before or after your first look at this uniquely massive art film, be informed that, as with previous Kubrick movies, Eyes Wide Shut requires repeated once-overs to be mined fully. Like many of his pictures, it leaves us in a state of groggy confusion, as if we’ve just been drugged and kidnapped. Now, I’m sadly aware that’s not what most people go to the movies for these days (it ain’t the ‘60s anymore), so in response to the tired, baffled reactions to Kubrick’s final masterwork, I say this: Eyes Wide Shut is so accomplished, so rich with delightful visual and intellectual detail that, even if you don’t think it’s much when you first see it, you too will be praising it years down the line. History bears this out; Kubrick’s movies have always garnered mixed reviews on their release, and have always been regarded as works of genius once they’ve been given a while to breathe.

Our first glimpse of the film immediately yields a Kubrick trademark: the use of classical music as score, in this case the mellifluous clarinet spelling out the Second Waltz from Dimitri Shastakovich’s “Jazz Suite.” Just as Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz” did for the space travel sequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the music bathes us with a savvy intermingling of the New World (jazz that perfectly recalls modern-day New York, where the film is set) and the Old World (the Viennese waltz--the screenplay’s source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, is set in 19th Century Vienna, a world also evoked in the film’s ornate set designs). Bold block letters announce the participation of Kubrick, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, interrupted only by an alluring angle on Kidman disrobing, revealing her sculpted naked figure to the camera (mirroring the ardent soul-baring to come). And so, over the next 2 hours and 39 minutes, the viewer is put into an intense trance cooked up by Kubrick with a knowing eye cocked toward the outlandishly prurient expectations audiences held for this tale of sexual jealousy and marital strength.

Bill and Alice Harford (Cruise and Kidman) are an attractive, seemingly happy couple leading a too-charmed upper-crust lifestyle in Manhattan. He’s a vain, spoiled yet still basically good doctor who adores his wife and their seven year-old daughter, Helena, while Alice is an observant, outspoken, but somewhat bored art dealer pleasantly going about her wifely duties. As the film begins, they’re venturing out to a fancy-pants Christmas party at the home of one of Bill’s patients, Victor Ziegler (nicely underplayed by actor-turned-director-turned-actor-again Sydney Pollack). After dancing dispassionately together, the Harfords mingle solo and savor flirting with various bluebloods (including a vampiric Sky Dumont as Kidman's horny, well-spoken dance partner). Bill does some flirting of his own with two airhead models who promise to take him "where the rainbow ends." And then he's called up to help Victor out of a particularly sticky jam that leaves all concerned shaken. Yet, fearing the consequences of extramarital couplings, Bill and Alice remain loyal to one another, even making love at home later in front of a crazed mirror (the film's most famous image, used as its marketing ploy).

The next evening, after dipping into their pot stash, husband and wife have an intense bedside argument about jealousy and the differences between male and female sexuality. Offended by Bill’s vapid, uninformed opinions on feminine desires, Alice harshly endeavors to set him straight by confessing, with a wistful smile, a brief but powerful flirtation she enjoyed with an alluring naval officer while they were once on vacation. “At that moment,” she says, “even just for one night, I was willing to give up everything--you, Helena, my whole fucking future--for him. And yet, it was weird because you were dearer to me than ever.” And with this, a seething Bill, displaying the famed Kubrickian downward stare of a man in distress, has his idealistic view of their marriage forever shattered.

Jarringly, Bill gets a call and prophetically says he has to “show his face” at the home of a newly dead patient. Fervently wrestling with the thought of Alice desiring another man, Bill traverses the New York streets, tortured by smutty black-and-white visions of the naval officer ravishing his passionate wife. He arrives at the deceased patient’s home and comforts the dead man’s daughter (an excellent Marie Richardson), who has a surprising confession for her father’s doctor, one that throws open the floodgates of Bill's sexual desire.

Thus begins his vengeful, maze-like journey through the winding streets of Greenwich Village, with Bill following whiffs of pulchritude that lead him to a myriad of locales: the apartment of a charming prostitute (Vinessa Shaw, who asks Bill “Would you like to come inside with me?” which he seems to misunderstand as being "of me”); a piano bar where Bill’s sleazoid medical school buddy Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) works as a pianist--a clever Kubrick pun--while dabbling in NYC’s sexual underground; a costume shop where a creepy Eastern European (Rade Sherbadgia) has an even creepier rapport with his Lolita-esque daughter (Leelee Sobieski); and a great mansion where a ripe, even slightly comical, masked ball (another pun) takes place. Learning something essential about himself and his relationship with Alice at each of these stops, Bill opens up during the film’s climactic hour to eventual self-discovery, resulting not in the joy of sex, but in the fear of death, which are certainly linked in Arthur Schnitzler’s Freud-steeped world.

Eyes Wide Shut is easily Kubrick’s most significant work since 2001, a film with which it shares some deeply embedded similarities. It tells of mankind’s journey, but via a genre galaxies away from science fiction: the love story. Like 2001, it focuses on human failings, but remains optimistic that we’ll graduate to higher beings if we put forth an effort. It uses not a journey to Jupiter as its backdrop, but a journey within, through the soul’s deepest fears and desires, to explore our primeval lusts. Eyes Wide Shut, like 2001, is a lyrically hallucinatory morality tale told in a dense, puzzling, non-condescending style that’ll leave many frustrated but surreptitiously intrigued.

In my reading of this mesmerizing film--and I believe each viewer will extract something unique--it seems that the lucid “real world” segments consist only of the opening half-hour (up to where Bill gets the phone call after his wife’s confession) and the final ten minutes. These lucid portions are quickly edited and have an effusive life force that the rest of film doesn’t have. The middle two hours of Eyes Wide Shut--where Bill wanders around New York, through slowly-paced scenes packed into a strangely condensed time period, with long takes and lapses in logic galore--are a literal retelling of a fever dream suffered by a once-arrogant man whose world is, for a time, poisoned with jealously and longing, and by his own silly notions of what sexual freedom really is. Yes, almost the entire movie (in my mind) is a dream. Not having read Schnitzler’s novel, I can’t point to it for support, except to say that its English title is Dream Story. But I can note the movie’s poetic title, an accurate description of the REM state. Even so, Leon Vatali, Kubrick's longtime assistant and the actor that portrayed both the scheming Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon and the demanding Red Cloak in Eyes Wide Shut's orgy sequence, has brushed off the notion that Eyes Wide Shut is a dream film; it's not something that his one-time boss wanted to own up to. Yeah, okay...but this doesn't convince me. I'm speaking to what Kubrick REALLY meant to say, not to what he SAID he meant to say. Committed artists often do not know what exactly they are getting at in their works; it seems to me that Kubrick perhaps lost conscious sight of his subject matter, after living with it for three decades.

Other clues supporting my just opinion? The painterly use of dabs of hazy colored light--a Kubrick mainstay bespeaking the spectral nature of all his films, but used to particularly beautiful effect here by cameraman Larry Smith. Also, the odd quality of his New York street sets, constructed on the backlots of London’s Pinewood Studios and accurate to every detail--even down to the imported trash filling the waste baskets--yet dotted with surreal touches: neon signs illustrating the link between food and sex (“DINER” and “EROS” battle it out as Bill bargains with the Russian costume dealer); a surplus of shops with suggestive monikers (a lingerie emporium called “A Hint of Lace,” a flower store called “Nipped in the Bud,” the “Verona Restaurant,” referencing the hometown of Romeo and Juliet) and a plethora of interiors swathed in passionate shades of red, purple, and pink (praise, too, to production designers Les Tompkins and Roy Walker).

As always, Kubrick’s famous tracking shots lend their own fantasy elements to the movie as they follow Bill down city corridors to a dollop of self-discovery that is at once destructive and regenerative (think of the end of 2001: Dave Bowman sees his body spiral into old age while trapped in that proto-Victorian holding cell, and then, by virtue of his accumulated self-knowledge, sees himself and mankind reborn into the Nietzschen Superman; the scene is mirrored in the sequence with the dead old man in the first third of Eyes Wide Shut). And the biggest clue toward the notion that most of Eyes Wide Shut is a dream sequence? It's simply the rambling, surreal quality of its ever-so subtle plotline.

In a Kubrick movie, everything, even the smallest details, means something--that’s why he spent so much time on his films (this one took 54 weeks to shoot, not to mention two decades of script development with his co-writer, the great but ultimately baffled Frederic Rafael, who penned two other classic screenplays about married life, Darling and Two for the Road, and went on to write a damning portrayal of his relationship with Kubrick in a memoir called Eyes Wide Open--the polar opposite of Full Metal Jacket co-scripter Michael Herr's stressed but adoring book Kubrick).

Kubrick doesn’t make the majority of Eyes Wide Shut languorous and lolling just because he sadistically wants to bore the audience; he wants viewers to feel as if they are in a waking REM stage, and he aptly succeeds. If viewers are perplexed by this film, it’s because dreams themselves are perplexing--that is, until one reviews them in order to learn something about the dreamer (note that Arthur Schnitzler was a close personal friend of dream doctor Sigmund Freud). Eyes Wide Shut acts as a waking night-sweat for the audiences, and thus makes it aware of the similar nature of movies themselves; it’s a film about watching films. Kubrick’s final work also forces us to do what he always wanted viewers to do with his films: interpret for ourselves and stop coming to him for the answers. He makes watching movies into a participatory, rather than passive, activity. It's 3D in extrema.

Ultimately, by the time Bill breaks down crying to his wife, offering to tell her of his own sordid (and, I think, imagined) foray into infidelity, and then with the absolutely heartrending final exchange between the couple (in a freakin' toy store, of all places,with the product of their most impassioned sex--their daughter--in tow), we realize that the film is also about total trust in and honesty with the person one chooses to be one’s spouse, and how those qualities can so improve a relationship that doors are opened to new planes of reality. Kubrick’s final work is his most optimistic, though it gets there by way of society’s dregs (this, too, it shares with 2001). Unusually for this director--whose favorite theme was often man’s inhumanity to man--Eyes Wide Shut professes a faith in an unfailingly truthful relationship between two people who love each other, flaws, dreams, and all.

This is supported by the fact that the director spent the final years of his life in intimate quarters with Cruise and Kidman, a famous wedded couple who, up until that time, had withstood storms that destroyed similar celebrity marriages. Having had a stimulating 41-year marriage with his own wife, Christiane, Kubrick must’ve wanted to explore the dynamics of a real marriage on-screen, but was unable to do so because of his perfectionist belief that such a relationship couldn’t be plumbed with actors merely portraying spouses. He needed a real-life acting couple, and one willing to take a long look at the most unsettling aspects of their own union.

That Cruise and Kidman were that (ultimately doomed) couple will speak eternally to their worth as actors; if they hadn’t earned my full admiration with fine showings in Born on the Fourth of July and To Die For, respectively, then they certainly have it now. Kidman, in particular, is forceful as Alice. Though her character disappears for a good portion of the movie, her performance is so strong, her manner so sure and honesty so piercing, it’s easy to see how Bill has become obsessed with his wife. Hers is the ultimate act of love--the revelation of her inner-self, which triggers the revelation of her spouse’s inner-self, which will lead to their true, hopefully ultimate success as a couple. Kidman makes us root for Alice, the most complete female character in Kubrick’s repertoire. Cruise, meanwhile, is also bravely revelatory in the way he lets his director toy with his famed, ultra-cocky screen persona (even letting the director make jokes about his rumored homosexuality--"Exit only, baby" yell those thugs that grab their asses on the street--and his off-screen heroism, via the talk with the flirty airheads at the beginning of the film). In many of his blockbusters, Cruise’s characters appear unshakable. But his Bill Harford is a walking corpse, a man who’s never known who he truly is. As his self-discoveries pile atop one another, whether in dreams or in reality, he grimaces and tenses as if his guts are being skewered with hot needles (Cruise's scene in the morgue, with woman on the slab who may have sacrificed herself for him, is particularly overwhelming). His is a remarkable performance in a movie brimming with remarkable assets (just a few more: Jocelyn Pook’s eerie original score and the carefully selected source music commenting on each scene; Alan Cumming’s crackling turn as a bubbly gay hotel clerk; Christiane Kubrick’s and Katherina Kubrick Hobbs’ pastoral paintings; the strangely timeless fashions by Marit Allen). And, here, I must mention how I enjoy such small, sly touches as seeing Bill meet the prostitute in front of a punny key and lock shop; or reading the headlines “Lucky to Be Alive” and “Cool as Ice” on opposite sides of the New York Post Bill purchases in a charged moment; or the pinned-up ad for a Keith Haring painting outside the apartment of a woman who's contracted AIDS (the same disease that killed Haring--by the way, this is the kind of detail you won't be able to see on the small screen); or Harford's dead elderly patient lying in a bed that looks just like the one in which Dave Bowman died in 2001. This sort of list, when it comes to Eyes Wide Shut, could go on and on.

In the end, the three-year wait for Eyes Wide Shut--from its announcement to its release--was worth it, because it became an inextricable part of this moviegoing experience--in fact, our wait for Cruise and Kidman to get it on for our masturbatory pleasure is the focus of the movie’s very final cosmic joke--one that’s played on the audience and no doubt leaves them angry (it’s the biggest movie ever about blue balls, because Cruise and Kidman never really get to have sex with ANYONE on screen). For that reason, the secrecy that perhaps, even a decade after its release, still surrounds it becomes indispensable for the viewer’s enjoyment. You wait through the entire movie for all the one-time wild internet rumors to come true--Cruise in drag, vomiting dope fiends, hardcore porn, and the like--and then they don’t. Even in this Age of Information, in this entertainment environment cluttered by pointless pre-release buzz, Kubrick has the last gigantic laugh by successfully skirting any notions that people may have thought they had about his film. He escaped the buzz, like the magician he is. Eyes Wide Shut will always remain be controversial with most moviegoers--many of them used to knowing exactly what’s going to happen in a picture perhaps even weeks before it’s released--because, as with 2001, they will exit seeing the picture, at home or in the theater, with one word on their minds: “Huh? I don't get it.” And then they will wonder...

And that, I think, is delectible, because people won’t forget about Eyes Wide Shut immediately like so many disposable movies of the day. They will be trying to suss it out for weeks, months, years. Eyes Wide Shut, as do most Kubrick films, will haunt those who long to think, and those who find thinking discomforting will still always recall the piece as a completely singular filmgoing experience on which they at least occasionally ruminate, either angrily or curiously. Either way, all will return to it, again and again, greatly or slightly, in a nagging attempt to mine its worth. This is what the best movies are all about. Finally, in conclusion, remember: it was that treasured, womanizing American Benjamin Franklin who once said: "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards."

Film #2: Bye Bye Birdie, Film #2 1/2: No Country for Old Men, 2007 Oscar Predictions, and "The Latest Show on Earth"

Well, I made my debut on Internet TV--more specifically, on "The Latest Show on Earth," hosted by Joe Hendel (www.downtowntv.com, www.thelatestshowonearth.com). Like you may have read on my earlier post, I have live TV experience, so it was a real trip back to those times for me. I'm a little rusty, but I think I aquitted myself nobly, making my picks for the Oscars on the show. Joe, a customer I met at Kim's Video, called me and wanted me to be a guest (along with party rocker/motivational speaker Andrew WK, pictured above). I like Joe
very much and was honored to be asked, so I jumped at it. It was a great experience I hope to repeat, especially since Joe is so wryly funny and quite talented musically as well. So check it out on the show's online archives. Andrew (who was extremely kind and soft-spoken) and Joe do a great keyboard jam/duet that features a killer sampling of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. I was also floored to meet the show's producer, Steve Paul, the storied New York club owner who opened the first discoteque in New York in the 1960s, The Scene (which sported acts like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground, and assuredly many, many others). I look forward to talking with him in the future, since he's fascinating and funny.

It's snowing pretty heavily here in Brooklyn. It's been seeming like it snows on significant days for me recently. I don't know what that's about. Probably all in my mind... or...maybe...NOT!?!

For those who may know me, I've taken a break from my grind at Kim's Video, so's I can concentrate on getting a better gig. Hope it happens soon, 'cause the cupboard's bare. There's like, one piece of lettuce and some butter in my fridge (...want some buttahed luttuce??). Working at Kim's is fun but it's a drain on me physically and mentally. Typically, Ill be asked to answer, oh, 150 or more movie questions in 8 hours, which it's that I can flex my movie knowledge like that, but it's exausting, too. Still, I love all the customers--so many smart, tasteful people coming in there! And my fellow employees--Ricky, Abe, Nicholas, Katherine, Joel, Jeff, Anya, John, Joel, Vadim, Nick and Alex, chief among them--are all people I consider great friends. Plus, the place has every movie known to man--I swear, I've found only a few tiny holes in their collection. Everything is meticulously categorized by country and director. For me and all cinephiles who rent from the place, it's the candy store of video outlets. It deserves its legendary status.

Anyway, onto the movie stuff. Saw No Country for Old Men for the second time tonight, an experience that was in some ways richer than the first. I was amazed at how the film's depiction of a crime gone wrong (a favorite subject for the Coens) got me wincing and my circulation racing once again. I was more impressed by Josh Brolin, in particular, this time round; his character's steely actions drive the movie, but because his performance is so quiet, I don't think he's gotten the recognition he deserves. I also paid special attention to the outstanding sound design for the film. Skip Lievsay's sound effects work for this largely music-less movie acts as a sort of de facto score, mesmerizing and totally transportive. And, also, I should mention that the movie is actually funnier than I remember it. Despite the preponderance of bloodied corpses, I still get lots of chuckles from Tommy Lee Jones' home truths, Woody Harrelson's swagger, and Javier Bardem's brazen psychosis. I tried to keep a body count going, by the way, but I lost it around twenty-five. Exausted from all the tension, my mind still drifted away at the film's very plaintive, even Bergman-esque climax, which I could kick myself for, since I really wanted to decipher the language of its final scenes. But I suppose this will make it prime for another viewing when it hits DVD in March. A magnificent film, this, very much in keeping with Fargo and the Coens' debut Blood Simple. And poised to be the best Best Picture winner since Unforgiven in 1992 (though I love 1993's Schindler's List as well).

Okay, just for the record, even if it's boring to you--my predictions for the 2008 Oscars:
Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her (Marion Cotillard could upset with her perf in La Vie En Rose)
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (though Ruby Dee might get in there; I waver back and forth on this one).
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, Juno
Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille
Best Foreign Language Film: Beaufort (Israel)
Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Best Art Direction: There Will Be Blood
Best Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Best Film Editing: No Country For Old Men
Best Sound: No Country For Old Men
Best Sound Effects Editing: No Country For Old Men
Best Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from Once
Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli, Atonement
Best Documentary Feature: No End In Sight (going out on a limb here, over Michael Moore's Sicko)
Best Documentary Short: Freeheld
Best Animated Short: I Met The Walrus
Best Live-Action Short: Tanghi Argenti
Best Visual Effects: Transformers
Best Makeup: Norbit

Okay, let's see how I do!

Well, my second film I've picked to review is George Sidney's Bye Bye Birdie, an adaptation of the 1961-62 broadway hit about an "Elvis-like" rock and roll singer who's been drafted into the Army and the furor that surrounds one family as the daughter (Ann-Margret) is chosen to be the one fan that gets to give him a going-away kiss on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I put "Elvis-like" in quotes because the meatball Jessie Pearson, who stumbles through as idol Conrad Birdie, was and never could be anything like the real Elvis. In fact, his lame songs bespeak to the filmmakers' and the composer Charles Strouse's probable disgust with rock-and-roll as a phenomenon. Ditto the casting of Pearson himself, whose ultimate blandness could never engender the sort of chaos that greets his every scene.

Now, this movie has a lot of things wrong with it, particularly in its drab second half (and I couldn't care less about the romance between songwriter Dick Van Dyke and his booster girlfriend Janet Leigh, which is constantly gumming up the works). But I reccommend it largely for one reason and one reason alone: Ann-Margret. Now I must confess a bias here: I'm in love with Ann-Margret--if ya ask me (and Lindsay Lohan), she's the movie goddess of all time! Here, as Kim, she's at her most fresh-faced and well-scrubbed. Her three numbers are superb--the impassioned opening title song, with her performing on a treadmill against a deep blue background; "How Lovely to Be A Woman," which catches what every male wants to see, albeit perhaps in more lurid detail: a saucy Ann-Margret changing clothes in her frilly bedroom; and "One Boy," sung wide-eyed and lovingly to the goony, doesn't-deserve-her Bobby Rydell. I treasure every moment I get to ogle this woman's curves, her ocean blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair and her apple cheeks...well, I just better stop, 'cause I'm gettin' myself worked up. See her for yourself, then also check out Tommy, Viva Las Vegas, and Carnal Knowledge and you'll know why I adore her and hold her up as one of the ideal women the world has known.

I like some other things about Bye Bye Birdie. "The Telephone Song" is inventively directed, Paul Lynde, himself with two memorable songs "Kids" and "Ed Sullivan," gets loadsa laughs as Kim's father (right!! Like that could happen...), Maureen Stapleton injects some life into the boring Dick Van Dyke parts, and it's cool to see Ed Sullivan playing himself. But the film is obviously anti-rock and roll, and it contributed the annoyingly cheerful "Put On A Happy Face" to the popular culture. However, I'd watch the first half of it again any day, just to see Ann. It's really her movie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who Am I? / Film #1: Chilly Scenes of Winter

Here I am as the Jury President for the 2014 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, standing outside the legendary Brattle Cinema in Cambridge, MA. (Photo by Nolan Yee) 

This is my first post on FILMICABILITY, and you should know I revisit this very post from time to time in order to update it. That said, I think it's only fair I introduce myself before you read my stuff.  It's a complicated history, so bear with me. I can only hope you're interested. (Really, this is my attempt to write an autobiography in a simple blog post, but if I were to be truthful, this would require so much more space, because, even if I try to denigrate it, I have to admit, I've lived an eccentric and fascinating movie-centric life...) 

My name is Dean Treadway and I have been studying movies literally from the crib (one of my first memories is crying for the movie section of the newspaper before my father departed for his job as an Atlanta police officer). Here, I feel moved to put things simply: Movies are the God's Eye View and that, in short, is why I love and am astonished by them.

I have lived in Atlanta, Georgia most of my life, but have also spent ten of my years in New York City, both in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. I am now, as of 2014, back down south in Atlanta, where, when I was a tyke in the 1970s, my wonderful parents Lynn and Buddy took me to then-numerous drive-ins to see two films a night at least twice a week throughout my childhood. They had been big drive-in moviegoers since they met as teenagers, so that's where I in turn got an education in both Z-grade stuff like Wicked Wicked, The Child, Eaten Alive, and The Manson Massacres as well as ambitious fare like Network, Nashville, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was a with-it kid, so I was unusual amongst my peers (since I was generously allowed to see R-rated movies and such). I don't know what was going on with my parents, but they must have somehow realized that I could handle watching movies, even though they admonished me to cover my eyes during scenes they found inappropriate (ultimately, I have to see their trust as kismet, because I have followed this love of film, even to poverty, to this very present, as I update this post on 10/17/14).

Going to the drive-in always has been and always will be a mystical experience for me. Being under the stars and feeling the summer breeze blow through your hair, with the stars and the planes up above, munching on concession stand pizza slices or corn dogs...it was just like nothing one can now imagine. Further...hearing 60s pop songs like "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel or "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues echo out into the ether over hundreds of drive-in speakers (which, with the advent of radio-transmitted sound, have now left the scene), or hearing the gruff dialogue from movies like My Name Is Nobody or Easy Rider bounce off the movie screen back at you in a Doppler effect; waiting for the rain to die down so you could stop watching the film through a sheet of water flowing over the windshield; getting the little handbills telling you what was coming up next week and the week after--my first taste of repertory programming ("Oooh! The Bad News Bears! We gotta see that--and it's on with Theater of Blood!"); having a second, and maybe better, maybe worse movie to look forward to after the first one had ended; before the movie, playing on the slightly rusted swing-sets in front of the screen as if you were on stage; wandering around to see if you could catch anyone doing it in the backseat of their car; the indescribably vivid taste of the popcorn, the soda and the candies (MMM...Chuckles!!) ...and the visage of the movies themselves, trashy or brilliant. Whoa. Sensory overload. The drive-in was and is a movie-going experience I wish more people these days were more familiar with.

My times at Atlanta drive-ins in the 1970s shaped me. I remember them all: the North-85, the Northeast Expressway (the torn ticket of which will eternally provide the "entry" into this website), the Southeast Expressway, the Bankhead, the Scott, the Gwinnett, the Moonlight, and the Starlight (the only one that still exists there--six goldurn screens, and on holidays showing classic films!). This might give you an idea of what it was like--they were STILL showing this stuff in the 70s, and it gave you the chills.

Here are some photos of my favorite Atlanta theaters in their heyday.

The Starlight Six Drive-In Theater (more popular than ever, thank God, with six screens still running 6 or 7 months out of the year (3 screens run in the winter months))

The Rhodes Theater (the single greatest theater (in that it always played movies) in Atlanta history, pointlessly closed and still lying on unused property!!! Here it is, in its 50s salad days, way before I attended it in the 70s and 80s as a superb repertory theater.)

The Fox Theater (here, you can see that, even in the 50s, it had converted over to a live performance theater.  But it was still playing movies almost exclusively up until the early 70s (I remember seeing TALES FROM THE CRYPT and SNOOPY COME HOME there during that period). Even though it was threatened with destruction in the 70s, the community rallied to its side, and so it's still operating and is STILL the best place in town to see a movie--when they play them in the summer, that is. In 2013, I saw LAWRENCE OF ARABIA there for only the third time on the big screen, and it was tremendous. Here is a good photo of the interior of this remarkable theater...and this doesn't even give you one scintilla of what the place is like: 

The North-85 Twin Drive-In Theater (The best! A 70s childhood favorite! GONE! Wahhh!)

The Tara Theater...the place where I first saw GONE WITH THE WIND, STAR WARS, TAXI DRIVER, RESERVOIR DOGS and about a thousand more movies. Still the premiere theater in Atlanta, and still looking as 60s cool as it always has. I used to work here, and I still have my complaints, but the Tara remains one of the best movie venues in Atlanta.

(Check out more old and new Georgia theaters by going to www.flicker.com and visiting Jack Coursey's excellent Cinema Georgia site. Thanks, Jack, for your dedication and your valuable  photos!)

Anyway, after Friday and Saturday nights at the drive-ins, with our tacos and our popcorn with oregano sprinkled on it, we'd be wiped out on Sunday mornings. It was then that I'd settle down to watch Academy Award Theater with Bill Tush on what was then WTCG, but eventually became WTBS (and an infant version of TCM). Because of Tush's expert hosting of the show and his detailed information about all the awards, no matter how small, that the film they were playing were nominated for, I became obsessed with film history. Naturally, my principle mode of learning became the study of Oscar-nominated and -winning films. Now, I know this may be a major bone of contention for some Oscar-hating filmfans, but I should say that I look at those awards with equal parts passionate disgust and disassociated intellectual distance. I see them as a learning tool and a social/artistic barometer--nothing more. Academy Award Theater, and also such channels as 80s-era HBO (an impossibly huge influence on me, in appreciating both features and shorts, including early music videos), Chicago's WGN, and New York's WOR...all of them taught me the value of the classics and I am forever grateful to Bill Tush, Ted Turner, and all of the rest of 'em for that (plus, in particular, with Turner and Tush for providing me with Tush's hysterical late-night comedy news show--which later made me love SCTV, and later that love ping-ponged to TUSH, the first truly original show produced by this fledgling network--and then there's that endless succession of horror movies on that channel...oh gosh...I have so many influences, I cannot give them their due here. But I have to say Ted Turner and Bill Tush are amongst the strongest of them. And how lucky I was to meet both of them, each in the strangest of ways (you'll have to contact me personally to know how I met them each).

Now that you have visual proof of Tush's connection with the world-shaking Turner, watch this:

As the drive-ins started dying out post Star Wars, I started attending repertory houses in Atlanta around the late 70s (particularly the Rhodes and George Lafont's incredible Silver Screen). I repeatedly saw new movies at the dear departed Toco Hills Theater, the other adjunct to my movie education that also provided me with my first job. The years 1979-1983 were incredibly influential to me, and I still see this as the best time for movies so far in my lifetime (to be fair, EVERYBODY who loves movies adores the stuff they saw at the age I was at at this time (12-16)).

Once I graduated high school, I enrolled at Georgia State University, where I became involved in the school newspaper, The Signal. I walked in wanting to review movies and before knew it, I was doing just that (my first review: Repo Man). Quickly thereafter, I was turning in two articles a week, going on press junkets (I attended the 2010, Top Gun and Pretty in Pink premieres) and interviewing celebrities (Tom Cruise (for Top Gun), Arnold Schwarzenegger (for Predator), Julia Roberts (for Mystic Pizza), Nicolas Cage (for Moonstruck), Neil Patrick Harris (for Clara's Heart), Emilio Estevez (for That Was Then, This is Now), Edward James Olmos (for Stand and Deliver), Molly Ringwald (for Pretty in Pink, along with Andrew McCarthy, John Hughes, and Jon Cryer), Anthony Michael Hall (for Out of Control), and Matthew Broderick (for Ferris Bueller's Day Off)  as well as John Sayles (for Brother from Another Planet), Stephen King (for Maximum Overdrive), Spike Lee (for School Daze), Robert Zemeckis (for Back to the Future), Richard Donner (for Ladyhawke), and comic artists Peter Bagge and Harvey Pekar (around 1988, way before the film American Splendor arrived)). As a result of all this effort I was putting into the paper, I soon rose in rank to editor of its features section, before rising to Managing Editor of the whole magilla. During this time, I happily netted four college journalism awards for my work.

In 1986, I attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts for one semester before bowing out due to financial difficulties. But I made some lifelong friends. My first film crew consisted of Brian Matson, Paul Zerner, and Steve Wicks. All of us appeared in Zerner's final film, a spoof of Wolfgang Petersen's DAS BOOT, filmed in a dorm-hall cafeteria after hours. Deemed DAS MILK, it's my favorite of all of our films (though I haven't even seen my own 16mm films since they showed in class circa 1986/87; this is the first to be posted to You Tube, and I feel rightfully so, since Wicks (the very Aryan blonde), Matson (the bespectacled mechanic) and I (the fat "cook") all appear in it (with each of us dubbing the other's voice).

My other great friend from this period Gary Sherwood--screenwriter, James Bond expert, and radio DJ for KOWS-FM in California (where he hosts the weekly show THE TRIP, focused in solely on music from the 1960s)--later invited me to room with him in New York for a couple of years. There, from 1989 to 1992, I worked in the publishing industry as well as at a delivery video store on 84th and 3rd called VideoRoom, where I learned to think and speak quickly about movies, since we were charged with helping customer--over the phone--with making their film choices. VideoRoom was one of the first video stores in the nation (established in 1979), and it was one of only two video stores that I ever worked at in which a detailed, multi-page  rundown of your film knowledge was necessary as part of the application process. I adored every moment working there; I got to recommend movies to such club members as Bill Cosby, Dick Cavett, Diane Venora, and who knows who else (I could write a whole book about my experiences working there--it's really where I learned to talk about movies off the top of my head, since it was a requirement of the job). 

I left New York in 1992 and bombed around back in Atlanta for a few years, toiling away at Atlanta's oldest full-time movie theater, The Plaza (est. 1939), for a few glorious and very fun years. There, I worked closely with friends like projectionist extraordinaire Robert Schneider (one of my favorite people of all time: Here he is, below, pictured in the projection room of the Starlight Drive-In, where he worked for a few years before his untimely death). Let me tell you, this man loved movies and worked hard to make sure we all saw them properly (he never left the projection booth until the title appeared on screen and he could focus the film). Plus he was one of the funniest and most unusual and knowledgeable personalities I've ever had the privilege to encounter--and that doesn't even cover half of his genius.

In addition, at the Plaza, I was thrilled to work alongside box office guy/rock star Clay Reed of the Subsonics, the late and brilliant Patrick Flynn, Mark Krell, Pete Steckel, Floyd the Warlock, Laurie G-Force, Red Suzie, Matt Earnest, Mary Sease, Heidi Kirsch, Josh Newcom, Karen, Bill, Kris Monroe, Mary Price and her movie-maven husband Kevin (manager of George Lefont's now-defunct Garden Hills Theater and an unsung movie expert). All were tremendously influential in my life. Somehow, I don't think I'll ever have a job as great as the Plaza, no matter how much it might fulfill me in financial or creative ways. But I hope I do! (By the way, now the Plaza is a non-profit film outlet run by Michael Furlinger and he needs your support).

The majesty of neon and florescents....wow! The box office has moved inside, but the Plaza looks very much like this now, except to say it isn't showing porn.

The Plaza Theater's main auditorium, still looking the way it did 50 years ago (though the seats have now been replaced with stronger and more comfortable ones...)

And here's the Plaza's brand new lobby, updated from the seedy way it looked in even the 1990s.  I personally contributed six one-sheets to the theater's astounding wall of fame.  

The Plaza Theater, the home of my heart, in full flower. One of the finest movie houses in the world. Phot by Josh Meister, for ATLANTA magazine. 

I was temporarily saved from minimum-wage slavery when another NYU friend, the great singer/songwriter/TV producer Brian Matson--who, by the 1990s, was also living in Atlanta --told me of a job opening at Turner Network Television in their programming department. I ended up landing this exciting position; my bosses, Lisa Mateas and Phil Oppenheim, were the tippy tops and taught me a great deal about taste and the lack thereof (Lisa's excellent TV-centric website, for which I sometimes write for, is flamingnose.blogspot.com). However, we were all witness to the changing of the Turner empire from one wholly-owned by the man himself to one subsidized by Time-Warner, then by AOL. I left the job after four years, but not before amassing an additional cache of film and television reviews I wrote for the then-new TNT website (I was one of the first people that told the TNT management that they needed to get this new thing CALLED a website). I was there as a key player in the hiring of Joe Bob Briggs as the host of Monstervision. And I was even in a TNT commercial for In the Heat of the Night, which was a big ratings getter for TNT in the mid-90s. I'm the shorter, fatter guy with the bass here (and I helped storyboard this piece, too). The star is, of course, the show's head deputy Bubba, played by Alan Autry (formerly Carlos Brown, if you remember, in both 1980's Popeye and in 1981's Southern Comfort).

After this little bit, I teamed up with some fellow Turnerites, including Brian (the official director of "Hubba Bubba") on what would become one of my life's most rewarding experiences: being a charter member of the super-duper neo-lounge band UberEasy!!

UberEasy, pictured above in our usual performance garb, from left to right: Dean Treadway (percussion and vocals), Brian Matson (bass and vocals), Dejie Johnson (vocals and show hostess), and Barry Koch (guitar and band leader).

From here, I started working at one of Atlanta's only independent video stores, Videodrome (a terrific outlet that's still in existence, as of 2014), while simultaneously co-hosting a live movie review show on public access. For four years I worked with the able Aron Siegel--now a sound designer for films like the recent horror epic The Signal, John Sayles' Honeydripper, The Walking Dead, and Necessary Roughness--on Film Forum.  Aron and I extemporaneously expounded on current film and film history for the live television audience. It was an incredibly enriching experience (thanks, Aron AND directors Allen Williams and Phredd Allen). Here, I more primarily received a rapport with the camera and the confidence in knowing that I could talk endlessly about anything connected with movies. I also began, during this time, hosting my own show on film history, called Film Geek. And I started writing film reviews for the local alternative newspaper Creative Loafing. (In one issue of CL, there was an article about Film Forum, an ad for UberEasy's latest show, and a movie article written by me--triple hat trick!!)

Then, I was handed the opportunity of a lifetime: I was asked by Executive Director Barry Norman to be Programming Director for a film festival that was being launched in the lovely north Georgia town of Dahlonega (the site of the first gold rush in US history, predating Alaska and California). It was a big job, but I jumped at it without giving it a second thought. For two-and-a-half years, I evaluated thousands of movies from all around the world (about 35 different countries), all in service of a four-day fest with five venues. I hosted the films, wrote the program, and had my hand in about every imaginable aspect of the project. There is a lot--an insane amount--to say about this experience.  But, save to say that it changed my life and my view on filmmaking, I'll save it for another post...

Anyway, I eventually left the position and began working as a post-production film and event consultant in 2006 before deciding to move back to New York--this time to Brooklyn--in 2007. I worked at the legendary Kim's Video on St. Mark's and Third for the two years before it closed (Kim eventually sent its amazing collection to a little town in Sicily!). This was another of the most amazing jobs I ever had. I walked in one day, not knowing if they needed any workers, filled out the application (which required me to list my favorite films, and I ended up with a handwritten list of 150 movies off the top of my head). I was hired on the spot, and was then part of an unforgettable crew.  It was possibly the most well-known video store on the East Coast of that time, and so I now have memories of helping out people like Ryan Gosling, Michel Gondry, Chloe Sevigny, Chuck Workman, Phyllis Somerville, Gaby Hoffman, Kelly Reichardt, and David O. Russell with their rentals. 

I later worked for a while at World of Video in the West Village (Greenwich and Perry St., one of the last video stores in the city, now sadly closed). But I then, because of crippling economics, had to retreat to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where I am still living as of June 2015.

One of the greatest things that happened to me while I was up in New York was the beginning of my  involvement with MOVIE GEEKS UNITED, the #1 rated all-movie-related podcast on the web (which has easily surpassed 4,000,000 downloads on Itunes while gathering a competitive number on You Tube).  Hosts Jamey Duvall and Jerry Dennis began the show in 2006, and they have since gathered over 700 interviews with such actors as Robert Duvall, Matthew Broderick, Jeff Goldblum, Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Burstyn, Pierce Brosnan, Andy Garcia, Demian Bechir, Antonio Banderas, Crispin Glover, Peter Dinkledge, Jim Broadbent, Malcolm McDowell, Dennis Quaid, Alan Rickman, Jon Voight, Karen Allen, Leslie Caron, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Toby Jones, Nancy Allen, Leslie Manville, Olivia Williams, Peter Weller, Joan Rivers, Zoe Bell, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Pollack, Jeremy Renner and Matthew Modine. The directors that have been on the show include Francis Ford Coppola, David Cronenberg, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Brian De Palma, Bruce Beresford, Joe Dante, Charles Ferguson, Joel Schumacher, John Sayles, Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, Lloyd Kaufman, Rod Lurie, Bobcat Goldthwait, Brett Ratner, Keith Gordon, James Gray, Eduardo Sanchez, Lee Unkrich, and Armando Ianucci. The show's immersion into cinematography has included interviews with Robert Richardson, William Fraker, Ric Waite, Larry Smith, Allan Daviau, Vilmos Zsigmond, Maryse Alberti, Steven Poster, and Matthew Libatique.  Equally so, MOVIE GEEKS UNITED has paid close attention to film composers like Alexandre Desplat, Terrence Blanchard, Marvin Hamlisch, Ira Newborn, Howard Shore, Mark Isham, Mychael Danna, and John Debney. The show has taken a look into the artforms of writing, editing, art direction, and costume design as well.

So, of course, my involvement with Movie Geeks United has been a tremendous source of pride for me. Yet, somehow, incredibly, I started out merely as a caller.  But Jamey and Jerry quickly saw that I was able to talk extemporaneously about movies (that skill I learned at all my other jobs), and so they welcomed me on the show again and again. Over the past four years, I have risen from that position to being one of the co-hosts of the show (something I could have never imagined happening), and I have to say, I'm incredibly proud to be so. I consider Jamey Duvall to be an unmatchable talent, both in his hosting and interviewing skills, and Jerry Dennis is very much his brother in his knowledge of both film and literature. I have now represented the show at the New York Film Festival (for three years now) and at the Atlanta Film Festival (for two years), and have now even graduated up to conducting some of the interviews on the show including my favorite actor Greta Gerwig, co-writer and star of Frances Ha and lauded writer/director of Lady Bird; my most treasured movie star hero of the 70s and 80s, Mr. Burt Reynolds currently, my favorite living filmmaker Mike Leigh (director of Naked, Topsy Turvy, Life is Sweet, Mr. Turner); Lalo Schifrin, the lauded composer of scores for Dirty Harry, Mission Impossible, Bullitt, Enter the Dragon and Cool Hand Luke); John Heard, star of Cutter's Way, Big, Home Alone, Between the Lines and Chilly Scenes of Winter); David Lowry (director of Ain't Them Bodies Saints); Jeff Garlin (star of Curb Your Enthusiasm and director of Dealin' With Idiots); James Ponsoldt (director of The Spectactular Now and Smashed); Ann Dowd (the remarkable actress and lead of Craig Zobel's Compliance); Raiders of the lost Ark and Starman lead Karen Allen; Tom Donahue (director of the excellent HBO doc Casting By); Carter Burwell (the composer of many brilliant scores for the Coen Brothers and Spike Jonze, among many others); George S. Clinton (composer of scores for the Austin Powers series, The Apple, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Cheech and Chong's Still Smokin'); and likely the final interview with master cinematographer Haskell Wexler (Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf, Days of Heaven, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Bound for Glory, and so many more landmark films).

Me with one of my idols, Martin Short, after seeing him perform in Paul Thomas Anderson's INHERENT VICE, and after vociferously professing my love for him at the press conference. I'm not one for geeky moments like this, but I could not let it go by without a photo, generously taken by my great friend Tony Dayoub.

Here I am with my favorite working filmmaker, the irrepressible Mike Leigh, a while after the NYFF premiere of his 2014 film MR. TURNER. I consider myself a student of his, although no one could do movies the way he does. I would not even attempt to do so.

These days, I am also occasionally called upon to be a jurist at film festivals like the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, a relatively new but enthusiastic event out of Cambridge and Somerville MA, right outside of Boston. Having done this for two years, I can tell you that it really give me the taste to be a film festival programmer once again (as has my most recent work as a special press correspondent with the Atlanta Film Festival). There's really nothing better than watching the sometimes terrible, sometimes overwhelmingly great work being done by emerging and established artists, and being able to craft, in one way or another, a program of films that will delight audiences and give filmmakers a chance to get a deeper perspective into the quality of their work and, hopefully, a little love from an industry that can sometimes make them feel as if they're working in a vacuum. I simply adore the festival circuit...to me, it's pure spiritual uplift.

And now, this website, called FILMICABILITY, has passed  1.5 million hits as of December 2017.


That said, I'm doing this site in order to talk about movies of all types. Hardly a new thing for the internet, but then again, there's nothing like having ME talk about them (I've seen over 25,000 films--including shorts and features, and many of them more than once; in fact, as of 2015, I've gotten to the point where I can;t watch films I've seen before because I actually have them memorized, so I'm constantly looking for new things--from all eras--to adore).

I should note here that I'll largely only be covering movies that I like or love or simply can't live without. Few bad reviews will pop up here on FILMICABILITY (a word that I coined, the definition of which I like to say is: the ability to make or love film). Truthfully, I'd rather treat the bad movies as if they don't exist. That's my philosophy. I'm more of a film appreciator than a film critic. Screw all the voluminous trash out there. I've had tremendous experience trying to give it the time of day, but I will no longer give it my energy. These days, there's just too much obvious crap being sold to moviegoers, and I won't let myself be a part of it. I've already had enough of that.

So, I think the first movie I'm going to write about here, Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter, is one that I've been a massive fan of for a long time, but which, despite a once sizable cult following, has only been recently released on DVD (bundled together, via Amazon, with another great John Heard-lead movie from the era, Ivan Passer's excellent modern noir film Cutter's Way, with Jeff Bridges and an insanely sorrowful Lisa Eichorn; this double feature, by the way, is the best way any real movie lover can spend 15 bucks, though I have to say, don't expect any extras, though there DEFINITELY should be some; in fact, I would posit both Chilly Scenes of Winter and Cutter's Way as two American films that should be taken on by the Criterion cabal).

Chilly Scenes of Winter has a complicated production history.  Adapted from Ann Beattie's novel of '70s romantic malaise, it was originally filmed as Head Over Heels in 1979 and barely released by a very sick United Artists (who was busy pumping money into the film that eventually drove a stake into its own heart, the underrated Heaven's Gate). After Head Over Heels' financial failure, UA and writer/director Silver pulled the film from release, altered its ending, and re-released it in 1981 with the original title of Ann Beattie's novel. I still can't really understand why they bothered, since the film didn't do any better at the box office as a result. (I can only surmise that UA was a supremely confused collective at that moment.)

The unusual thing about this (and I should warn you that there's a SPOILER ALERT here) is that Silver took the happy ending to this troubled love story--mind you, the same happy ending that's in the original novel--and replaced it with a crushing yet realistic finale. Of course, this is the sort of thing no focus group today would ever go for, addicted to happy endings as they are. But, in the cynical 1970s, it seemed as if every movie out there had a downbeat ending, so I suppose this is what Silver had in mind. Or maybe she just saw it as unlikely that the troubled protagonists of this story would ever enjoy a lasting relationship together. (End SPOILER ALERT).

In the film, John Heard plays Charles, a go-nowhere Salt Lake City civil servant living in the gloomy house his grandmother left him. As the film begins, he's in a deep state of depression over his breakup with Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), the sweet but deeply damaged file manager he met on the job a while ago. But this is only one of the things bringing him down. Almost everyone else in Charles' life takes a bit of energy away from him: his best friend, Sam (Peter Riegert), a similarly unambitious but romantically successful jacket salesman; his annoying boss (Jerry Hardin), always asking for silly advice for his sexually addled son; a very-available but very-bland female co-worker (Nora Heflin) who has the hots for Charles; an suicidal mother with a tenuous grasp on reality (Gloria Grahame, superb in one of her last films); a sardonic sister (Tarah Nutter) who seems to have everything together; and a somehow rosy stepfather (Kenneth McMillan) with a major my-kids-don't-love-me issue.

About the only moments of joy in Charles' life come from his memories of his moments with Laura, which the film documents with a deft ease that gives similar time-juggling films like Pulp Fiction or The Killing a run for their money. The viewer is completely convinced that this is a linear structure, and is only aware later that the film is told almost entirely in flashbacks. Heard's narration weaves in and out, and Silver even has him address the camera at times in a maybe Annie Hall-influenced move (though Chilly Scenes of Winter is its own animal, it also owes much to Woody Allen's masterpiece).

Anyway, the moments with Charles and Laura together, in happiness and anger, are some of the most electrifying romantic scenes in movie history. In particular, their first meeting has a sexual tension that pops like no other scene of its type. Their banter, their body language, their flirtatious looks and barest confessions--it's all like nothing else I've ever witnessed on film (I cannot stress this strongly enough). It's on the strength of moments like this--another is their charged slow-dance to Bette Midler's version of "Skylark," with Charles' voice-over admission: "Say what you will--it was perfect"--that we're able to understand our lead's unwavering devotion to this woman, and this relationship. But it's in the argumentative scenes--like the one they have after exiting a porno movie, and Charles says that Laura was prettier than the girl getting boffed on screen--that we realize that Laura has no room in her soul for this much love. There's something both in her present (her lifeless marriage to A-frame house salesman, played by co-producer Mark Metcalf) and way in her unmentioned past that won't allow her to enjoy it. And Charles is often too smothering anyway, putting up, for instance, an unnatural objection to Laura visiting her gynecologist by herself (and culminating in a disturbing promise of violence that shakes both Laura and the viewer to the core).

One of the things that makes this movie work so well is the decision to deviate from the push me/pull you dynamics of the love story by peppering the movie with lots of offbeat characters, all nicely-played. Peter Riegert, then fresh off his success as one of the leads in National Lampoon's Animal House, adds a game brand of wildness to Sam, his laconic tone mixing humorously with a determined physicality. And Grahame is also quite fine, demented and sad, as a woman whose lust for life has been whittled down by the empty-nest syndrome and a desire for a man--Charles' long-dead father--whom she never got to love as fully as she would have liked (now, as I type this, I wonder if this is the sort of thing that set Charles up for the kind of poisoned relationship he'd experience with Laura). Also, finally, I should favorably point out McMillan--a great character actor of the 70s and 80s--as the rotund, boisterous stepfather, always eager to please, promising olives to Charles for their Sunday dinner and boosting both Turtle Wax and dancing lessons with equal zeal to his stepson. And, lest it not be forgotten that Chilly Scenes of Winter is steered largely by the gifts of its two leads; with this and Cutter's Way, John Heard cemented his place in film history as one of his era's most likable, world-hardened actors, while Mary Beth Hurt hit a career high with her charming neurotics (I especially love the scene where she asks Charles for a birdfeeder and does her little tweety sounds for him--I wait for that moment every time I see the film).

Joan Micklin Silver has long been one of my favorite unsung film directors (Hester Street, Between The Lines, and Crossing Delancey are some of her other very accomplished works). But this is the most complete of her films. She builds a brilliantly blah look to the film (I love how the art direction and photography achieves this sort of beige look to everyday life, and then punctuates it with individual shots that mirror those moments that, in our own lives, seem movie-lit brilliant).  Moreover, I marvel at how she knows so well Silver knows how to write this man Charles (with all due credit going to the novel's author Beattie who, by the way, cameos in the film as a harried waitress). So often I'm astonished at how so many men know so little of how to write women that they don't even try, reducing some female roles down to cliche and sex. But here is a lady that truly knows how to portray men, at least men of this era (perhaps it's easier for women to pen men's roles because they listen so much more intently). Silver also captures the stench of disappointment in the late 70s air as the hopeful Woodstock generation plods towards Reagan's inevitable New Dawn (Tarah Nutter, as Charles' sister, has a great dismissive line: "All Woodstock was was a bunch of people walking around in the mud looking for a place to pee"). Charles fight to keep Laura is, in a way, a last-ditch effort laced with 60s-era idealism. He knows this relationship has its problems but somehow, somehow, he's gonna try and make it work because something in him tells him it's worth it. Until it isn't anymore.

As suggested by the bleak title and Ken Lauber's brilliantly plaintive musical score (performed partially by jazz harmonica great Toots Thielemans, who also provides the score's athletic whistling), Chilly Scenes of Winter chronicles one man's descent into time-jangling depression, and into a whirlwind wistfulness about the past. But it does so with a light air and about as entertainingly as any film could, and there's just something particularly timeless about the film that I attribute to Micklin's expert direction. There are very big laughs in it (just wait for the part about yogurt), but it'll also leave you with a deep sort of nostalgia for any lost love you may have experienced...and this goes for both men AND women. Because, let's face it--as much as I love Woody Allen's films, most of us aren't part of the New York intellegentsia. We're largely all poor, working-class schlubs like Charles and Laura.

POST NOTE (AND SPOILER ALERT): OH MY GOD! Some angel on You Tube posted the original ending to this story. Remember, this is how Ann Beattie ORIGINALLY wrote it (it still seems so strange to note that the filmmakers and the studio actually opted for a more downbeat ending). I still think the redo is great and the way the story should be told, but this other ending makes my heart soar strangely with hope (maybe because it's the ending I WISHED had happened, and not the one I know was most likely). At any rate...what a truly fantastic history the film has. Criterion is foolish to ignore it. There are definitely some mysteries here to be explored. 

Nice to meet you, and come back to FILMICABILITY soon. Keep watchin' movies.
                                                                            --Dean Treadway 

After the 2013 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival closing night awards ceremony. (Photo by Nolan Yee)