Posted by davidkalat on September 1, 2012
Alone among the great silent comics, Harold Lloyd stood at the exact intersection of slapstick and screwball, at the intersection of physical comedy and dialogue. Harold Lloyd, you see, made a film with Preston Sturges. It was neither man’s greatest hour, but the mere fact of its existence is breathtaking. It’s like finding Ernst Lubitsch directing Charlie Chaplin, or Blake Edwards directing Laurel and Hardy.
Let’s take stock of this for a minute: we have one of the greatest physical comedians of the entire silent era—a man whose work bequeathed to posterity one of the most enduring icons of what silent comedy was all about—yet who is also preternaturally comfortable with the world of talkies. He is paired with a visionary of the new dialogue school of comedy—yet one who has an enduring appreciation of the values of silent comedy. They are going to collaborate as equals on a film that will be made without studio interference. If there is ever going to be a moment when the old guard of silent comedians are going to function uncompromised in this new world of screwball, then there could be no better opportunity than this.
Posted by Susan Doll on July 16, 2012
Before the deaths of Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine dealt a double blow to Baby Boomers who have fond memories of both actors, Nora Ephron passed away from leukemia. Boomers grew up on the television series of Griffith and Borgnine, and the latter costarred in a number of landmark films of the 1950s and 1960s, which accounts for the outpouring of genuine sentiment at their passing. As a screenwriter and director, Ephron was not in a position to inspire that level of collective grief. But, her career deserves an evaluation or assessment, because she was one of the few women directors in Hollywood.
Prior to poking around a bit for this article, I did not know a lot about Ephron. I have never used one of her films in any of my classes, and, truth be told, I did not find her to be a dynamic director. Her scripts may be rich in humorous observations and witty exchanges between characters, but her directorial efforts were uneven to say the least. The best of them were adequately directed and enhanced by star turns (Sleepless in Seattle; Julie & Julia); the worst (Mixed Nuts; Bewitched) suffered from static blocking, sluggish pacing, and poor staging of the physical comedy. However, as I looked into Ephron’s career, I realized that I was wrong to short-change her. After all, her scripts and characters represent a style of film humor that is far more sophisticated and universal than today’s clunky, crude comedies targeted to males or the flat, offensive chick flicks aimed at girls. Ephron’s perspective as a mature, contemporary woman represents a voice or point of view that adult women can recognize and relate to; yet, it does not alienate other factions of the audience. Ephron did not make chick flicks—instead, she wrote and directed comedies with female protagonists that had something to say. Her films offer universal observations, perspectives, and themes about relationships that are relevant to both genders and most age groups—much like the intended audience for movies during previous eras of Hollywood.
Posted by davidkalat on July 14, 2012
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And I was wrong.
I figured the breakout thriller to see in 1995 was going to be Copycat. I know, I know, but hear me out—I wasn’t alone. A lot of industry press at the time leaned the same way. The previews for Copycat made it look like Silence of the Lambs meets Thelma and Louise, and it has Sigourney Weaver in it. Actually, that’s about all I can say—I never did see Copycat, which puts me squarely in the majority.
Instead, when my wife Julie and I decided to go to the theater, she insisted on Seven instead (or Se7en, if I’m going to follow the conventions of Video Watchdog, which I might as well). She advocated loudly, strongly, and effectively for Se7en, and god bless her for it.
Posted by davidkalat on June 16, 2012
“Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
Before you answer, please understand: this is not a Yes or No question.
Posted by keelsetter on May 6, 2012
Quatermass creator and screenwriter Nigel Kneale (1922 – 2006) has his roots in the Isle of Man, a small patch of over 200 square miles in size that is located between Great Britain and Ireland. Megalithic monuments that heralded a new development in human technology began to appear on the Isle of Man during the Neolithic Age. At present, the island is the center for various competing private space travel companies that are vying for a thirty million dollar Google Lunar X Prize, organized by the X Prize Foundation. “X” marks the spot, and in this case it’s where reality and space travel intersect, bringing us back to Nigel Kneale and The Quatermass Xperiment (U.S. title: The Creeping Unknown), which was the first feature film to introduce his beloved alien-battling character of Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group. READ MORE
Posted by keelsetter on April 8, 2012
Jerry Aronson, one of my weekly poker game buddies, gave me a last-minute invitation to a sneak-preview. Jerry’s a retired film instructor, and the movie in question was by one of his former students who had graduated back in 1998. That student was Drew Goddard, who later found success as a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, and Lost (to mention only his TV work, he also scripted Cloverfield, as well as its pending sequel, and Robopocalypse – which Spielberg will release next year). Drew is currently scheduled to set the world on fire this Friday the 13th with The Cabin in the Woods, a directorial debut he co-wrote and co-produced with Joss Whedon. READ MORE
Posted by Susan Doll on April 2, 2012
Last month, Carl Reiner turned 90 years old. A show business veteran, to say the least, Reiner began on stage in the late 1940s, became an Emmy-nominated member of Sid Caesar’s TV sketch series Your Show of Shows in the 1950s, produced and wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, then turned to directing comedy films in the 1980s. The breadth of his career, in which he collaborated with everyone from Sid Caesar to Mel Brooks to Dick Van Dyke to Steve Martin, is truly remarkable. While I admire the whole of Reiner’s career, right up to his appearances in Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans series, I became a fan because of two films: The Thrill of It All (1963) and Enter Laughing (1967). Both offer examples of Reiner’s specialty—spoofing the conventions and archetypes of various modes of popular entertainment.
Starring Doris Day and James Garner, The Thrill of It All is one of Day’s romantic comedies from the 1960s, and it will be part of TCM’s salute to Doris Day as Star of the Month. Beginning on April 2 and ending April 6, TCM will be showing 28 of Day’s films, with The Thrill of It All scheduled for Thursday evening. Reiner wrote the screenplay for The Thrill of It All, based on a story he conceived with legendary TV writer Larry Gelbart—an example of Reiner’s talent for picking the right collaborators. In this domestically based comedy, Doris Day plays stay-at-home mom Beverly Boyer, who is wife to successful obstetrician Dr. Gerald Boyer. Because of her “regular housewife” honesty, Beverly is hired as the spokesperson for Happy Soap, a detergent and hand soap company that sponsors a popular television drama. In addition to being the face of Happy Soap for print ads, Beverly goes to the studio a couple times a week to appear during the commercial break of the live drama to tout the virtues of Happy products. The television industry is shown through the point of view of Beverly, who is depicted as a rational person in the real world, just like us. Like Beverly, we see the producers, ad executives, writers, etc. from an outsider’s perspective. The artifice, pretense, and manipulative nature of the entertainment and advertising industries seem alien and slightly ridiculous to us. Adopting this strategy allows Reiner to affectionately poke fun at the familiar conventions of television storytelling—just enough to spoof but not skewer them.
Posted by Susan Doll on October 11, 2010
It occurred to me recently that I know a lot of talented people, which is one of the blessings in my life. I know or work with artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers of all types, including my fellow Morlocks whom I learn from every day. I also know two fledgling screenwriters who are both working very hard to land that first big deal. In my day as a gun-for-hire writer, I have penned everything from a how-to book on home hair-cutting to yearly wrap-ups for the housewares industry, but I don’t think I could tackle an original screenplay. I am in awe of their ambition and abilities as well as their optimism that the fruits of their imaginations will be seen and appreciated by audiences.
Film critics continually lament the poor writing in recent Hollywood movies. Action films are so formulaic that the entire genre has gotten tired and old; the current crop of Hollywood screenwriters can’t write roles for women as evidenced by the embarrassing characters and dialogue in romantic comedies. Indie films exhibit sharp writing and complex characterizations, but Hollywood movies continue to decline. I am sure there are many talented screenwriters who could offer fresh voices to a tired industry. For this two-part blog post, I interviewed screenwriters Debbe Goldstein and John Kestner about their backgrounds, their processes, their influences, and their attempts to break into the industry. Coincidentally, both live in the Phoenix area. There must be something in the sunshine that inspires creativity.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 12, 2010
This is the second half of David Konow’s interview with the late Tom Mankiewicz. The first part was posted earlier today.
It was the early ’70s and Cubby Broccoli was preparing Diamonds Are Forever. He told David Picker, then the head of United Artists, “I’m lookin’ for a writer who’s young. I think we gotta stay hip. He has to be American because 75% of the picture takes place in Vegas, but he has to be able to write the British idiom because I don’t want to hire another writer to do that.” As luck would have it, Picker saw “Georgy” before it was shut down and remembered that Joe Mankiewicz’s kid wrote it. The play was all in Brit speak, but he knew the young Mank was American.
“I went up to Cubby Broccoli’s house, I met with him and the director, Guy Hamilton, and they signed me for $12,500 a week on a two-week guarantee,” Mankiewicz recalled. “They said, ‘Let’s see what you can do with the first thirty pages.’ I went home and thought, ‘Damn it, this is the kind of film when I’m sitting in the audience I’m going: I can do this better.’ I thought if I didn’t work out I was going to get really depressed. I wrote the first thirty pages and they said, ‘This is terrific, keep going.’ Suddenly I was writing a major motion picture.”
Mankiewicz continued to work on the Bond series throughout the ’70’s, writing Live and Let Die, co-writing The Man With the Golden Gun, doing an uncredited rewrite on The Spy Who Loved Me, and writing the story for Moonraker. Now Mankiewicz was the next established and wildly successful writer in the Mankiewicz clan.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on
On July 31, 2010 screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz passed away at his home in Los Angeles due to complications from cancer. The Mankiewicz family is the stuff of Hollywood legend and consists of Tom Mankiewicz’s father, the Academy Award winning director and writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, as well as celebrated screenwriters Herman J. Mankiewicz and Don Mankiewicz; and Turner Classic Movie’s very own Ben Mankiewicz. Before Tom Mankiewicz died he spent some time talking to writer David Konow (SCHLOCK-O-RAMA: The Films of Al Adamson, Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal, etc.) about his family and what it was like trying to find work as a writer in Hollywood when the shadow of your ancestors is weighing heavily on your shoulders. Below is the first half of David Konow’s insightful piece on Tom Mankiewicz. I’m sharing it here in an effort to shine a light on Mankiewicz and honor his memory. The second half will be posted later today.
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